Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chapters are now posted to my new website

As always, chapters will be posted at 6:00 AM Eastern time on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The Cliffhanger 250 site has been great, but it's time for something new. Select the link below. The latest chapters are listed under "Henry's Latest Writing".

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Recognition Run - Chapter 5

< Chapter 4                                                                                                        Chapter 6 >
Two officers arrive at Drake’s docking bay looking for Jeanine.


Across from me, Jeanine’s eyes widened in surprise and fear. Then her eyes began darting around the small room as if searching for something—a hiding place, I assumed.

“You’re mistaken, officers,” I replied, settling into the slightly-bored tone of voice I always use with government officials. “I’m the only one on the ship.”

Most freight haulers in the galaxy fall into exactly the same tone when they find themselves dealing with bureaucrats. It’s what bureaucrats expect to hear, too, so it tends to put them at ease. That’s especially useful on those occasions when I actually do have something to hide—like now.

The security officer said, “So you haven’t had a woman with you tonight?”

“I didn’t say that,” I replied, trying to inject a little puzzlement into my voice. “I had a very attractive woman in here not that long ago.”

“Describe her,” the security officer demanded.

Assuming they had access to security vids, I gave a superficially accurate description of Jeanine, putting emphasis on her long legs, barely-covered butt, and pushed-up breasts. The officers exchanged a glance as I wrapped up the description, both giving a fractional nod.

“And why did this young woman leave?” the security officer asked.

“I assume her, ah, business manager had another customer lined up.”

“You’re saying the woman is a prostitute?”

“Yeah, and a good one.” Jeanine’s eyes narrowed in what I hoped was amusement at that, but I couldn’t risk looking directly at her to make sure. “I paid her, she relieved my…tensions…most admirably, and then she left.”

A third voice spoke from off screen. It was pitched too low for me to understand the words, but there was no doubt the owner of that voice was issuing orders to the officers. Jeanine heard the voice, too, and she went very still and deathly pale at the sound of it.

The customs officer spoke next. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to search your ship, Captain Haral.”

“Oh, hell, did you guys outlaw prostitution since I was here last?”

“No, Captain Haral, we did not,” the security officer said. “But we still must search your ship.”

“Have you got a warrant?” I asked, aiming for confused belligerence in my voice. “I don’t have to let you in unless you have a legal warrant.”

A hand came in from offscreen holding a ducal badge. The third voice, now perfectly clear, said, “Yes, Captain Haral, you do have to let us in. Now stop wasting my time and do as you’re told.”

There was only one possible answer to such a demand and I gave it. “Of course, sir. I’ll be right out.”

The vid winked out and I tossed the screen on the table in disgust. Jeanine spoke for the first time since the comm buzzed. In a trembling voice, she said, “You can’t give me to them. That man will kill me.”

“Not if I can help it,” I growled, standing. “Come on, we don’t have much time.”

I led Jeanine into my sleeping cabin. Dropping to one knee, I ran my hand over the deck beneath my desk. I found a minor depression most people wouldn’t even notice, fitted my thumb into it, and then lined the rest of my fingers up next to my thumb. Sensors hidden in the deck read the prints from all five fingers. A soft whoosh sounded from the middle of the room as one of the deck plates slid aside, revealing a small compartment.

“It’ll be a tight fit and I really hope you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, but you’ll be safe in here,” I said, guiding Jeanine toward the compartment.

She eyed the hole with understandable trepidation. “What if they have hand scanners?”

“The compartment is shielded. They shouldn’t find this unless they get really serious and start tearing up deck plates.” I helped her down into the compartment and pointed to a recessed button. “If something happens to me, this button will open the deck plate.”

Nodding and shivering, Jeanine sank into the compartment. She brought her knees up under her chin, gave me one last look, and said, “Close it.”

Seconds later, I dashed out of the Star and across the docking bay to the door. I took just a second to compose myself, then keyed the door open. A team of customs inspectors streamed past me, led by the security officer. Then the customs officer entered, followed by a powerfully built man who simply exuded power and competence. He could be none other than the owner of the third voice.

The customs officer said, “Captain Haral, may I present Sir Phillip of Reimund, Knight of the Realm and Royal Enforcer of His Majesty’s Law.”

My heels snapped together with an audible click and I bowed deeply to the knight. “It is an honor, Sir Phillip.”

“Rise,” Sir Phillip said. “I must say you’re rather well-mannered for a tramp freighter captain. Did you serve in your lord’s military?”

“I did not have that honor, sir,” I replied. “Instead, I had parents who were—and still are—sticklers for proper manners.”

“When next you see your parents, convey my approval of their parenting.” The knight said, striding past me and toward the Star. “Commoners who truly understand their place in the galaxy are far too rare.”

Fixing a smile on my face, I trailed after Sir Phillip. “They will be honored, sir, as am I in their stead.”

The three of us entered the Star. Shock stopped me just inside the hatch. One member of the customs team was running a hand scanner meticulously over every square centimeter of the deck while a second did the same with the bulkheads. I’d sort of expected something like that, but the rest of the team was methodically destroying everything in the ship. Three of my cushions had already been slashed open and the woman responsible was about to slice open a fourth. A man dumped drawers from my desk, smashed the drawers, and then sifted through the pieces. The rest of the team was out of sight, but from the sounds echoing through my ship, they weren’t treating my possessions with any more care than these two.

Surging toward the woman with the cushions, I yelled, “What are you doing? There’s no way a woman could hide inside a cushion!”

Sir Phillip’s left hand caught my arm in a vise-like grip. “They act under my orders, Captain Haral.”

Since I don’t have a death wish I didn’t struggle against the knight’s grip. Bitterness evident in my tone, I asked, “When you don’t find anything, Sir Phillip, May I assume the crown will reimburse me for these damages?”

