Barghest Chapter 2

I love writing from multiple points of view. Maybe that is poor form; perhaps it is a sign of an embarrassingly short attention span. In either case, it seems to work well for me. I get the opportunity to hint at things the main character(s) can’t know yet. Hello, foreshadowing. I get to some up what might otherwise being boring background information, utilizing an ancillary character to give a better understanding of the larger universe in which the story is set.  It is also helps me to move along a story when I am stuck or not sure how to transition to the next phase of action. And anyone who has read Second Alliance or Nordic Diner knows I love to write about the villain. Love. It.

So, I have set the scene. Now it is up to you to wonder who is the villain in Barghest. Were they introduced in Chapter One, or will they be here, in Chapter 2?



Previous Chapter


Hour 0432, Day 062, Year 2148

Ninety-second anniversary of the invasion of Earth.

“That was a hell of a hickey I saw on your neck in the showers last week.” Dan Rodriguez didn’t smile, but his dark skin crinkled around the eyes. Under the shadow of the dirty hat that disguised his standard issue Sol Coalition haircut, he held a vapor pen to his mouth. It wasn’t switched on, but he made a show of using it periodically.

Sergeant Maker kept her eyes on the entrance to the poorly lit commons area they had been staking out for almost twenty-four hours. The niquab that covered her hair and lower face was hot in the recycled air of the station, but it made her pale skin less noticeable in a crowd where humans were typically stained and scarred from deep mine gases.  Without looking at the newly minted private, she responded, “I saw you there as well. My condolences on your shortcomings.”

Unfazed, Rodriguez continued, “Just say the word and I could give you better.”

“Fraternization between junior and senior personnel is prohibited, Fuzzy.” It was true that Maker hadn’t been an officer very long. Also true that there were more experienced, older soldiers on the mission, but she was second-in-command, and most of her team didn’t like her to begin with, so there was no point in giving them any infractions to hold against her. Rodriguez had slept with most of the women in their unit, and some of the men, so shutting down his advances wasn’t a hardship. Only the soldiers on their level were on the same channel, but that wasn’t enough to keep the playboy in line.

“But what is fraternization, really? Surely a little rub and su-”

Faint static in their sub-dermal receivers cut off whatever the private had been about to suggest. “Not to interrupt you, ma’am,” Bretavic drawled, “but we have movement at Position 2.” Maker leaned across the small table to pour more of the low-grade alcohol into Rodriguez’s cup. He slouched in his seat, affording her a better view over his shoulder and easing his hand closer to the service weapon concealed in a pocket of his baggy pants. When she took her seat again, she turned so she faced a service corridor. The station was in the middle of a mining shift, so there were only a few stalls open and even fewer patrons milling around or seated at the common-use tables in the center of the space.

“Copy that,” Maker replied quietly. Rodriguez stared at her face, his mouth tight while he waited for her to assess the situation behind him and for command to make the call. “Two Nicks, could be our targets.” Native to the Cancri System, Nicks were easy to identify. They were bipedal, but had reverse joints and four limbs of equal length. Officially, their species was known by their home system and planet. Unofficially, any human who had served outside Sol used the derogatory term for the lightning fast thieves. Maker focused the scanning capabilities embedded in her contacts; in less than two seconds, she had information on the radiation signature of their technology. It matched the mission file. “Identity verified. Confirmation?”

“Identity confirmed,” came Bretavic’s low response from the second position. Bretavic had been on more operations than the rest of the team combined, and while he didn’t seem to respect Maker – it obviously had more to do with his thoughts on officers than her personally. His call was could be trusted. That should have been all she needed to request the Go order, but Maker hesitated.

“Position 1, status.” The lieutenant in charge was stationed out of her line of sight with his own partner, down a service corridor. His voice snapped with command, bordering on irritation.
“Status,” he said again, this time demanding an answer.  It wasn’t intuition, or some gut feeling; no sixth sense stopped her from making the call so the lieutenant could send her fire team into action. She didn’t think it was fear. She couldn’t have said why, but she took three long, deep breaths before she opened her mouth.

“Hold,” their transmitters barely vibrated with Bretavic’s whisper. A third figure, shorter and more fluid than the Nicks, eased around the edge of the corridor and hovered at the entrance. “Sarge?” The question was breathed more than spoken, but Maker was already scanning. Culler, she thought with a new iron ball of anxiety settling in her belly. She double-checked readout overlaid on her vision before she spoke. None of the mission briefs said anything about Cullers, but if there was one on the station, so close to the border, her superiors would want to know why. There was only one way to find out.

“Command, Position 1 reporting unknowns. Relaying data.” She casually tucked her hands in her sleeves, surreptitiously pressing the code on her touch pad that would send the image to the lieutenant.

For a few tense moments it was quiet, then the lieutenant’s voice was in her head again. “Field call. Additional targets. Alive, if possible.”

Maker’s gut was churning. They had set out with four people, including the lieutenant, ready to take down two Nicks. Bretavic and his partner at the second position would provide backup. There was another two covert soldiers on the level below them, and two in the docking bay. That left the pilot and medic on the ship. Standard operating procedures required a minimum of four heavily armed soldiers for every one Culler. That meant that Rodriguez and Maker would have to deal with the two Nicks on their own. She swallowed and sweat dripped down her temple.

“Additional objective,” she confirmed. “Painting targets.” With a subtle press of her fingertips against the palm of her glove she transmitted visuals to the rest of the team. Through the tech of her contacts, she watched each of the Nicks and the concealed newcomer light up with a yellow glow.

“Party crasher is ours, Team 2. Team 1, you have original targets. Secure and detain,” the lieutenant’s voice was flat, “collateral authorized.”

Maker could feel sweat was dripping down her back and spit collecting in her mouth, but her voice didn’t waver, “Copy.” She and Rodriguez weren’t prepared to handle two Nicks on their own but there wasn’t any alternative. Bretavic and the lieutenant would have the significantly more dangerous target; without any heavy munitions they would need backup as soon as it was available. That meant Maker and the fresh-out-of-training camp private needed to work quickly. The Nicks moved closer to the tables, close enough that Maker could see, unaided, the sandpapery texture of their skin. The third opponent hung by the entrance for several long minutes before easing into the narrow alley behind a row of stalls.

“Go,” the lieutenant ordered.

There was no response from the other maneuver team, but Maker knew they were already in action. She stood and stretched, slowly, before picking up the alcohol carafe and moving around the tables toward a bar. It was the distraction that they had planned to begin with, but her palms were clammy with sweat under the added pressure to succeed. Both Nicks watched her; her contacts tracked the movement of their eyes as she crossed in front of them. She purposefully tripped over a metal chair as she passed, and Rodriguez used the noise to conceal his approach behind them; as soon as he was in position, Maker tossed the alcohol straight into the Nicks’ faces.

The action was recorded by her contacts. Rodriguez slapped cuffs on the upper limbs of one Nick, but the rookie didn’t move quite fast enough to complete the circuit on the ankles. His opponent whipped around, prehensile tail emerging from its tunic to slap the gun out of the private’s hand. Rodriguez rolled to avoid a follow-up kick, but was hit with the tail on its reverse swing. He slid across the floor, knocking over a table and chairs with a shout of pain. The Nick leaped after him, the open end of a pair of electronic cuffs dangling from one leg.

Maker had no time to spare a thought for her partner. The alcohol served in the mining station was poor quality, but high proof. Her Nick bellowed with rage and its tongue slithered out of its mouth to swipe at the liquid burning its eyes. It seized the table between them with one lower limb and flung it out of the way – leaving Maker to stumble backwards into a chair, pulling her weapon and firing as she moved. The first shot was wild, narrowly missing Rodriguez. The second short burst hit the Nick in the hip. Blue blood spattered the floor and tables behind the creature and it stumbled, letting out another deep cry. It’s tail lashed around dangerously. Move, move, her mind chanted. She used the chair as a springboard to fling herself onto the roof of the bar. Her foot caught in the chair back, wrenching her ankle and knocking the seat into the Nick’s legs. She had to crouch awkwardly to fit between the thin metal sheets and the ductwork for the common space, but the height put her out of arm’s reach. Maker holstered her primary weapon and pulled out a net gun. The first shot tangled up the Nick’s left arm; she cursed.  The second hit the center of mass and brought one hundred eighty kilos of tail-slashing anger to the floor. She activated the trigger to magnetize the net. She had forgotten to check the setting – it higher than was recommended for a Nick. The alien would likely have cuts from the pressure, but at least she could be certain it would not move while she assisted Rodriguez. He desperately needed help.

The private had managed to pull a secondary weapon, but not his net gun. The whites of his eyes were large with fear and Maker’s sensors were sending off alerts in the periphery of her vision that his adrenaline had spiked beyond acceptable margins.  Other alerts were softly flashing for the four soldiers in the alley and she could hear shouting. One soldier’s indicator light went out. This is so, so stupid, her brain was pointing out to her, but she ignored it.  Rodriguez fired three bursts in rapid succession and Maker took some slag in her shoulder as she pushed off the roof, reaching for a handhold on a suppression pipe. She fired her net gun at the ground near the Nick’s feet at the same time her hand connected with the hot metal cylinder. She could feel her grip slipping, and only prayed she could hold on long enough. Her heavy boots swung out toward the Nick’s face, but she had not caught it unawares. The net was only tangled around one leg so the creature hissed and ducked, turning and flicking its tail to wrap around her ankles and yank her from the ceiling.