“Of course, Captain Haral.” Sir Phillip might have been discussing the weather for all the feeling his voice held. “Simply present an itemized list to the proper agency on Xapreathea. In person.”

“In other words, all I have to do is fly one hundred light years to the capital planet of the star kingdom-”

“One hundred and two light years, to be precise, Captain,” Sir Phillip said.

“Okay. And once there, present an itemized list to the proper agency. I don’t suppose you could tell me the name of this agency?”

“Alas, Captain, I do not bother with such details. Oh, and you must remain available to answer any questions the agency may have. I’m told it only takes a few weeks.”

“Of course…” I turned and looked the knight in the eyes. “If I may be so bold, Sir Phillip, why didn’t you simply say ‘no’ in response to my question?”

The man barked a hearty laugh. To my surprise, the humor reached the knight’s eyes. “Well said, Captain. Your directness is refreshing for a man who spends far too much time among courtiers and politicians.” Then the humor drained from Sir Phillip’s eyes. “Do not be so bold again.”

I nodded and returned to watching the destruction of my ship’s interior. An hour and a half later, the team gathered before the knight and the security officer said, “There’s no sign of the woman, Sir Phillip. Scans are negative and we found no evidence of wrong-doing against Captain Haral. However, the scans were also negative for indications of sexual intercourse in Captain Haral’s bed.”

The knight turned to me, his face impassive. “Would you explain that, Captain?”

“We began with dinner—the remains of which you can see scattered all over the floor. As I told the officers, I’ve been in space for a long time and I decided I couldn’t wait until we finished eating.” I looked down, feigning embarrassment. “She bent over the table and, well…you know.”

“Yes,” the knight replied dryly. “It appears the inspectors should scan you, now.”

I shrugged, “They won’t find anything. Any spacer with any intelligence knows you thoroughly clean yourself after spending time with a prostitute. Disease, you know.”

Since this had the advantage of being the absolute truth and was one of the first things taught to new spacers, I was on solid ground here. The knight simply raised an eyebrow. “That’s a lot to pack into one hour, Captain Haral.”

“I spent a month alone in space,” I said. “It doesn’t take very long to release that much pent-up tension, Sir Phillip.”

The knight stared at me for a few seconds as the inspection team struggled to keep from laughing at my response. Without another word to me, the knight turned and left my ship. The inspectors and two officers trailed after him.

Before he turned away, the security officer said, “Don’t leave the planet, Captain Haral. Sir Phillip may have more questions for you.”

I looked at the ruined interior of the Rising Star. Who was Jeanine and what had she dragged me into?

How will Jeanine answer Drake’s questions? Find out in Chapter 6, coming Wednesday.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Recognition Run - Chapter 4

< Chapter 3                                                                                                        Chapter 5 >
On the run from whoever attacked her and her uncle, Jeanine keeps her rendezvous with Drake.


Jeanine leaned against me during the ride to the spaceport, squirming up under my arm and putting her head on my shoulder. Her warm breath tickled my throat and she was trembling ever so slightly.

The trembling gave me pause. Maybe she was just anticipating what was to come when we got to my ship, but somehow I didn’t think so. In our short time together, Jeanine struck me as the kind of girl who committed herself with reluctance but didn’t suffer from second thoughts once she was committed. I found myself wondering just how much Jeanine wanted to get ‘properly laid.’ As much as I enjoy a good romp in the sheets—or in the shower or against the nearest bulkhead—I want a willing and interested partner. I definitely did not want a girl who was only doing it because her grandfather said she should.

I was still trying to figure out what was running through the girl’s head when I paid off the cab. Holding our take-out dinner with one hand and Jeanine with the other, I led her the final few hundred meters through the maze of docking bays until we reached mine. I keyed us through the door, once again wondering why something without a roof had a locked door, and motioned Jeanine inside. The lights came on automatically, illuminating my pride and joy.

“This is my ship, the Rising Star,” I said, my tone formal.

“You’ve got a Helldiver blockade runner!” Jeanine gasped. She ran down to the Star’s tail section. “And she even has the Class III star drive!” In an undertone, she added, “This is perfect.”

Jeanine bent over and stuck her head between the three main thrusters and it was my turn to gasp. Seeing this girl from behind when she bent over would have been a real treat for any man, but seeing her bent over while wearing that incredibly short skirt was…special. I was so distracted, I missed her next question. When I didn’t respond, she pulled her head out of the engine. When she straightened, I suddenly discovered the ability to think and talk again.

“I’m sorry, what did you ask?” I said.

She turned to face me, apparently unaware of the effect she’d had on me. “I asked if you modified the engine yourself. What do you get, an extra five percent thrust from the mods?”

“About that, yeah. A friend of mine made the changes for me,” I responded. “You sure know a lot about starships and space drives.”

“For a girl, you mean?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.

“No, for anybody. Most people learn everything they know about starships watching adventure vids.” As Jeanine’s eyebrow came down, mine rose. “What did you mean when you said ‘this is perfect’?”

“Hm? Oh, that was nothing.” She might have fooled a lot of people, but I realized Jeanine was temporizing while she came up with an answer. “My grandfather flew one of these back in the Siruul Uprising. He was one of the pilots who helped defeat the blockade of the Chychie home world.”

Jeanine flashed a wide smile that didn’t quite make it to her eyes, then she bounced on her feet as if in excitement. I knew she was using her bouncing breasts to distract me from further questions, but I’m still a man and it had been far too long since I enjoyed the company of a woman. In other words, her distraction worked. Taking my arm, she led me to the Star’s main hatch. I held still while the biometric scanner verified my identity and then identified Jeanine as a guest. That designation told the Star’s security systems that I wasn’t under duress and restricted Jeanine’s access to the living area.