She lost her grip on the pipe with a sharp curse and a friction burn that was painful even through her glove. The artificial gravity slammed her into the floor, and her already injured shoulder clipped a chair on the way. She was stunned for a precious few seconds, while her display was screaming at her that her team was in danger and a target was closing in.  She fumbled with the clasp on her weapon holster, and drew the gun in time to fire point blank into the bare foot of the Nick as it was poised to stomp on her chest. It screamed and flinched away from her, scrambling for purchase but unable to crawl away from the magnetic lock of the net Rodriguez had fired.  The private was pushing to his feet, one arm was bent unnaturally but her tech notified her that he had already used his field meds to dull the pain. She was panting when she pushed onto her feet and with manipulation of her control glove she dimmed the stats for Rodriguez.

With the closest proximity individual muted, her tech turned towards the next member of her squad. The lieutenant was dead. Maker’s breath caught in her throat. She scrambled with the controls in her glove to pull up a locator map. His body was only a few feet from the corridor where he had been positioned. The Culler had taken him out before he could even fire his weapon. As she verified the readout that specified brain death, her stomach clenched and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up higher. That thing, the enemy, was still on the station with them. And she was now in command.

Another indicator on her display went dark. Another soldier was dead. Her back was throbbing, but she ignored the med kit on her belt. She didn’t have time for it, and her tech was streaming reports of Bretavic’s team that made her swallow curses. “Secure and notify transport of incoming,” she ordered Rodriguez. She didn’t wait for his nod or acknowledge the pale strain in his expression before she forced herself into a jog. There was no one to dodge or yell at to get inside as she approached the far end of the commons area. All of the walkways had been deserted within moments of the first shot. Some shops had been hastily closed. Others held the telltale anticipation and occasional terrified movement that betrayed their occupants.

The alley was quiet and dark when she approached, and Maker’s breath was hot inside the veil over her face. She almost tripped over a body a few feet from the entrance and she quickly put her back to the wall to scan her surroundings. The corpse at her feet wasn’t the only one in the alley; another body lay half in- half out of a shop, and there was a dark, shiny wet trail the width of a man’s shoulders up the side of a building and onto the roof. She double checked her display.  The second position team was alive, their stats below desired levels but steady. With a press of her fingertips into her palm she activated her locator. The two soldiers were outlined in blue, one hidden from normal sight by a twisted pile of sheet metal and debris. The other lay halfway down the alley, faintly visible in the indirect glow that bounced off of the ceiling.

“Eyes,” she whispered. Her legs were shaking. Her belly cramped and she had the inconvenient urge to urinate. The word was inaudible, but the vibration in her throat was picked up by her implant and transmitted.

“Eyes plus thirty,” she heard the quiet voice, knew it was Bretavic under the debris. His stats were not good, but he sounded more angry than in pain. “Your right, roofline.”

Maker kept her eyes moving over the buildings, searching for movement while she quick stepped to his location, and knelt next to an opening in the debris. “Status.” A long piece of hair had worked out of the veil while she fought and stuck to the sweat on her temple.

“I can cut free with my torch – maximum sixty seconds. Gonna be noisy.” She couldn’t see his face, but she could hear the wince in Bretavic’s voice, “Right leg is toast. We both used our meds, my partner took another hit to the head.”

Maker was supremely aware of the slight weight of her med kit against her hip. Each soldier had only been issued one for the mission. Nicks were tough, but two on one was a good bet with the element of surprise. The third enemy had put them on the losing end of all but the longest odds. It didn’t matter. A Culler needed to be dealt with as soon as it was identified, and Maker wouldn’t have minded some answers for why the mission was blown all to hell. She swallowed and brushed the sweat from her eyebrows. Why the Lieutenant is dead. Why Private –  she silenced her thoughts with a shake of her head and focused. Without her med kit, she could only take one, maybe two hits before she went down. An officer’s first priority had to be the mission, then the team. Her gut churned. She didn’t know any of the men well, but she didn’t think she could sacrifice them to ensure success and quick movements were more easily tracked by Cullers, so escape would be difficult. Unless they had a distraction. Or a decoy. So, so stupid, she repeated to herself.

“Wait for my signal, then get cutting. Grab the bodies, if you can.” She stayed close to the left wall of the alley, running her fingers a few millimeters over the uneven surfaces of poorly repaired shops, and jogged forward. She scanned the area, visually and with her tech while she unclasped her kit, folding it open with one hand and toggling the dosage on the transdermal syringe. She crouched in preparation, and then her transmitter crackled.

“Cullers! Down, three down!” The all team channel was wide open, something that could only be done by the commanding officer unless casualties were taken. Weapons fire was close enough to be heard through her transceiver over the screams of the soldier six decks below. Kerry, heavy weapons support for the nondescript little hauler they had come in on, had gone through basic training with her. His familiar tone was even despite his volume and situation. “Transport down! Cullers! Two in the bay, one in the weeds! Request immediate assistance! Respond!” Maker almost dropped the kit, her brain trying to claw its way out of her head with fear, trap! Trap! Trap! They had all recognized the Culler that followed the two Nicks into the commons, but none of them had anticipated more. She cursed herself; it was her fault. Her fault that they hadn’t immediately notified the transport. It had been her call to maintain transmission silence with the ship that was waiting for them in the docking bay after the lieutenant went down. Her fault that two soldiers were dead on their level and three more bleeding down below.

“Go!” This time she yelled the command while she jumped away from the wall. She slammed the blunt end of the syringe into the soldier’s neck hard enough to damage the skin. Maker’s boots pushed against the floor, adrenaline and terror surging through her veins. The sound of a gasp for air and the sudden rise of the soldier behind her barely registered. “Retreat! Cargo is expendable, if necessary! Go, Go, Go!”

She knew that they obeyed her orders. They were well trained, and her display tracked their movements until she pushed team location to the bottom of her tech priority. An explosion shook the entire deck, making her list to one side in her sprint. There was only the flash of yellow across the corner of her vision as she reacquired a painted target and then the Culler was on her. Thirty kilos of damp cloth and wiry muscle dropped from directly above, striking her wounded shoulder and back. The impact sent her flying forward and she didn’t manage to tuck before she hit the floor. Maker threw up one forearm in defense and scuttled backward on one hand and her knees as the Culler bounded forward. The hooked talons of its arms easily pierced the ceramic weave of her body armor. Her visual display winked in and out as the circuitry in her glove and sleeve was ripped away, leaving a long, shallow gouge in her arm that welled blood. A moist, nearly featureless head pressed close to her and she gagged on the smell of rotting plant matter and tasted bile in her mouth.

“Human,” it said, making the sounds of the word despite not having a mouth. The talons withdrew and rose again. Maker fired.

Her weapon was at an odd angle, given that she could barely feel her hand, but four incendiary rounds punched into the soft underside of the Culler in rapid succession.  An unholy sound of pain and fury, like dry ice grinding together, pierced her ears.The fifth and sixth rounds tore chunks of white flesh away and found purchase in the ceiling. Incendiary rounds were stupid, and overkill. Her weapons instructor would have had her running laps, full gear, for firing at that range in an enclosed space. Lucky for me, he’s not here, she thought wildly, or lucky for him.Then her delayed ammo exploded. A splatter of gore hit her and she curled onto her stomach before the structural beams above began to fall. Two heavy weights, one after the other, dropped on her back and neck. She wasn’t sure how long she lay flat on her stomach, but when she became aware of the wet veil sticking to her lips and tasting of rot she threw up. She tore the material from her face and rocked stiffly to the side, away from her vomit. The motion slid debris off her back, freeing her.  Kinetic absorption layers in her armor softened again, but moving did not become easier. The floor was slick with the ichor of the Culler and her own blood, and she fell twice, banging her knee hard, before she could brace herself. Her vision slid sideways, or maybe it was the floor that was moving, but she crashed into the wall and fell again before the world righted itself.

“Report,” she rasped, shaking her head to push away the ringing in her ears and the black halo that threatened to seal her vision and drop her back into unconsciousness. The communication implant was barely functional, little more than an open channel, without the connection to the tech in her armor, but she tried to contact her team anyhow. “Report,” she demanded again, this time louder. She forced her legs to work, and although she felt the pain in her knee and back it was a distant second to the fire in her arm. She switched her weapon to her off hand, which was in better condition as it only had a single puncture wound at her collarbone.

“Two levels below you, Sarge.” Rodriguez’s voice sounded far away, and she could hear the tremor in it. “I left the door open.” She saw what he meant as soon as she cleared the alley. A smoking hole, approximately two meters in diameter, had been blasted in the floor of the commons area. Bretavic was leaning heavily on his partner, standing at the edge. He lowered the body of the lieutenant down carefully. Then, between the two of them, they managed to shove a snarling, netted Nick through the hole before seating themselves on the lip.

Bretavic looked over at her, but Maker didn’t hold his gaze. The corridor the Nicks had first entered through was full of shadows that had not been there moments before. As though all of the artificial lighting had been turned off, the space was one large darkness. Maker’s throat felt tight, she was sharply aware of the warmth of blood as it ran down her arm and pearled on her fingertips before plopping against the metal floor plates.

“One in the weeds, confirm please,” she whispered. Bretavic slowly turned his head to follow her line of sight.

Kerry’s voice, thick with breathing sounds, came through, “Correction. One cold in the bay, two in the weeds. Both bloodied.”

Two Cullers, holy hell, she thought. An inappropriate urge to giggle pushed against her lungs from the inside. If her tech was still operational, it would have been flashing medical warnings and situational readings. She shifted her weight and bit off a scream when the exposed meat of her arm brushed against her hip. Tech would have shorted itself out anyway, trying to record this FUBAR mission. One Culler had wrecked two soldiers and nearly ripped off her arm. In her current condition, with the second team wounded and vulnerable in the center of the room, two of the aliens would leave nothing behind but bloodstains and service tags.