I immediately started setting our dinner out on the small dining table and shortly we were tucking into the food. Jeanine was everything a perfect date should be—attentive, playful, happily offering bites of her dish and accepting bites of mine, and she gave just the right amount of coquettish flirting. And she asked me about the Rising Star.

“Did you inherit the Star, Drake?” Having a mouthful of food, I shook my head. She cocked her head and asked, “You bought her?”

Jeanine scored major points with me by referring to the Star by name or in feminine terms. Most people refer to my baby as ‘the ship’ or ‘it’ or something similar. Jeanine never did that even once. Despite all the flirting, it was this trait I found the most appealing.

“I found her abandoned and neglected in the back corner of a sales lot. The salesman wasn’t too thrilled I ignored the nicer—and much more expensive—ships in the front to waste time with an old war relic he’d almost forgotten was even on the lot. I basically got her for the cost of moving her off the lot.”

“How long did it take you to fix her up? It must have been a while since she looks practically brand new now.”

“Four years. I was working a regular job, too, which slowed me down, but she needed a lot of work on her outer hull. On the inside, she mostly just needed some regular maintenance. I had some friends who helped a lot, all in exchange for food and alcohol—and a favor for them sometime in the future.”

“Were any of the favors interesting?”

“I took one friend and his new wife on their honeymoon. They scraped up enough money to afford a week in a pleasure station, but couldn’t afford the space flight to the station. On their wedding night, they asked me to cut the gravity so they could try sex in zero-G.” I grinned at the memory. “Their stomachs didn’t react well and within ten minutes they were begging for me to turn the gravity on again. It took me an hour to clean up after them.”

Jeanine laughed at the story though it sounded a bit forced—sort of like this entire evening with the sole exception of her enthusiasm over the Star. “What about the friend who modified your engines—what was his favor? Ooooh, wait, let me guess. He wanted you to smuggle something for him?”

I gave the girl a long, careful look before nodding once. Her eyebrows shot up and something I couldn’t quite figure out flashed in her eyes. She looked down and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”

I waved away her apology. “No, I’m willing to talk about it—at least just between you and me. My engine-fixing friend had a cousin who was about to come of military age on Voskiri.” From Jeanine’s expression, she obviously didn’t recognize the name. “It’s a planet in the Duchy of Gaunner. Anyway, this was a few years ago when House Kahn was still waging its non-war against House Wilkinson. My friend and I flew in with a load of normal trade goods and flew out with his uncle, aunt, and all of their children. We got away cleanly, but as a precaution I’ve stayed clear of Gaunner space ever since.”

With a nod, Jeanine’s expression turned thoughtful. She nibbled at the food, too, but obviously wasn’t really hungry anymore.

I leaned back, openly giving the girl an appraising stare. Her eyes darted up to meet mine a couple of times. Then, with her eyes on the plate in front of her, she asked, “So, would you like to…you know?”


Jeanine’s eyes widened and her head shot up. She met and held my gaze. “Oh… Do you want me to leave?”

“I want you to be honest with me.” I sighed and tried for a friendly smile. “Something has been bothering you since you showed up at the tavern this evening.”

“I’ve been looking forward to our night together,” Jeanine said.

“If you’d told me that earlier, when your grandfather sent me over to talk to you, I might have believed you. Something has happened since then, but I don’t know what it is.”

Before Jeanine could respond, the ship’s comm system buzzed. The signal indicated someone was at the docking bay entrance. I wasn’t expecting any deliveries and I hadn’t done anything illegal—not on this run, anyway. Also, Jeanine just about jumped out of her skin when the comm sounded.

Acting on instinct, I motioned Jeanine away from the comm’s vid pickup. Once she was clear, I keyed the comm on. Two men stood outside the docking bay, one wore a customs uniform while the other wore the uniform of Thinda Planetary Security.

I gave the men my best smile. “Isn’t it a bit late for inspections?”

“You are Drake Haral, owner of the Rising Star?” the customs official asked.

“I am.”

The security officer said, “We’re searching for a young woman and we believe she’s onboard your ship.”

What will Drake do? Find out in Chapter 5, coming Monday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Recognition Run - Chapter 3

Author's note: After writing in the first person for the last three and a half years, I find it much easier than writing in the third person. So, back to the first person it is!

< Chapter 2                                                                                                        Chapter 4 >
The door to the apartment shared by Jeanine and the old man is blown into the apartment.


With the instincts forged through two decades of training, I dropped to the floor. In my peripheral vision, I saw my grandfather do the same. The door to our little apartment tumbled over us. Despite the noise from the blast, I heard a surprised grunt come from the balcony as the door crashed into someone coming in the back way. I rolled away from the line of sight from the doorway, triggering the catch for the dagger strapped to my right wrist. It slid neatly into my hand as I rose into a crouch.

“Balcony,” I said, my right arm already in motion.

With the flick of a wrist, I released the dagger. It spun toward a man partially covered by the door. He spotted the whirling blade a split second before it buried itself in his throat. His hands rose in a futile attempt to staunch the blood spurting from the throat as a second man leapt over the railing and onto the balcony. With professional detachment, the new man did not even spare a glance at the plight of his fellow. He should have taken a quick look. The man’s right foot landed in the spreading pool of blood and the foot slid a few inches. It wasn’t much of a slip, but it distracted the man and kept him motionless for just a tick too long. The dagger from my left wrist plunged into his right eye.

There was no one else coming over the balcony railing, so I spun toward the front door. Three men sprawled on the floor, already dead, as my grandfather broke the neck of a fourth.

“Clear,” I said, amazed that my voice remained calm and even. Lord knows I was anything but calm on the inside.

From the hallway, I heard the sound of a single person walking toward the doorway, the footfalls too heavy for a woman. I found its measured pace frightening as if an implacable and unstoppable enemy was after me.