“Status,” she said. Even she could hear the high-pitch in her voice.

“Position 4 – A is KIA, B Med. Position 6 – A Steady, B Med, Position 7…A Med, B KIA.”

Two more dead, in addition to the lieutenant and his partner, including the pilot. The medic injured and out for the fight, same for Merrick’s partner. The only other soldier they had with real flying and maneuvering experience was Bretavic, and he was several floors and two Cullers away from the ship. And injured.

It was supposed to be a simple snatch and grab – two Nicks that intelligence reported had flight records and communication codes for some runs through Culler space. Nicks were strong and fast, but not well armed. It was why she was assigned second-in-command; her first time out as an officer. It was why she had the specialized recording tech along with her field gear. So I can be evaluated. The giggle warped into a full out laugh and she had to swallow it hard. She was now responsible for seven other lives, plus at least one Nick that she was supposed to bring back still breathing. And the bodies of the fallen. And a Culler that should be taken in for questioning.

Eight days as a sergeant had to be some kind of record.

The darkness in the corridor shifted. Maker blew out a long breath and brought up her gun – elbow slightly bent, both eyes open. She toggled through the magazine selection menu with her thumb. Incendiary and pellet rounds were empty. She had a full load of armor piercing. From the corner of her eye she watched Bretavic free his weapon; the faint blue glow of his munitions selector mirrored her own.

“Team Two en route.” Maker stated calmly. A distant part of her mind was proud of that, despite that sour ball of fear trying to rip through her gut. Bretavic turned his face to hers, and his mouth was turned down in a frown that threatened argument. He knew what she was planning, and he didn’t like it. If she had been faster, or a better shot, or had any experience outside of boot camp and eighteen months on border patrol, she might have come up with a better idea. But she wasn’t. She didn’t. She was responsible for the team, and they needed to get back alive – or at least in as few pieces as possible.  “Sending you wings, transport.” Bretavic hesitated, then nodded subtly. “Fuzz has the cargo. You are on mission. Repeat. On Mission. Fire it up and you are go to launch at will. I am in the weeds. I say again. I am in the weeds.” Bretavic wrapped his free hand around his partner’s vest and his bicep bulged under his armor as he lowered the man into the hole and let go. His eyes stayed on the shadows, but he lifted one hand above his head, and she could clearly make out his middle finger as he gestured toward the corridor. “I read you Team Two.” She responded. “Out.”  Bretavic pushed off the edge and disappeared below.

There was almost an equilateral triangle between Maker, the corridor, and the hole, but the path that would have been her likely escape route was heavily littered with broken tables, chairs, and unidentified bits of tissue that might have once been a Nick. She picked up a table as quietly as she could, not that the small movement was easy to hear past the whine and grate of tons of stressed metal and machinery that made up the mining station. She went down on one knee and braced her weapon against the edge of the table. Surprisingly, her injured arm obeyed her command and managed to rip the ordinance pack from her belt. She raised the pack to her mouth, and tasted copper and salt on her lips as she ripped it open with her teeth.  Two coils of detcord, each spiraled like a snail on a peel away sticker, fell out along with a simple detonator.  She removed the backing from one and pressed it against the tabletop – dead center. The other she tucked into her pocket.

It was the first rule of munitions training not to put things that go boom anywhere near your genitals, but Maker wasn’t expecting to live long enough to worry about the condition of her reproductive system. In the deep recesses of her mind, she felt a little distant regret for that. Then darkness shifted again, and she could barely make out the shine of emergency lighting on wet, grey skin. She took a deep breath, ignoring the stabbing pain in her back and clicked out the only insult she had ever learned in Culler:

I’ve got garbage that is faster! You’re too weak to eat!

The effect was both better and worse than her exospecies linguistics instructor could have ever known. The scream that rent the air was painfully high pitched and accompanied by a blur of movement from the corridor. One Culler streaked to the right, towards the hole, while the other barrelled straight for her. There wasn’t time for multiple shots. With a gentle recoil that belied the force of the projectile, an armor piercing round fired. Maker didn’t watch to see if it hit the target near the hole, but surged to her feet with everything she had, throwing herself back toward the alley and pressing the detonator.

Time slowed down. A white haze pressed around her, vibrating slowly in synchrony with the hum in her ears. Her feet were strangely hot, but there was a breeze on her face. She could feel her heart beating, pushing blood through her veins, into her head, forcing her to think. This was really stupid. Maker blinked, and then time caught up with her. She slammed against the back wall of the alley, shoulder first, breaking through the thin metal of a poorly secured door and crashing into an empty shop space. Her armor reacted accordingly, the layer of kinetic gel hardening to absorb the energy and then releasing into a fluid state again. It wasn’t enough to keep her from feeling it – and did no good at all where her suit had been damaged. Agony lanced up her arm and radiated from her back like a fission reaction. She thought she cried out, but she couldn’t hear any sounds. She brought a hand up to her head, trying to find the split that must be in her skull because her brain felt like it was going to explode. Sticky, hot liquid coated her fingers and made the grip on her weapon wet. She stared at it for a moment, dumbly, wondering why her ears were bleeding.

The last Culler found her like that, slumped against a dirty wall and looking at her own blood. It was on her before she even knew it was there. Bony legs, slippery with the mucus secreted by Culler skin, pressed into her thighs. One talon stabbed into the wall by her face, flicking curls of metal against her cheek and forcing her to look up. The other talon found the hole in her less damaged shoulder and dug in, twisting and turning until she thought she would pass out from the pain.

It was bleeding. Thick, goopy liquid coated its clothing, pumping from a hole in the chest. She briefly considered that it was almost exactly center of mass – just like during training. Then the creature twisted that talon again and she screamed.

“Human,” it said. It made several clicking sounds, but her brain couldn’t even begin to process a translation, and then, “Human was waiting for the traders.” Maker’s pants were wet, not from urine, she was fairly sure, although that wouldn’t have surprised her, but from the combination of cold sweat and blood that was dripping off her body. The Culler leaned in close. Its eyes, larger and blacker than seemed possible, dilated, revealing a silvery center that seemed to bore into her. “Why.”

Maker felt like a ton of bricks had been pressed onto her chest. Her brain was being squeezed, and it hurt. Holy hell, everything hurts, was all she could think. There was more clicking, and the talon withdrew from her shoulder. Both razor sharp appendages reached toward her face, pricking lightly against her flesh – just enough to break the skin. “Human.” The word sounded tinny, like it was coming from far away through an old fashioned megaphone. “Tell.” As if in slow motion, the skin of its jaw and neck split. It wasn’t a mouth – Cullers didn’t have mouths according to exobiologists. It was a beak and stomach. Like an octopus, Cullers ground their food and ingested it directly.  Maker had never seen one outside of a textbook. It was less attractive in person. Her head was ringing and her tech was flashing and blinking with red warnings. The beak moved sideways, grating against the hard plate of bone underneath. It sounded anticipatory.

Maker squeezed the trigger.

She could feel the burn against her the top of her thigh where the bullet grazed, ripping right through her armor until it connected with the pelvis of the Culler. Its beak gnashed shut and she was grateful for the blood in her ears so she couldn’t very well make out the shrill sound of its scream.  It fell backward, flopping, almost comically, like a fish out of water, and flailing with its talons – less comically. One bit into Maker’s calf and she let out a guttural shout. Her bloody, numb right hand wrestled for her net gun, and when she finally got it to fire, it only captured the Culler’s top half.  She had no way to turn on the magnetic locks, so it was just a wire mesh that the thing couldn’t seem to cut through, even with its deadly talons. Maker stared at it for a few precious moments, stunned that she was alive – mostly.

She holstered the net gun, and an overwhelming sense of exhaustion came over her. She tugged at the niquab still covering her hair and neck with her gun hand, but it was too difficult to remove. Maker decided that was fine, because where it had been too hot before, she now felt a shiver dancing along her skin. She might have curled up right there, tried to rest in the shell of the building, if the owners of the shops had not started to reappear. She saw one on the far side of the commons, barely noticeable with the near-dead flicker of her contacts. Another leaned out of a building, speaking into a communicator and pointing to the trail of Culler-bits that had been smeared across the floor. The mission was supposed to have been easy, quiet, and not leave any impression with the locals that the Sol Coalition had any interest in the little mining station. Somewhere in her most-definitely concussed state, she realized that plan would be blown to hell once station security arrived to find her, the shot-up Culler, and all of her Coalition issue equipment.

“This is Command, respond,” she rasped. Maker struggled to her feet and only had to pause for fifteen or twenty seconds to steady herself and be certain she wouldn’t throw up from dizziness. “Command calling, over.” Her throat felt hot and raw, but she kept repeating the call out, softly, as she picked up one twisted corner of the net. The wires bit into her glove every time the Culler moved, and Maker finally turned and shot the thing in the foot. It still struggled, but not so violently. She bypassed the hole in the floor, knowing she would not be able to jump down two levels, even if she used the Culler as a landing pad, and headed for the corridor.

Locals were noticing her, and they weren’t friendly. Several armed residents of the station followed her progress closely. “Command here, call back,” she continued to try to raise the transport as she limped down the hall. There was a small standoff at the lift doors, and Maker wasn’t sure what finally made the armed miners move: the sight of her gun, or of the snarling, shrieking Culler behind her. She kicked the creature in the head with her boot once she had it in the lift. The movement sent a spear of fiery agony up her thigh and into her back. At the push of a button they descended to the docking level without any further noise from the prisoner. Unfortunately, it seemed to come around as she approached the bay and the growing stench of rotting plants. What little was left of a Culler after a vapor round from a heavy rifle dripped from the walls and ceiling. It made her prisoner thrash wildly. She shot at it again, but missed. “This is Command, please respond.”