My grandfather looked over his shoulder at me. “Argenta protocol.”

I gasped, my fear rising toward terror. Argenta protocol was simple—I ran for my life while my grandfather fought on alone. I never thought I’d hear my grandfather speak the words except as part of a training exercise.

Turning away from me, he did a second thing I never thought I’d see—he took his ceremonial sword off the wall and drew it from its scabbard. The blade I’d never before seen slid free, its brightly polished metal wreathed with glowing energy. Then I realized that the luminescence also surrounded my grandfather.

“Go!” Grandfather ordered, his eyes on the doorway. In a low voice only I could hear, he added, “Don’t forget your date tonight.”

I ran for the balcony, grabbing the bag with my blaster as I went.

A strong, pleasant voice filled the room. “It’s been a very long time, Jared.”

“Not nearly long enough, Phillip,” my grandfather snarled in reply.

I vaulted the railing of the balcony and dropped toward the street two stories below. Behind me, metal struck metal and energy crackled. I fell past a third man huddled below the balcony, hit the awning for the shop on the ground floor—one reason my grandfather selected this apartment—rolled over the edge of the awning, and dropped lightly to the street below.

My sudden arrival startled everyone around the shop, all of them drawing back from me and my bared blade. When the third man rolled off the awning and dropped to the street in front of me, the pedestrians recoiled even more. So you can imagine how they reacted when I drove my dagger up under the man’s ribcage and into his heart. Looks of fear turned into screams of panic as people ran from me. Their terror served my purposes. If these mysterious attackers had allies on the street, they would have to fight the stampede to reach me and that would give away their identities. Either there were no allies or, far more likely, they didn’t want to make targets of themselves. Whatever the reason, I had no trouble blending into the running crowd and then slipping into the first darkened alley I came to.

As I’d known, there was a fire escape in the alley. I quickly ascended several floors until I found an open window. Slipping through it, I walked quickly and quietly down the hallway toward the stairs. Most of the residents no doubt used the drop chute, but those things can be death traps. You’re a sitting duck if they shoot at you or a dead one if they simply turn off the grav unit. Besides, I needed a minute to brush dust from my clothes and straighten my hair.

Five minutes later, I walked boldly out of the building’s main entrance. I smiled and held the door for an elderly woman carrying a package, completing the illusion I was simply a resident on my way out.

The woman smiled her thanks and said, “I hope your young man appreciates just how lucky he is.”

“Pardon?” I asked, my mind still on the events at the apartment.

“A pretty girl like you all dressed up like that?” the woman replied. “It’d be a downright shame if there wasn’t a young man waiting for you.”

I forced a smile, hoping it didn’t look ghoulish. “That’s so kind of you to say, ma’am. Yes, there is a young man waiting for me.”

The woman nodded sagely. “First date jitters, dear?”

I guess my smile wasn’t as genuine as I’d hoped. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Just be yourself, dear, and try to have fun.” She waggled a couple of fingers at me and I released the door.

I forced myself to walk casually down the sidewalk, just a girl heading out on the town. I kept my eyes sweeping the area, watching for anyone paying too much attention to me. I caught a few men eying me, but their eyes focused on my breasts and butt instead of my face.

When I reached a shopping district, I ducked into a clothing store, selected a far more daring outfit from the catalog and slipped into a fitting and fabrication unit. A few minutes later, I emerged wearing a skirt barely long enough to cover my backside and a midriff-baring top that showed a lot of cleavage. I didn’t have time to change my hair color, but I’d put my hair up and covered it with a hat. Anyone looking for a redhead in black pants and shirt would look right over me—I hoped.

Twenty minutes later, I rounded a street corner and saw the tavern where Drake and I were meeting. Drake was standing outside, right where he said he’d be. He caught sight of me and his smile of greeting quickly widened as he took in my outfit. Still working hard to look casual, I sauntered up and gave him a kiss on the lips. It wasn’t a long kiss, but it lingered just long enough to build his hopes for an interesting evening.

“Hello, there,” Drake said, his arm snaking around my waist. “Are you hungry?”

“Mmm hmm,” I purred, “but why don’t we pick something up and take it back to your ship?”

“Just like that?” he asked.

“Just like that,” I replied. “After all, you heard what my grandfather said I needed.”

“He’s your grandfather? And he suggested I, um, you know?”

“Yes, he is.” I desperately hoped that was still a true statement. “And yes, he did. Are you going to take his advice or not?”

Without another word, Drake flagged down a passing cab and we were on our way to the spaceport. I was one step closer to getting off this planet, just as my grandfather ordered me to do.

What happened to Jeanine’s grandfather? Who is Phillip and what’s with those swords? Find out more in Chapter 4, coming Friday.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Recognition Run - Chapter 2

< Chapter 1                                                                                                        Chapter 3 >
After a confusing first chapter of court intrigue and unlikeable characters, what’s up next?

Three years later and 102 light years away

“Can you spare a few credits, sir?”

The voice was thin with a quaver of age and infirmity which was almost undetectable. It drew Drake’s eyes to a collection of over-sized clothes and the old man wearing them. His white hair was wispy and equally white stubble covered a dark, lined face. The old man kept his deep brown eyes downcast, but Drake felt those eyes missed little of what was going on around him.

Today, that meant a busy day at the open market just outside of the spaceport. Locals hawked everything from fresh vegetables to crafts—supposedly hand-made authentic planetary folk culture which made perfect gifts for spouses and children back home—and from narcotics to prostitutes. Drake had seen dozens of these markets on dozens of different worlds. The vendors bought most of the vegetables at stores well away from the port, marked the prices way up, and then sold them to spacers short on time for shopping. Most of the crafts were mass-produced in factories which probably weren’t even on this planet. The narcotics and prostitutes were real enough, though, as were the dangers anyone faced if they partook of the promised pleasures from either of them.