“Transport here, Command.” Static and crackles accompanied Bretavic’s deep voice, but the transmission was understandable. Maker’s heart seized hard and then started beating in relieved double time .  The soldier continued, “Locals are starting to rumble, time to go.”

Maker entered the bay to find the ship prepped and ready; the thrum of the engines reverberated dully against her throbbing ears. A loose group of ten to fifteen miners blocked the door to the operations center; there would be no leaving the station without accessing control for the docking doors. Rodriguez was braced against the hydraulics for the ship’s ramp. Next to him, holding a heavy rifle and surrounded by spent cartridges, was Kerry. Rodriguez looked pale, but determined, as he kept his eyes on the crowd. Kerry was as complacent as ever, his weapon on the miners. He glanced at her quickly, and spoke to the private with his usual calm tone.

“Sarge could use help.”

Without responding or looking away from potential hostiles, Rodriguez holstered his handgun and held out his arms for the rifle. Kerry handed it over before drawing his service weapon and sidestepping toward her. Maker would have met him halfway if she didn’t have to stop twice to kick at the snarling Culler. Adrenaline was wearing off, and pain and exhaustion were rapidly taking precedence. She issued orders in what she hoped was an authoritative voice, but she doubted it came out that way, “Warm up the forward cannon.” Kerry took the net from her and hauled the Culler up off the floor with ease, never losing his targets. He moved quicker than she did, easily picking his way through the blue Nick blood that streaked the ramp even with his thrashing package.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d open the door,” she called out to the miners. Her voice sounded strangely far away and outside her own head. A few men shifted, looking at one another, and one raised a gun.

“Target painted,” Rodriguez said softly. She was close enough she could have heard it without the transceiver, if her ears weren’t still bleeding sluggishly. Her tech flickered, for a moment showing the aggressive miner outlined in yellow.

“Hold targets,” Maker stated flatly. She couldn’t feel the gun in her hand, couldn’t feel much of anything past the pain. So much pain in her arm, shoulders, back, thigh, calf. So much pain that it blended together into a red haze that surrounded her vision. The mission was mostly screwed. They were supposed to bring both Nicks in alive; one was dead and she wouldn’t be surprised if the other followed soon, if the amount of blood he left behind was any indication. They had involved locals, and although their armor was unmarked and mostly covered by civilian clothing, the miners would have had to be brain dead to not suspect the Sol Confederation. One fourth of her team was unconscious, another quarter dead, the rest severely injured. We’re already FUBAR, she thought, there is really no reason to be polite. She focused on the crowd. “You can open the door,” she told them, “or I can.” She stepped onto the riser for the transport and spoke lowly so that only the transmitter would pick it up, “All aboard, raise the hatch.” As the hydraulics began to work, she called out to the miners, keeping her gun ready, “You have two minutes.”

As soon as the ramp was sealed, Bretavic leaned out of the cockpit to nod at her, but she couldn’t manage a response as she stared at the floor of the cargo hold. All of their dead had been recovered, and someone had attempted to cover them with a cargo tarp. It wasn’t large enough. Too many bodies, she thought woodenly. Only their faces were concealed; their legs stuck out, stiff and spattered with fluid. Maker couldn’t stop staring at the boots. The lieutenant’s were polished to a high shine. Despite orders to remain covert, he must not have been able to help himself. Habits ingrained during training were hard to break. She looked down at her own feet. Her rough black boots were dusty and scuffed before they became covered in blood. I should take better care of them.

Rodriguez found her standing in the hold next to the stretched out corpses of her team. He escorted her out of the cargo area and helped her to lie down on an empty bunk where he could administer meds and emergency bandages. Maker was vaguely aware of Bretavic noting the dock doors opening and ordering the team to strap in, but she could focus on little past the sweet relief of pain killers as Rodriguez injected her. Kerry joined them there once they were in open space.

“Passengers secure?” Her tongue felt thick in her mouth, and Kerry’s dark hair and skin looked fuzzy. The flat nose and wide cheekbones that signaled his genetic modifications blurred a little, so that all she could clearly make out was the white of his eyes and teeth.

“One Nick, one Culler. Both pissed as hell, but they’ll live,” he responded and took a seat on the floor in the narrow walkway between the bunks, his back against the bracing near her feet.

She glanced at the bed opposite her and could make out a soldier’s form. “The others?”

“They’ll make it,” Rodriguez replied. “Although you might not. Shit, Maker,” worry seeped into his voice, “why the hell didn’t you follow Bretavic down? You’re lucky those Cullers didn’t eviscerate you.” She pulled her eyes away from Merrick’s head to look at the private. He was frowning, the expression making his handsome face even more attractive. He was only a year younger than her, but in that moment of drug-induced simplicity he looked sickeningly youthful. Eighteen, she recalled from the mission brief files, probably not even done filling out yet.  He could have died, like the others. Hell, I almost shot him myself…a couple of times. Rodriguez cut away the clothing and what was left of her armor over her chest and shoulders. She had never seen anyone die before. Suddenly she felt sick again, and had to close her eyes and breath shallowly to hold back the urge to vomit. The private didn’t seem to notice as he continued to work, or he attributed it to pain. “There’s nothing I can do for your shoulder joint, anyhow. Hopefully the medics at base can save it. But you’re going be in surgery for a long time, at best.”

Maker swallowed several times, and was aware of the weight of Kerry’s head, leaning back against her uninjured leg. She should have been more concerned with her shoulder, but what had been fiery agony was subsiding into a dull throb that seemed far away. Everything seemed far away. She realized it was the meds, making her comfortable and loosening her tongue, but it didn’t stop her from mumbling, “Just make sure they take the det cord out of my pocket, first.”


Next Chapter

Dogs and Other Beasts

What is it about dogs? Or the slightly more animalistic (or really animalistic) beasts that we so often become enamored with? Obviously, those who read my fanfiction and are fans of the Inuyasha universe are familiar with the attraction. Claws, growling, dominance and possessive instincts…*sigh*

Where was I? Oh, right, werewolves.

It isn’t much of a leap, to go from dog demons to humans that turn into canines. Anyone who has looked at fiction bestsellers in the past five years, or movie releases and tv premiers, knows how popular that fascination is. Add that to the Beauty and the Beast concept and the romance practically writes itself. Now, there is a character concept that has been done. And done. And done. But I still love it. I think, too, that there is more to delve into here. Discussing the base instincts (excuse the self-reference) of human beings allows for deeper discussion of psychology, the juxtaposition of a character that is an overt expression of what we evolved from, of what we might be without society and learned behaviors, and a physically weaker character that can display superiority in a variety of ways. Belle has the power to end the curse. Kagome can purify history’s greatest evil. In the most trite combinations, the big strong ‘beast’ overpowers the – eventually – willing delicate beauty. It can be so more than that, though. It can be a discussion on what makes man? How is he (and I use that term as a neuter) reconcile the dichotomy of genetic drives with higher aspirations?

I am sure any philosopher or literature student would scoff at this, or point out the flaws in my reasoning. However, the discussion got me thinking. And noodling. And imagining. So, take a look at Chapter 1 of Barghest,  below.


Hour 1006, Day 269, Year 2102

Sixty-ninth anniversary of approval by the American Surgeon General for embryonic gene therapy for medical conditions which impact either mortality or quality of life.


A scraping, grating sound was dulled somewhat by the thick, one-way glass that was between Representative Sudarshan and the enclosure for Test Subject 21-G.  The Representative had to force herself not to grimace; instead she folded her arms over her chest in a practiced manner that gave her an air of authority, without looking aggressive. Dr. Jenssen pulled a stylus from his coat pocket and tapped on a control pad in his hand. Data flashed to life on the glass, outlining the subject, displaying vital statistics, and highlighting significant results. Sudarshan ignored most of the glowing text to assess the subject personally. She could only see the top of his head, as he was crouched in a corner. One hand, lightly dusted with short brown hair, reached out to the wall and dragged down the polymetallic sheeting. Curls of material flaked up and away from his nails, deepening two parallel scratches on the wall.

“You can see here,” Jenssen pointed to a chart and drew a curve to attract her attention, “21-G has exceeded conservative projections for all skill areas and resistances. Sensory perception and strength are both far above estimates, and intelligence appears to be within acceptable parameters. Unfortunately, out of the twenty-five subjects that were viable at extraction, he is the only one to remain intact and operational, so our efforts to study and assess him have slowed somewhat as we need to reduce risk of damage for the last product of the 21 series. Also, many of the results are open to interpretation, as we have no means of establishing a control or baseline for comparison.” Jenssen flicked away the data, and pulled up another set of charts.

He would have continued, but the grating sound started again. Sudarshan watched 21-G drag his middle two fingers down the grooves in the wall again. “Why is he doing that?”

Jenssen glanced up from his tablet. “Oh, marking territory. We’ve seen that in 82% of all viable series to date. The behaviorists believe that it is essential, but my chief geneticist assures me it can be coded out, if it is a problem.” He gestured with his stylus, “This graph-”

“And his attitude,” Sudarshan interrupted again, “is he always like this?” She had read the files, of course. That was her responsibility as the new Chair of the Oversight Committee for Defense Research and Covert Operations. The Representative was aware that Project Reform had made tremendous strides in genetic modifications and splicing. The prospect of a new kind of soldier, one that was stronger, braver, and faster than humans but also intelligent was tantalizingly close. However, the challenges were still significant. Congress had spent trillions, would spend trillions more, if requests for the next five year funding allocation were approved, but Project Reform had yet to produce an individual that could operate in the field.

“Ah, yes,” Jenssen cleared his throat and smiled. Fine wrinkles appeared at the corner of his eyes, but his mouth was stiff. “Although 21-G is obedient and excels in combat simulations, he is withdrawn and has…difficulty…interacting with others.”

“Difficulty?” Sudarshan stepped closer the the glass and squated down. From a lower angle she could see the subject’s face. His skin was the same non-descript brown of his hair, or perhaps a shade lighter. His cheekbones were wide and high, his jaw pronounced and broad. The ears were further up on his head than a human’s, and edged with long, pale hairs the moved gently in the artificial currents of the hvac system. She couldn’t tell the color of his eyes as they were closed, but she knew from the file they were green – and shone red in low lighting. “Is that what you call the maiming of two technicians and the death of another? And I understand he killed five of the six other 21 series models in his group.”

“Well,” Jenssen coughed and shuffled his feet. “After the challenges with motivation and passivity in the 20-series, we made some adjustments to the genome – which was extremely successful. The results were exactly what we were hoping for.”

“Dead scientists?” she murmured. Her eyes traced over the broad shoulders and heavy musculature of the subject. His simple grey scrubs were stretched tight over long limbs. Thick hair was tied into a simple ponytail at his nape, and darker brown hair grew on his face and neck. “That is not a promising goal, Doctor.”

She could hear Jenssen’s umbrage rising in his voice. “The staff…incidents…were the result of security procedures that were not properly followed. Dr. Gillian was aware that no personnel are allowed direct contact with the subjects unless they are anesthetized. Despite that, she entered the enclosure to begin an unapproved behavioral study. When 21-G attacked, the technicians intervened.”

“I read Gillian’s report. She stated that increased socialization would curb the violent tendencies and establish trust and loyalty.” The Representative studied the subject’s feet. They were larger and broader than an average human. She recalled from the file it was a result of increased height and body mass. His toes were pressed against the floor, his heels raised and nearly under his body.

“Yes,” Jenssen’s tone was saturated with derision, “And the former Oversight Chair took those concerns seriously. We did institute controlled interactions between subjects – which resulted in aggression and violent outbursts between them. Of the fourteen that were still viable at the time, G killed five that were in the same control group. The sixth was left alive with only non-lethal puncture wounds on the neck.” The display on the glass flickered, and new data, including images of subjects that had refused food and one that killed himself by puncturing her abdomen with his own claws. Behind her, Jenssen was sounding more confident. “The other control group was declared non-viable within a few months. Gillian’s research is pedantic, at best. If we threw out the behaviorists and psychoanalysts and focused our resources on the hard science, I promise you we could produce the outcomes the Committee is looking for in another two or three serieses.”

“Such ego,” Sudarshan murmured under her breath. She pressed her palms against her knees to stand, and in the split second that her attention turned from the subject, he exploded into motion. Later, review of the security footage would show that he had braced himself to move and his eyes had been focused on a faulty seal at the bottom of the glass. It would be hypothesized that he could see or sense the residual heat from the bodies of those in the observation room as it seeped out under the window. Whatever reason he had, however he accomplished it, the result was a terrifying impact when his body slammed into the mirrored side. Four inches of reinforced plastiglass shuddered and cracked in a spiderweb pattern.  Sudarshan fell backward onto her hands with a strangled gasp. Jenssen screamed.

Alarms sounded and high inside the enclosure, vents opened releasing a sedative gas. Sudarshan flinched, her heart stuttering, as 21-G hit the glass again, the second time with his fist. Small chunks of material splintered and fell out of a tiny hole that centered on the impact. The Representative stared into the subjects eyes. They were pale green, flecked with brown. Despite the fury etched on his face, Sudarshan saw something else there too. The sedative took effect before he could connect a third time, and both the observation room and enclosure were swarmed with security personnel. Sudarshan refused assistance and stood up on her own, watching as they strapped the subject down and loaded him into a confinement chamber the size of a large coffin. When she finally turned around, she was unimpressed to find Jenssen, pants soaking wet, breathing from a portable oxygen cannister and ranting about protocols and autopsy schedules.

Sudarshan ignored him and pulled aside one of the guards. “Take me to a secure line, and get me the next most senior staff person. Now.”

Two days later, Representative Sudarshan was on a transport back to the Sol System. Dr. Jenssen’s contract had been terminated, and he was strongly encouraged to review the binding non-disclosure and non-compete portions of his agreement. Dr. Gillian, fresh from transplant surgery, had been reinstated and promoted as the head of research. She had insisted on foregoing her scheduled skin grafts and reconstructive procedures to begin work immediately. Project Reform was under new leadership, and a new strategic plan. The Representative accepted a drink from her assistant and settled in to listen to reports on the latest debates on the Congressional floor regarding oceanic reclamation. She could afford to focus on domestic matters, assured that she would soon have exactly what humanity needed to search out their enemies and erase them. Her last act, before she closed the files on her tablet, was to authorize a new code name for the black operation.

Project Hellhound would make her career.


Chapter 2

Pacing Yourself

I can turn out around ten pages a day. That is ten actual pages, not double-spaced comic sans pages, mind you. Sometimes that seems like a lot. A great deal of action can happen in ten pages, or a dialogue with two or three really great lines, or an inner monologue that gets to the heart of some personality quirk or psychological tension.Those days I can whip right though it and wonder where the time went. Then there are days when ten pages can seem to take forever, when I have to switch perspectives three or four times just to slog through it. At the end, though, there is another chapter, so yea me.

Then again, what is that worth? Ten pages in a day? That’s about nine hours at my desk, including time to check email and take care of a few other issues. So it takes roughly six hours, cumulative, to write and rough edit ten pages. As a wage, that is pretty bad. But as a part of the creative process, I wonder how it shakes out? Regardless, it doesn’t seem to matter if I am loving a scene and the words are just flowing along, or if it feels like my fingernails are being pulled out just to come up with another sentence. One workday equals about ten pages. At least I am consistent, I guess. Maybe I should learn to type faster. Anyone know where I can pick up a copy of Mavis Bacon?

If you write, or know of an author that has quoted a page or word number, let me know.

Pitchforks and Torches: Second Alliance Chapter 43

Second Alliance is, admittedly, far longer than I originally anticipated. I don’t know that I had a page number in mind, but it is a fan fiction, and I only started writing it as a practical exercise for myself while editing an original work. Over time, it developed into something much, much bigger. Not just in the sense of page numbers, although with 451 at my last count that is certainly true, but also in the sense of the plot. SA has developed a series of side stories that should all tie back into the main arc in another 20-30 chapters.

Even writing that number makes me feel tired.

As I was going along, not realizing that this was becoming some sort of epic undertaking that would take longer than the cumulative amount of time I have spent growing two children, I thought I was being really clever leaving little clues about this shocking, butler-with-the-candlestick-in-the-library type of reveal that would occur in the middle somewhere. Then I got to that point, and the readers were pretty upset. I think the most generous comment I received was, ‘I didn’t see that coming‘. Which was the point, sort of, but I didn’t realize that all of the other comments – ‘how could you‘, ‘I loved that OC‘, and ‘WHY!!!‘ would almost hurt my feelings. I actually typed out a response to one comment that was basically: chill out and wait for the next chapter, my friend, all will be revealed.

And then I deleted it.

I believe a good story is supposed to be exactly the things that were bothering me in the comments: anticipation, nail biting, tears for those unjustly hurt, disgust for the villain, screaming at the characters ‘don’t go down there!‘ and ‘just tell him!‘.  All of that, and then turning the page as quickly as possible even though it is hours past bedtime and you have to get up early the next day. Unfortunately, the nature of a serial story is that there is no immediate page turning. The next chapter isn’t up yet. It can’t be. I am still crafting the story while you are reading it. Although I try to write a few chapters ahead of what I post, to allow for minor edits and emergencies in case I can’t get any writing done, I still delay a week or so between posts. This is not a full time gig for me. It isn’t even a paying gig. It can’t be – it’s fan fiction. This is a tribute to another creative mind, not my own personal story – no matter how many hours I have spent on it.

Having said that, I get it. I’m a reader too, and I’m the fickle type that can easily move on to something else if content isn’t available on my schedule. Especially if I was left unsatisfied. So, to stem the angry mob, I have decided to go ahead and post Chapter 43 of Second Alliance here, much sooner than I would have put it up on a fan fiction site. If it works well, I may go ahead and publish more of the story here first, more frequently.

Go ahead, turn the page, even if you do have that presentation tomorrow. This will be worth it. Promise.

Finishing What You Start

I took a long, long absence from writing anything of substance. Although I picked up a few pages here and there on various projects, I didn’t really commit to anything. Unfortunately, it turns out that in order to be a writer, one must actually write. Even more distressing, to be an author, one must publish – which requires finishing something.

I know, I was also appalled when I found out.

North Sea Dawn was my first completed full length work, but I don’t want it to be my last. In the interested of completing something, and having invested an inordinate amount of time in it already, I am working on Second Alliance again. This time, I intend to finish it. I won’t ever make money from publishing SA – nor should I as it is a transformative work based on the creativity of another – but I do need to finish it. With that in mind, I have updated another six chapters to the webpage as well as the downloadable formats.  SA deserves to be completed, as much as I need to make myself do it. Hopefully, once I have another project wrapped up, I can successfully turn my brain to a wholly original project.

Then I suppose I’ll have to finish that one, too.

NaNoWriMo: Fourth Post

Chapter 3

“The warrior did not have a weapon.” His eyes were wide with fear. Blood gurgled from his mouth and the puncture marks on his neck, and the woman frowned at him.