One thing which was missing was anybody willing to toss a few coins into the old man’s hat. No one other than Drake even gave the man a single glance. Drake dug a few coins out of his pocket and dropped them into the man’s bowl.

The old man smiled broadly at Drake. “I thank you and my belly thanks you, good sir!”

“Hungry, are you?” Drake asked, squatting down next to the man and trying to look the man in the eyes.

The old man’s eyes darted away from Drake’s, but he bobbed his head. “A bit, sir. Just a bit.”

“Then perhaps you could do me a favor, sir. I’m newly arrived in port and am hungry for something other than shipboard rations. I’m also starved for conversation. If you would agree to help me with the conversation, I’d happily pay for the meal.” Drake rose and extended a hand to help the old man stand up. “I realize it’s an imposition and I’m taking shameless advantage of you, but I hope you’ll accept.”

The old man took Drake’s proffered hand, his grip surprisingly strong, and cackled, “You’re a right smooth one, young man. I’ll try not to bore you too much.”

Prepared for boredom, Drake found himself pleasantly surprised at the old man’s breadth of knowledge and his collection of improbable stories. He kept Drake laughing and wondering just how this man ended up in his dire situation throughout the meal. Drake was so distracted, he didn’t even notice the girl until the old man pointed her out at the end of the meal.

“I think you’ve wasted enough time with an old man like me, Drake. There’s a right pretty girl over at the bar who’s been looking over here when she thinks no one is paying attention.”

Drake looked at the bar and the girl was pretty, with pale skin and flame-red hair. She was seated, but he felt sure she was tall and slender—exactly the type of woman he found attractive. Their eyes met for just a second as she glanced toward the table and then, her cheeks coloring slightly, she looked away. Damn, Drake thought, but her combination of looks and innocence was incredibly alluring—especially for someone like Drake who’d spent the last few weeks alone on a spaceship. That’s when his mental alarm bells began ringing.

Drake glared at the old man. “I may not be as old as you, sir, but this isn’t my first port of call. How much are you hoping to extort from me when this is all over?”

The old man drew himself up, indignation written on his face. “I have no extortion plans for you, young man. I am simply trying to give two rather lonely young people the pleasure of each others’ company.”

“And just how do you know she’s lonely if you don’t know her?” Drake challenged.

“I never said I didn’t know her, Drake. I said I wasn’t planning any extortion against you.” All during lunch the old man never looked Drake in the eye. Now, the old man's eyes suddenly captured his. They blazed intently as he continued, “Jeanine has been known to help me out from time to time. She probably came in here to make sure I was okay, but she’s mostly been looking at you.”

Drake drew back slightly from the old man’s intensity, then leaned in again and studied the old man’s expression. After a few seconds, Drake nodded. “Sorry if I offended you, but I’ve had lots of men try that trick on me in ports all around the kingdom and a few places outside of it.”

The old man broke eye contact and waved off Drake's apology. “Nah, you’ve got a good point, Drake. I shouldn’t have gone off on you like that. It’s just that Jeanine does a lot for me and I like to repay my debts. You’re a good man and I know you and she could have a good time together. You’d sure find more interesting stuff to talk about with her than with an old man like me!”

Drake grinned,“Even if part of our conversation involves me saying ‘Good morning, sleepyhead’ to her?”

The old man cackled with good humor. “It would do her good to get properly laid. Do you good, too, I’ll bet!”

Drake couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re one dirty old man!”

“Ain’t that the truth, lad,” the old man responded. “Now, why don’t you go talk to her. Tell Jeanine I said you were okay.”

An hour and a half later, the old man watched from an alley as Jeanine and Drake left the tavern. Jeanine gave Drake a quick peck on the lips—definitely a good sign—and sauntered in the general direction of the alley. Drake watched the woman’s swaying hips for a few seconds, smiled, and then vanished into the crowd at the market.

Passing the alley, Jeanine pointed at the old man and crooked her finger. Checking to make sure Drake was well out of sight, the old man joined her.

Smiling into the woman’s glare, the old man said, “You and the dashing Drake appear to have hit it off rather well.”

“Did you really tell him it would do me good to get laid?” Jeanine demanded.

“Of course not,” the old man responded. “I said it would do you good to get properly laid. And if I’m any judge of character, that young man will put your pleasure ahead of his own.”

“Gah!” Jeanine growled, lowering her head and massaging her temples.

“Jeanine, dear, you’re a healthy, twenty-four-year-old woman.  Sexual desire is-”

“Natural,” Jeanine interrupted. “Yes, I know. I’m not exactly a virgin, after all.”

“Technically, you’re correct, though I don’t think fumbling around with that inexperienced boy six years ago really counts. In all definitions of ‘virgin’ beyond the strictly medical one, I’d say you’re still one.”

“This conversation is over and we will never, ever resume it. Is that clear?” Jeanine demanded.

“I suppose that means you don’t want my advice on what to wear tonight?” the old man asked, unable to suppress a grin.

“I neither want nor need your advice!”

Jeanine spent much of the afternoon sorting through her small collection of clothes looking for just the right thing to wear. She tried dozens of combinations before settling on a pair of black pants and a matching black shirt. Relenting to the old man’s curiosity, she modeled her outfit for him.

“What do you think?”

“You’re lovely, as always, Jeanine. You’ve always looked beautiful in black and the color makes it much easier for you to disappear into the shadows. Do your legs have sufficient range of motion in those pants?”

Rather than answer, Jeanine snapped off a kick which ended with her foot above her head. She transitioned into a spin kick with her other leg before dropping into a crouch. Rising, she said, “Satisfied?”

The old man nodded. “Weapons?”

“Daggers on my wrists and one on my back. My blaster is in my bag.”

“That’s my girl!”

Jeanine picked up her bag and kissed the old man on the cheek. “Don’t wait up.”

The old man patted Jeanine’s hand fondly. “Have fun and if you find yourself tempted tonight, give into the temptation!”

With a roar, the apartment’s door blew in!

Who are Jeanine and the old man? Are they setting Drake up? Find out more in Chapter 3, coming Wednesday!

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Recognition Run - Chapter 1

My third novel, Scout's Duty, is out in ebook form! In celebration, the first two books in the Scout series--Scout's Honor and Scout's Oath--are on sale for 99 cents each. Also, Kindle Unlimited subscribers can now read all three books as part of their subscription.
< The Fugitive Heir - Chapter 44                                                                        Chapter 2 >

Olivia Kahn watched her older brother with pride shining in her eyes. Robert succeeded where all of their ancestors failed. No one else in the history of the family ever came close to matching Robert’s victory.  Centuries of futility—until Robert assumed the dukedom, that is.

He terrified the Wilkinson family.

He targeted them, driving the family heirs into hiding.

He killed the heirs off one-by-one until none was left.

He eliminated the family without once leaving evidence of his deeds.

He brought down their ancestral foe.

Of course, His Majesty and the heads of the other Houses knew Robert was behind the destruction of House Wilkinson. House Kahn wanted it no other way. What was the point of destroying political and familial enemies if no one knew you’d done it? But knowing it and proving it were not the same thing.

As a result of Robert’s brilliant campaign Neert, the largest duchy in the star kingdom was simply sitting there, ripe for plucking by the first family willing to lay claim to the title and establish Recognition. Yes, there was still the dowager Duchess, but Emily Wilkinson was Wilkinson by marriage, not blood. She held her title only until the completion of today’s Recognition ceremony.

As if on cue, Her Grace the Duchess of Neert Emily Wilkinson entered the Recognition chamber. Conversation stopped as all heads swiveled toward the woman. The Duchess scanned the gathered crowd, ignoring the stares turned toward her with a haughty disdain worthy of any noble present. Olivia felt admiration for the woman’s style and composure warring with her hatred of the woman’s family. She might only be a Wilkinson by marriage, but she was still a Wilkinson.

Then Lady Emily’s eyes locked on Olivia. Despite her hatred and carefully trained court composure, Olivia’s breath caught when the Duchess glided toward her. Murmurs rose from the gathered nobles, no doubt speculating what Lady Emily had in mind for the much younger woman. For her part, Olivia forced herself to breathe evenly and keep her eyes firmly locked on the approaching woman.

“Hello, Olivia,” Lady Emily said after stopping closer than social custom dictated. In an even, measured tone, she continued, “You’re looking as beautiful as ever, I see. Your blonde hair and pale complexion provide a striking contrast to your black gown. Alas, the effect is marred by your cold blue eyes.”

“Greetings, Lady Emily,” Olivia responded, struggling to match the older woman’s tone and bearing. “I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am at the death of your youngest son, Charles.”

“You’re too kind, Olivia, though not kind enough to stop your brother from killing him.” Lady Emily maintained her even tone, but Olivia saw the anger and anguish burning in her eyes.

Olivia shook her head in mock disapproval. “You surprise me, Lady Emily. I never thought you would be one to listen to court gossip! Surely, His Majesty would have Robert in chains were there any evidence supporting this outlandish claim.”

“Just as surely, His Majesty has no desire to attract Robert the Butcher’s attention,” Lady Emily countered.

Olivia felt anger flare and this time let some of it enter her voice. “You mean Robert the Smith—the nickname given to my brother because he is strong and has a will forged from steel.”

“I meant exactly what I said, Olivia. You’re an intelligent young woman, surely you’ve noticed the line of bodies your brother leaves in his wake.” Lady Emily’s lips turned up in a cold and cruel smile. “After all, your own parents are among those slaughtered by Robert.”

That is a lie!” Olivia’s shout cut through the low conversations in the Recognition Chamber, drawing all eyes her way.

“Come now, dear, even someone as remarkably biased as you simply cannot deny the similarities between your parents’ accident and the one which claimed my Lord Arthur’s life.” Lady Emily shook her head in dismay. “Then there was the death of your last suitor. Bizarre though his death was, the similarities between his death and the others are quite remarkable—unless you consider who arranged those deaths.”

“I will not listen to such slander against my brother,” Olivia insisted. “I know the real reason you’re so upset—you don’t want to lose your position to Robert.”

“I never even wanted my position, dear.” Lady Emily’s cold smile broadened. “But if I were you, I wouldn’t be so sure I was about to lose it, either.”

Before Olivia could think of a proper response to that enigmatic statement, the royal fanfare sounded. Conversation halted abruptly as everyone turned toward the dais at the other end of the room.

A herald banged his staff on the floor three times before announcing, “His Royal Majesty Bernard the Second, king by the grace of God. All present give obeisance due to His Majesty!”

As one, the nobles present took a knee and bowed their heads as King Bernard entered and climbed the dais. Several seconds later, the herald called, “All may rise!”

The king’s gaze swept over the nobles present before coming to rest on a powerful man standing apart from the others. “It appears your show is very popular among Our aristocracy, my Lord Robert.”

Robert clicked his heels together and bowed to his king. “You honor me with your presence, Sire, as do my fellow members of the aristocracy.”

“Yes, quite,” Bernard said lazily. In formal tones, he continued, “For the record, please inform the Court of your intentions, Lord Robert.”

“I have come before Your Majesty and these assembled nobles to stake claim to the Duchy of Neert,” Robert proclaimed, his voice filling the large chamber. “As Lord Arthur and all of his children are dead, I shall place my hand upon the Star Stone and request Recognition as the new Lord of Neert.”