“Do not speak. Your suit must remain still to be repaired.” She opened a jar of creamy brown paste and smeared it across his wounds. He had already done the same for her, once the glass was removed. She turned away from him, moving to stand under the air conditioning vent while she tended to her hands. The suit had been burned in a way that she was certain she had not seen before, but still was familiar. The fingers were completely black, and covered in dark purple blisters. The color of dead flesh faded in an ombre pattern across her palms and up her wrists – ending in healthy flesh midway to the elbow. Most of the fingertips were completely gone. There were holes in the suit that revealed her body underneath.

The damage to the human flesh was a nuisance. However, that was not her primary concern. She held her hands up before her, examining the jagged edges of skin. Her claws extended from her real fingers, through the suit where human fingernails would have grown. Two of them were broken. One had been ripped from her body, leaving a torn stump of waxy grey tissue and exposed bone.

Never before had she been injured by a mere human. Even the ring warriors, with their training and weapons, had never drawn her blood. She had fought them many times, in the first years, and even once faced ten of the twelve ring warriors. An army of her kind met them on the battlefield, and many were slain, but she survived with the dark heart’s blood of a ring warrior in her mouth.

This human – this infant girl child – had done that which her sworn enemies had never succeeded in doing. A snarl twisted her lips. She had come to the stinking hot little city to find the ring. She intended to command it and with it the ring warriors themselves. If she could not, she would destroy it. Her ambitions had been thwarted by a fading champion of humanity – one who did not even keep his weapon at hand – and a simple mortal. Such irrational brazenness, such outrageous temerity, would not be borne.

“Do not fear the warrior,” she instructed her companion. “He does not carry his weapon, and he has the faded scent of the decrepit and aged about him. His experience overcame yours, but his strength is greatly diminished. When we meet him next, rip out his throat and be done with it.” She dipped her hand into the jar again and rubbed the stinging oil into her damaged suit. The suit would be repaired in time, but her claw might never grow back. Her reflection in the window bared its teeth at her. “Leave the mortal to me.”

Project Nordic Diner – Day 3

NaNoWriMo asks authors to write a novel in a month, the pace is brutal for me, but I am forcing myself to write and edit each day.  I’d love to hear any suggestions to stay motivated, or how your own project is going if you are participating!

Chapter 2

It was hours later before she could think of anything except broken bits of frozen skin. The cold pressure of fear in her chest had dissipated and she found herself sitting on her couch, an afghan draped over her shoulders, despite the still heat in the apartment. For a moment she wondered if she was late for work, if she had just woken from a terrible dream and any minute her phone would begin ringing. The second shift waitress would be on the line, cursing her for not showing up. The tiny efficiency was filled with the soft, hazy light of early morning. She shrugged off the blanket to stand.

Elsa let out a whimper when pain shot through her neck and shoulders. She felt as though she had run for miles, her legs were trembling, and her head ached as though someone was shoving red-hot needles through her eyes and into her brain. Kitchen towels had been wrapped around her forearms. She sank back onto the couch and closed her eyes, trying to will the pain away.

“Here, take these,” someone pressed pills into her open palm. “I have a glass of water for you too, it’ll help with the muscle cramps.” Elsa let out a deep breath through her nose, trying to remain calm.

“I hope I am dreaming, I hope that a homeless guy didn’t break into my apartment and give me drugs,” she whispered. She opened her eyes, and her sense of injustice was gratified, again. Kurt stood, with his shaggy hair and filthy clothes, at the end of the couch. The blood had been washed out of his beard, but his shirt was still torn. His sleeves had been pushed up over his elbows, revealing the beginnings of unidentifiable tattoos. “How did you get in here?”

“I used the key in your backpack.” He handed her the water, his face unreadable under the dark blonde facial hair. After examining the pills to verify that, yes, they were just aspirin, she took a long drink. Suddenly she felt parched, she downed the whole glass in a few gulps and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Would you like more?” He didn’t wait for a response but took her empty cup and stepped three paces to the tiny galley kitchen to refill it. The old trunk she used as a coffee table creaked quietly when he sat on it, but held together under his bulky frame. He watched her face while she drank her second glass, more slowly this time. Elsa tried to concentrate on not thinking about what had happened to her. She failed.

“Oh, god.” She couldn’t hold back a whimper and her stomach roiled. The glass slipped from her fingers to thud on the thick rug. Images of the window shard, protruding grotesquely from the woman’s back, assaulted her. “You killed those people,” she whispered frantically. “That guy was going to break my kneecaps and you killed them!” She pressed her hands against her stomach, trying to still the queasiness.

“Why would they break your kneecaps?” Kurt asked in an even tone.

“I couldn’t tell them where to find the guy they were looking for. I didn’t even know who they were talking about!” She felt tears gathering in her eyes and a panicky feeling growing. She knew she was overreacting, she didn’t even make sense to herself, but she couldn’t seem to help it. Reason and logic were smothered by rising hysteria. “They were probably drug dealers, or assassins – christ, that guy looked like he killed people for a living – and now the diner is trashed, and you killed two people, and I’m going to be fired, and I never finished making the pies!” She ended in a near wail. Her breath was coming rapidly and she could see black spots in the edges of her vision, forming a dark halo around Kurt’s face. He pushed her head between her knees.

“Take a deep breath,” he said. She struggled to do that and ignore the burning in her neck and the pounding of her pulse. “And another.” His cool fingers began to rub circles on the back of her neck, easing the pain in her shoulders and head. “They were looking for me.” At his calm declaration she struggled against his hand briefly, but he held her in place. This is a bad movie, she thought frantically, this is a bad movie and I’m going to wake up any moment. “and while they didn’t recognized me, they would have probably tried to torture us both to find me.”

It crossed Elsa’s mind that a lot of homeless people were veterans. Kurt might have been having flashbacks, might have been dangerous. Might still be dangerous. She stared into his face, searching for a sign that he was unstable, ready to break her neck or pet her – Lenny style – before wandering off with his shopping cart. There was no telltale sign of insanity. Hazel eyes, a warm caramel brown with a thin ring of green around the pupil, stared back. Clear. Calm. Completely sane. “Why were they – are you really homeless?”

He chuckled briefly, and then let her up since her breathing had returned to normal. “They are looking for something they think I have – or at least, they think I know where it is.” He watched her for a few moments, rubbing his beard absently.

“And so you killed them? To protect this…whatever?” Elsa leaned back against the knobby orange upholstery, convinced, if not of Kurt’s truthfulness, then at least sure that he didn’t intend to hurt her.

“I fought them for that reason, yes.” He leaned forward, placing his hands over hers. Elsa was again struck by how clean and cool they were, almost cold. “But I did not kill them. I very much doubt they were still on the ground by the time we got here.”

“Not on the-” Elsa pulled her hands away from his, her eyes wide with rapidly rising disbelief. “You stabbed that guy in the neck…with a fork, a fork!” She stood again, thankful that the pain in her head had subsided to a dull throb. “I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure all that blood on the floor was a bad sign.” Elsa shivered, remembering how deep the metal tines had stuck in the man’s neck, how ragged the skin looked around the holes. She pressed her hand against her stomach, feeling sick again.

“And it would have killed anyone else, any normal person.” He sat placidly on the blanket-covered chest, watching her pace across the small room. His tattooed forearms rested on his knees, his expression inscrutable.

“But that guy wasn’t normal…is that what you’re saying?” Elsa faced the window, watching a freight train a few blocks away. She wished she was there, on that train, going somewhere a hundred miles from her shabby apartment and the man who complimented her pie and paid with lint covered change and then stabbed diner customers with eating utensils. Diner customers with crazed, unsettling smiles that made her feel sick just remembering them. “Do I want to know why?”

“Probably not, and to be honest, it may be safer for you if you don’t.” Kurt leaned forward, clasping his hands between knees earnestly. She couldn’t look at his face, but stared at his hands. They were calloused on his fingertips and palms, but his nails were neatly trimmed and clean. “I’m sorry that this happened in your diner, and I’m sorry you got hurt.” He pushed himself up and smoothed his sleeves down to his wrists, covering the dark whorls of ink and breaking her quiet study of him. “Trust me when I tell you that those two were long gone by the time the police arrived.”

“Police,” Elsa snorted, “I doubt anyone called it in, and patrols are not exactly regular in this neighborhood.” She shivered again, sending another spasm of aches through her back.

“That’s probably for the best. If a single officer had tried to arrest those two, they would have torn him apart.” Kurt folded the afghan neatly over the back of the orange couch. “They would have needed to hole up somewhere to recuperate, but they’ll be looking for me again tonight. I’ll lead them away from you, but you should probably call in sick for a few days. And I wouldn’t recommend continued employment at the diner.”

“Recommend?” A bubble of inappropriate laughter rose in her throat. “I’ll be lucky if I only get fired! I could be held liable for the damages, not to mention all that blood on the floor.” A short cackle escaped, “Ha, recommend! I needed that job, I need both my jobs – unless you also recommend living on the streets – like you.” Suddenly the humor drained and the reality of the situation sank in. Her eyes flashed with blue anger. “They weren’t looking for me, it’s you they wanted. You led those crazy people to my diner and killed them in front of m-”

“I didn’t kill-”

“Shut up!” Elsa yelled. She could no longer tell if her trembling was from the strange cold that had seeped into her bones or fury. Her life had been orderly. A small life – plain, simple, boring, and poor. He was trying to make it bigger. Make her life larger with danger and information and other things she didn’t want to know or experience. She wasn’t nice to people, didn’t help people. Kept her head down and her eyes on her own goals. Then she had met Kurt. She had been nice – she lied about having to throw out the pie. He was going to ruin everything. The shaking might have been fury, or it might have been fear. Elsa chose fury. She marched across the room and poked him in the chest, hard. “They followed you there, and now I’m hurt, and I can’t go back to work, and my boss may sue me, and I have to worry about two psychos following you to my apartment!” She poked him on every ‘and’.