“This is in accordance with the laws and customs of Our kingdom,” Bernard stated. “You are aware the Star Stone will only grant Recognition if Lord Arthur has no other living children. You are aware of this and of the consequences should an heir still live?”

“I am, Your Majesty.”

“Does any member of Our court wish to challenge Lord Robert for the right to request Recognition?” Bernard’s gaze swept the nobles a second time. When no one stepped forward, his eyes returned to Robert. “As none challenge your right of Recognition and as you are aware of the risks inherent in this course of action, We accede to your request.”

Robert bowed once again to King Bernard and approached the Star Stone. The huge, multifaceted gem sparkled scarlet. To Olivia’s eyes, the stone’s color deepened as if it anticipated its role in the ceremony. Robert gave her one quick glance and flashed a confident smile at her.

Pulling the glove off of his right hand, Robert laid his bare hand on the Star Stone. In a strong, clear voice, he declared, “I, Robert Kahn, Lord of Gaunner and loyal vassal of His Royal Majesty Bernard the Second, request Recognition as the new Lord of Neert.”

The Star Stone pulsed once and then bright scarlet light enveloped Robert. He had time for one startled cry before the light blazed so brightly all were blinded for a second. When Olivia could see again, all that was left of her brother was a cloud of ashes settling to the floor next to the Star Stone.

Stunned silence filled the chamber so all present heard when Lady Emily, dowager Duchess of Neert clapped her hands, gave a delighted laugh, and said, "What wonderful entertainment! Lady Olivia, I believe your brother must now be called Lord Robburnt!"

What does your author have in mind with this story? Learn a little more in Chapter 2 of The Recognition Run, coming Monday.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 44

My third novel, Scout's Duty, is out in ebook form! In celebration, the first two books in the Scout series--Scout's Honor and Scout's Oath--are on sale for 99 cents each. Also, Kindle Unlimited subscribers can now read all three books as part of their subscription.
< Chapter 43                                                                        The Recognition Run - Chapter 1 >
With our heroes safely set up on Ark’s Landing, it’s time to wrap things up and bring The Fugitive Pair to an end.

I wish I could say the council hearing was the end of the matter, but it wasn’t. Within days, a new Terran Federation ambassador arrived at Ark’s Landing. She carried recall orders for Bransen, who very carefully met with the new ambassador outside of the embassy. As the embassy was officially Terran Federation soil, he would have been subject to Federation law inside the embassy’s walls. No one was surprised when Bransen submitted an official petition for asylum to the Colony Council.

Diane Reynolds, the new ambassador, protested both Bransen’s asylum and ours. Accusing Ark’s Landing of harboring fugitives from Federation justice, she threatened an impressive array of economic sanctions against the colony. These ranged from import tariffs to calling in all loans issued to the government and colonists of Ark’s Landing.

By the time the situation deteriorated that far, Dad and a whole raft of GenCo lawyers were on hand. They took point in combatting the threats, working in conjunction with the council. Hard as they fought against Reynolds, the lawyers could only manage delaying actions against her authority. Fortunately, we had a much greater ally on our side.

While Dad and the legal team were on the defensive, Magda—Michelle’s mother—Mom, and Nancy went on the attack from a different direction entirely. As newsies flocked to the colony chasing the biggest story since the Ark 2 was found, these three formidable women launched a massive campaign to sway public opinion in our favor.

Michelle and I were dragged in front of vid recorders, recounting tales of rescuing my parents and our desperate struggle to stay together. Then they brought Zav and the kids before the recorders. Cassie was as personable and enchanting in vids as she was in person, but the real tipping point came several days after that broadcast. That’s when the newsies’ vid recorders captured Gene and his parents—carried to Ark’s Landing in the fastest GenCo ship available—holding a tearful reunion at the landing field.

Mom followed the reunion by bringing all of the other psychics before the newsies, introducing them one by one, then announcing GenCo would happily bring family members of any of the others to Ark’s Landing. The newsies recorded seventeen more reunions, including ones for Kristin and Mark.

Seeing Cassie’s popularity among Federation citizens, some enterprising newsie tracked down her parents and asked why they weren’t already on their way to Ark’s Landing. Cassie’s father told the newsie, “We turned the little freak over to Psi Corps years ago. She’s not our problem anymore.” Then the man shut the door in the newsie’s face.

The second Michelle and I saw that recording, we took Cassie aside and told her about it as gently as possible. Mom and Magda showed up just as we ended our buildup and told the young girl how her father reacted. Cassie listened quietly as we wrapped up. Michelle enfolded her in a hug and I sat ready to join in as soon as Cassie’s tears began flowing. Only, there were no tears.

Looks of concern appeared on Mom’s and Magda’s faces. Mom knelt in front of Cassie and asked, “Are you okay, honey?”

“Sure,” Cassie replied. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Her concern deepening, Mom said, “Doesn’t it bother you that your family rejected you?”

Cassie finally showed a reaction, scowling as she spat, “They aren’t my family. I was born to them, that’s all.”

“Um, that’s sort of the definition of family, sweetie,” Mom said, taking Cassie’s hands.

“No, it’s not,” Cassie insisted. “Matt and Michelle aren’t related, but they’re still a family. They love each other and made themselves a family. I love them and that means they can be my family, too. Just like they said back on Piscain Station.”

Magda cocked an eyebrow at Michelle. “What was it you said to her, Michelle?”

“We told her we’d adopt her,” Michelle replied, obviously gearing up for an argument.

Magda smiled and said, “What a lovely idea!”

Mom smiled and added, “I agree with Magda, but I’d like to ask Cassie one question.”

“Okay,” Cassie agreed, a broad grin on her face. In a stage whisper, she added, “I already know what you’re going to ask, but I want to hear you say it anyway.”