“I didn’t-” he tried to placate her, but that fueled her sudden anger.

“I gave you free pie!” she all but screamed. Finally he closed his mouth, watching her cautiously.

“Two for a dollar, and I thought you were going to throw it out,” he said seriously.

“Shut up,” she said, more quietly. Breathing hard through her nose she stared him in the eye. Her arm fell back to her side. “I don’t know you, I don’t know those people and I don’t want to.” She closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. “If you had left sooner, they would have…hurt me…so thank you for that.” He nodded, slowly, when she opened her eyes again. He would have spoken, but she cut him off with an upraised hand. Her pulse thundered through her forearm, sending sharp stabs of pain into each wound. “I’m sorry you’re in trouble, and I hope things work out okay for you, but I don’t need your advice and I would appreciate it if I never saw you again.” Kurt nodded and retrieved a battered knapsack near the door.

“Please be careful,” he said, turning the deadbolt and opening the door.

“You should go,” she responded flatly. The door closed behind him softly and she listened to his retreating footsteps as she turned the locks. When she couldn’t hear him anymore she slid down the wall. Exhaustion swept over her and she curled up on the floor, wrapping her arms around her knees and crying herself to sleep.

Project Nordic Diner, Day 2

Although it is the third day of November, it is only my second day of posting the novel I am writing for NaNoWriMo. Hopefully, I can keep up the pace!

Back to Prologue


Chapter 1

Elsa brushed a strand of limp black hair back into her braid and gave the Formica table a final swipe with the dish rag. The diner was empty. Despite advertising “hot food, 24-hour service”, the cook had gone home at 2:00 a.m. after the bar crowd had left and by 2:30 the diner was as empty as the street outside – although not as hot. August was always miserable this close to the river, but a month of unusually frequent downpours had left the humidity somewhere around a thousand percent. Even in the hours before dawn, the temperature hadn’t dropped below ninety in weeks.

She tried to ignore the way her thin cotton shirt stuck to the sweat between her shoulder blades while she moved behind the counter and began to refill salt and pepper shakers. It was her favorite shift to work, especially in the heat. No customers, no coworkers, just her in the diner. Her friend Scott said the silence bothered him, but wasn’t all that quiet, not to Elsa’s ears. The refrigerated display case, full of slices of pie and glass bowls of gelatin salad, hummed with a steady pulse. A low-pitched growl vibrated in the ceiling – the air conditioner valiantly struggling against the heat. Elsa could think in that quiet, or just give in to the mind-numbing repetition of her tasks.

The rhythmic twist-pour-twist-slide of glass shakers and salt was interrupted by the tinkle of the bell over the door. Elsa looked up in surprise to see a man in a stained long-sleeved thermal shirt and what might have once been khaki slacks enter the diner. He wore scuffed steel toe work boots; his belt looped through a utility knife and a canteen. His dark blond beard had been trimmed close to his face, perhaps with a pair of garden shears, and his hair hung in uneven, greasy locks to his shoulders.

“Kurt?” Elsa asked, unsure if this was the same homeless man who had come in several times during the winter. He rarely had more than enough money for a cup of coffee, but refills were free. There were never any other customers when he came in so Elsa always let him stay as long as he wanted.

Light brown eyes, the color of warm honey, crinkled at the corners as he nodded. He didn’t smile, but hooked his thumb towards the door, “Is it alright if I leave my stuff next to the bike rack?”

A quick glance confirmed that a grocery cart, one rear wheel replaced with a too-large rubber wagon tire, was parked to the right of the front door. A dirty tarp was loosely lashed over the top as protection against rain and greedy eyes.

“Not a problem,” Elsa said, gesturing at the empty tables, “take any seat in the house.” Kurt loped unevenly to the end of the counter, near the hallway leading back to the restrooms, and took a seat with his back to the wall and one eye on his cart. “Do you want coffee tonight, or something cold?” She screwed together the last salt shaker and wiped off the counter.

“Water, please, as much ice as will fit in the glass.” A handful of change, along with several tufts of lint and a piece of string slid across the counter.

“Water’s free,” she said, ignoring the pile of change and turning to pack a plastic glass with tiny ice pellets. Privately, she thought he might not need so much ice if he would wear a short-sleeved shirt. But then again, most homeless people had concerns that overrode dressing weather-appropriate. When she set the glass down in front of him, Kurt was laboriously counting out the change.

“Dollar oh-two, is that enough for pie?”

Elsa studied him, they both knew how much the pie was. The price hadn’t changed in the five years she had worked at The Boxcar, and it wasn’t $1.02. His unlined face didn’t look hopeful, or sad. It didn’t beg or prepare to talk her into a half-slice or a free meal. Elsa hadn’t spoken with him much in the few times he had been in, but now she wondered how old he was and why he lived like he did.

“You’re lucky, I have to throw out the day-old slices at the end of my shift. At least this way we make some money on them. I’ll give you two slices for a dollar. We’ve got apple, cherry – I don’t recommend it, the cherries were a little too tart, key lime, and two kinds of pot pie, chicken and beef.  What’ll you have?”

“Beef and apple please.” Kurt counted out a dollar and swept the rest off the counter.

“You want those heated up?”

“The beef, not the apple.” She felt his eyes follow her as she disappeared into the kitchen and scooped a generous helping of the pot pie onto a plate. While it heated, she wrapped up the remainder and put it back into the walk-in refrigerator. As an afterthought, she snagged a gallon of vanilla ice cream on her way out, leaving it on the counter to soften. When she slid the plate and a napkin-wrapped fork in front of him, Kurt’s face relaxed. The steam smelled like seasoned beef; chunks of soft yellow potatoes and bright green peas spilled out from under a flaky crust. He took his first bite, groaning when the thick gravy hit his taste buds. He crunched on a slice of carrot and closed his eyes.  Elsa waited until he had swallowed.

“Need anything else?”

“This is the best pie I have ever eaten,” he responded seriously.

Elsa grinned, “Thank you, I hadn’t tried my hand at meat pies before, but I thought it turned out okay.”

“You made this?” his eyes widened slightly in surprise and he took another liberal bite.

“I make all the pies, the morning shift just bakes them. It saves the diner a ton of money – they were buying all their baked stuff before, and it costs a fortune.” Elsa carried a tub full of shakers around the counter, setting them out on tables while she talked. “I already made the custard pies for tomorrow, but I’ll do a few fruit pies before I leave at six.” The diner was quiet again, except for the hum of the pie cabinet, the growl of the AC and the scrape of fork on plate. By the time she was finished preparing the diner for the morning shift, Kurt had polished off his dinner. “I’ll grab that apple for you before I get started in back.” She whisked away his plate and returned with apple pie, smelling of cinnamon and other spices, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

“I don’t usually stay in the city during the summer – it’s too hot,” Kurt commented, ignoring the pie to tackle the rapidly melting ice cream. “But I might change my mind if the food is always this good.” Elsa looked up from the work table in the kitchen where she was rolling out crust. Through the order window she could see the entire diner, and Kurt at the counter. If she was honest with herself, she worked the night shift because she didn’t really care for people. They talked too much, too loudly, usually about nothing interesting or important. They complained about problems that weren’t really problems: my golf game was terrible, these pants make me look fat, the sage we painted the living room is really too green. The homeless man seemed to be a rare exception.

“Where do you usually go?”

“The mountains,” he said, not looking up from his pie. A forkful of apples and pastry paused in mid-air, then he shook his head without saying anything else. That was the end of the conversation while Elsa made pies – first peach, then blueberry – and Kurt finished his dessert and drank his water.

“Thanks for the-” he started, and then the doorbell tinkled again. Surprised, they looked up in unison to watch a man and a woman step into the diner. They were both tall and neatly dressed. The man was blonde and muscular, his white button-down rolled up to his elbows and tucked into dark slacks. His shoes were polished to a glossy shine and his hair was gelled back into a stylish wave. The woman wore a white skirt, mid-thigh, and a sleeveless blouse made of some silky material that emphasized her breasts and the toned muscles of her arms. In contrast to the man’s light tan, her skin was dark, a rich chocolate color that somehow looked cool and refreshing in the heat. Her hair was cut close to her scalp, tiny white ringlets cupped her head and managed to be beautiful and startling at the same time. They were both smiling, revealing straight pearly teeth, like an ad for toothpaste. Kurt clamped his mouth shut and remained on his stool.

“Can I help you?” Elsa asked, emerging from the kitchen with a frown. Judging from their clothes, they were lost. The Boxcar was not in a wealthy, or even particularly middle-class, part of town.

“Where may we sit?” the woman asked, still smiling. Elsa’s frown deepened. She had another pie to finish. The early breakfast crowd would start trickling in around five and the weekend cook was notoriously late, so she would need to start the food and…well, maybe they just wanted pie and coffee. She would charge them full price.

“Anywhere you like, I’ll be with you in a moment.” She watched them claim a table in the center of the diner, alternating between surveying the walls and watching the door. Elsa grabbed a pad and pencil from under the counter and tucked her hair behind her ear. As she passed by, Kurt grabbed her elbow. His hand was surprisingly clean and felt cool on her skin.

“I’ll just sit here for a bit, if that’s okay,” he said in a low voice that wouldn’t reach the couple. She nodded and he withdrew his hand, allowing her to move on. She could feel his eyes on her back as she approached the table. The couple looked up expectantly as she approached.

“What can I get for you?” She poised her pencil, but when no answer was forthcoming she pointed to the menus on the table. “If you need more time to decide, that’s fine, but the grill isn’t hot so-” she glanced up and her words caught in her throat. Smiles, with lots of teeth and shiny whiteness, greeted her. It was wrong. Elsa couldn’t describe the feeling that overcame her any other way. She didn’t think they had ever stopped smiling. The woman was focused on the window, but the man was staring at her. His pink lips were stretched wide, in a friendly, non-threatening way. But his eyes were hard and cold, the gray color so pale it almost disappeared against the whites. No wrinkles formed at the corners of those eyes and his forehead was smooth. Elsa felt the hair on the back of her neck prickle. “It, ah, isn’t hot, so the grill items are, ah, off the menu.”

“I take it you don’t get many customers at this time of night?” the woman asked, still watching the street. Her voice was smoky, reminding Elsa of a black and white film star.

“No, ma’am,” she said, without thinking, and then, hastily, “just our regulars.” The man’s eyes flicked to Kurt, slouching at the counter, then back to her face. She was thankful Kurt had stayed, it made her uneasy standing next to the couple – she wouldn’t have wanted to be alone with them. Which seemed ridiculous, but logic couldn’t debate the certainty that she was safer with the questionable, one-name homeless man than the well-dressed couple.

“Oh, we had hoped to meet someone here. Someone who comes here often. Have you worked here long? Perhaps you would know him.”

“I’ve worked this shift for three years, so if he’s a night owl I probably know him.” Elsa shifted, taking the opportunity to put more space between herself and the smiling man. Too late, she realized that put her closer to the woman. A slender, dark arm shot out and grabbed her wrist over her plastic glove, stained with blueberry juice. Elsa had to fight the urge to pry her fingers off.

“Then you must know who I mean, a good looking man. Quite tall and fit – like my friend,” she gestured with her free hand to the blonde man. Elsa was struck by how long her nails were. They looked false, but they were not painted. They curved out a half inch from her fingertips. Rather like claws, she thought distantly. She tore her gaze up, only to be caught by the woman’s eyes. Unlike the man, she was smiling there too, but her humor was cruel. A horrible thing was about to happen, Elsa was sure, and the woman was looking forward to it. “Do try to remember.” Her fingers tightened on Elsa’s wrist.

“I, ah, don’t know that anyone like that has been in here in a long while.” She felt herself perspiring, a bead of sweat trickled out from her hairline and down along the edge of her jaw. Her stomach was jumpy.

“I know he comes here,” the woman said, and her voice fell to a whisper. “His trail is faint, but I can smell it.” If possible her smile grew wider. “Let me help you remember.” She half-rose out of her chair and reached her free hand towards Elsa’s other arm before she could pull away. Elsa’s instincts were screaming at her to run, but her eyes remained locked on the woman. Time slowed down, and seconds stretched into hours as dark chocolaty eyes bored into her. Elsa felt as though she was being pulled out of herself, her head hurt and her eyes burned. She tried to jerk back, but her body would not obey. She thought of the pie she had just made, and the wagon wheel on the shopping cart outside. Her nose was flooded with the smell of hot exhaust from the bus she had taken to work, her mouth was filled with the baking soda flavor of the cheap toothpaste she used when she woke up.

Fear blossomed, pressing against the inside of her chest with an icy weight. The cold spread; tendrils of wintry panic wrapping around her. Hot liquid trickled down her cheeks. She couldn’t hear anything anymore – only a loud, heavy tick-TICK-tick from the man’s expensive watch. From the corner of her eye she could see him rising, muscles shifting and bunching under his shirt. “Where is he,” the woman whispered through her smile, her hands sliding up Elsa’s arms past the purple-stained gloves. When their skin touched, the moment exploded.

Trying to make up for the lag, time compacted and a million actions happened in an instant. The woman stopped smiling, her eyes opened wide and she screamed in surprise and pain. Elsa tugged furiously at her arms, but couldn’t break free. She tore her gaze away to look down. Long, curved nails dug into her pale skin – dark blood welled around them and dripped onto the floor. The man surged toward Elsa, his smile gone too. His mouth stretched wide and too many teeth were bared in anger. Before he could reach her Kurt hit him in a flying tackle. A growling, twisted knot of clothing and fists crashed into a booth near the window.

Cold fear seeped along her limbs, blocking out the pain in her arms. The woman in white screamed in rage. She stretched her neck towards Elsa, sharp teeth bared. Elsa wanted nothing more than to get away, for the woman to let go. Something broke inside of her, and she let out a scream of her own as cold rushed down her arms and out of her wounds, leaving an agonizing trail in its wake. The woman stood in the center of the diner, her hands hanging limply at her sides, fury in every line of her face. Strips of dry, dead flesh clung to Elsa’s arms. Blood and necrotic skin flaked from the woman’s fingers, cracking and breaking like ice when they hit the floor.

“You,” she whispered furiously. The front window broke with a loud crash as Kurt slammed the man against the frame. The stranger grappled, snarling and struggling to wrap his hands around Kurt’s neck. Elsa’s eyes shot back to the woman as she grabbed a diner chair and slammed it against the floor, breaking it. She gripped a twisted piece of metal in her ruined fist. The diner echoed with a ripping sound and the crack of breaking glass. The woman tipped her head back, opening her mouth wide to scream but there was no sound.

Elsa stared in shock at Kurt, the woman crumpled at his feet. Five jagged inches of plate glass protruded from her back.

“We should leave,” he said. Elsa didn’t respond. His shirt was torn at the collar, and his beard was matted with blood that ran from his nose. She glanced at the window, where the blond man hung over the frame, his lower half outside, Kurt’s pie fork embedded in his neck. “Now,” he said, taking her hand and leading her out of the bright fluorescent lights of The Boxcar diner and into the sweltering darkness of the summer night. Elsa stumbled after him, unable to shake the image of the woman, the dark skin of her arms contrasting sharply against her white skirt, frozen flesh falling off her hands and onto the clean linoleum.

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is November, and in an effort to push myself to write on a regular basis I am going to participate this year. After all, half of being an author is actually writing. I’m told it is also a key factor to finish a story, novella, or novel as well. So let’s do this – together.  I’ll post what I write here, and hopefully by the end of the month there will be an entire novel here. It might be rough, but it will be complete.

If you are a writer, you can participate as well. You can write on your own, or sign up to be part of the NaNoWriMo community. If you are a reader, or maybe not quite ready to commit to writing every day for a month, you can support authors you do know.

Come on an adventure with me, and my new characters. My NaNoWriMo project, Nordic Diner, starts now.


“It is here,” she said with conviction.

“You are sure?” Her companion questioned as he dragged a black plastic bag from the van.

She didn’t look back at him, but continued to stare out across the river. The water looked darker and cooler at night, despite the heat. She knew that in the daytime it would appear brown, thick with the sediment of human agriculture and industry. The heat sucked vapor off of that river, pulling it into the city and smothering the inhabitants with it. She considered that it was a far lighter punishment than they deserved for all of their crimes – for their existence – but also that the discomfort would serve as a prelude to true penance.

Humans. The smell of them coated her nose and seeped into her lungs. She could not get rid of the stench. Even after she removed her suit, after she had scrubbed her skin with ice water and stood in her air conditioned office naked to dry, she could still taste their filth – like meat stuck between her teeth and rotting.

Once she had found it, she would be able to forget about the suits. She would stand with an army before her and watch the humans burn. The tang of mortal blood in the air would be washed away with fire, and she looked forward to walking through their flaking, scentless ash.

“I am sure.” She paused, but could see no reason to not assure him of her knowledge, “A ring warrior lives here.”

“Ring warrior?” her companion asked with faint alarm. “They might-”

“Not they,” she interrupted, “there is only one.” She breathed deeply, repressing the urge to spit out the essence of humanity that made saliva pool in her mouth and sour on her tongue. “The trail is thin, and crisscrosses the city, but a warrior is here.” Her companion returned to his task, lifting a second seven foot long black plastic bag from the back of an SUV and gently placing it on a cart beside the first bag. “Careful,” she reminded him, “this suit will not last much longer. I need a fresh one.”

“Of course,” he responded. He unzipped the second bag and pulled back the opening so that she could see inside. A dark face, with high cheekbones and full lips looked back at her. The eyes were closed, but the color was of no consequence. It smelled. Strongly.

She felt her lip curling back in distaste, “Still alive.”

“They stay fresher that way.” He zipped up the bag again and glanced at her face, noting her expression. “I have heard that rubbing menthol inside the nostrils drowns out the scent.”

“Perhaps,” she said, non-committal. A warm breeze pulled brown hair out of the bun she had fastened it in earlier, and the lock blew across vision. She pinched it between two fingers, ready to put in back in place, but at the slightest tug it came free. A patch of pallid skin the size of a quarter hung from the end, still attached to the hair by the roots. “Prepare the female immediately. It appears this suit has begun to wear through.”

Kindle Worlds

Amazon has developed a new platform for releasing fanfiction. KindleWorlds allows fanfiction authors to submit stories based on characters and canon created by another author, play or screenwriter. The purchase price of each story generates royalties for the original author and the fanfic author.

This is exciting for me, as a fanfiction author, but also a an avid consumer of media. I read and write fanfic because I want more of the characters and worlds that I love. Amazon has not only legitimized fanfiction in a huge way by creating KindleWorlds, but allows fanfiction to benefit the original creator. I hope new worlds continue to be added to Amazon’s shelves. Additional material enriches the experience for any reader, and expands the audience as well. It gives new authors exposure, and pays tribute to creators. Great job, Amazon.

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