“That is going to take some getting used to,” Mom said, her smile removing any possible sting from her words. “Well, Cassie, you know that Matt’s father and I were prisoners of the pirates from the time Matt was thirteen until he was twenty. That means I missed watching and helping him grow from a boy into a man. But if you’re willing, I would dearly love to watch and help you grow from a girl into a woman.” Tears started rolling from Mom’s eyes, but she never released Cassie’s hands. “How would you like having Matt as a brother instead of a father?”

“Oh, then Michelle would be like my sister! I’d like that a lot.” Cassie paused for just a moment as if considering exactly what to say next, then she said, “Mom.”

The next few minutes involved a lot of hugs and tears and smiles. When everyone settled down, I tapped Cassie’s shoulder and said, “Just because you’re my sister now, don’t think you can get out of babysitting for the girls when the time comes!”

Mom and Magda exchanged startled glances before turning very intense looks on Michelle. Then Magda asked, “Is there something you should have told us, Michelle?”

“I’m not pregnant if that’s what you mean, Mom,” Michelle replied. “At least, not yet. But Cassie has already seen two daughters in our future. I can only guess when from the way we looked in Cassie’s drawing, but probably in the next two or three years.”

That set off a new round of hugs and tears and protestations from each of our mothers that they were too young to be a grandmother.

Adoption on Ark’s Landing proved a pretty simple procedure, especially given the vid of Cassie’s father. The news of the adoption was wildly popular in the Federation and marked the end of the Federation’s attempts to strong-arm the colony into returning us all for trial. Popular opinion was heavily on our side, especially since all of the psychics were on a planet outside of the Federation. Our story was popular, but it wasn’t enough to bring about an end to the psychic impressment laws. But at least we had a firm foundation on which to build that support.

Safe from the Federation at last, I felt a knot of tension I never even knew I had melt away. I shared the feeling with Michelle and discovered she felt the same thing. I pulled my wife close and let our emotions flow between us.

“Too bad we don’t need to get intimate for you to share your emotions with me anymore,” Michelle said.

“When have we ever let that stop us?” I asked and began unbuttoning Michelle’s shirt.

The End

Check back on Friday for the first chapter of The Recognition Run, the first novel in a new series.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 43

My third novel, Scout's Duty, is out in ebook form! In celebration, the first two books in the Scout series--Scout's Honor and Scout's Oath--are on sale for 99 cents each. Also, Kindle Unlimited subscribers can now read all three books as part of their subscription.
< Chapter 42                                                                                                       Chapter 44 >
Our heroes have made good their escape from Federation space.

Nancy Martin met us when we touched down on Ark’s Landing and brought along a group she introduced as her extended family. Milla and Michelle—as formidable a pair of blonde beauties as I’ve ever seen—carefully appraised each other for an entire second. Nancy actually held her breath until the two women smiled broadly and hugged like old friends.

“Ah, it appears we are going to be fast friends,” Milla’s husband Raal said to me as our wives pulled Nancy into a big hug. “Thank God. I don’t know what Nancy would do if our wives didn’t get along.”

“Nancy told us all about your trials on the Ark 2,” I replied. “I couldn’t imagine Milla and Michelle not liking each other.”

Raal regarded me for a couple of seconds. “You know, most people who meet us for the first time talk about our adventures on the Ark 2.”

“Adventures happen to other people and can be enjoyed on a big vid screen from the comfort of your own living room,” I responded. “Trials are what happen to the terrified people actually living through those same events.”

Raal’s polite smile widened to a friendly grin. “I must warn you, Nancy has told our two boys all about your trials rescuing your parents. They think you’ve had grand adventures and are going to pester you for stories.”

“The stories about you and Milla aren’t enough?”

“We never fought hundreds of space pirates,” Raal said. “By the logic of my eight-year-old son, defeating a computer and a handful of mercenaries just can’t compare with that.”

At that point, Michelle and Milla drew Raal and me into their conversation. A few minutes later, colony officials guided everyone off of the ship and into housing the colony built specifically for newly arrived colonists. We settled in as best we could while waiting for the Colony Council to rule on our request for asylum.

To my considerable relief, the government of Ark’s Landing granted us temporary asylum while they considered our case. Archibald Bransen, the Terran Federation ambassador, immediately applied heavy pressure on the little colony’s government, insisting they extradite the whole lot of us back to the Federation. I expected no less from the ambassador.

Following the protocol established in the Ark’s Landing Articles of Colonization, our asylum hearing should be open to the public and broadcast live across the colony. Ambassador Bransen immediately protested, insisting a closed hearing was in everyone’s best interests. The man looked well on his way to convincing the Colony Council before Nancy shot it all down with one simple question.

When asked for her opinion of the ambassador’s request by a local newsie, Nancy asked, “What is the ambassador trying to hide from us?”

If Michelle or I asked the same question, it wouldn’t have gotten much play. But it was Nancy Martin—the heroine of the Ark 2, the woman the colonists called ‘Our Captain’—asking the question. The quote dominated the news cycle and the colonists responded, bringing their own pressure to bear on their council representatives. The morning after Nancy asked her simple question, the Council refused Ambassador Bransen's request. With the whole colony watching, our hearing began the very next morning.

The ambassador opened the hearing, discussing at length the dangers psychics pose to society and individuals. He gave graphic accounts of the Cairo Catastrophe and the aftermath, dwelling on the lives lost and ruined when an empath of vast power went insane. He followed those stories with a surprisingly accurate description of our arrival at the Psi Corps office along with everything which happened afterward. Piscain Station officials must have launched a drone with the details once our destination was known.

Jabbing a finger at me, Bransen thundered, “The most powerful empath discovered in the last four hundred years sits right over there. Do you truly want the ticking time bomb named Matthew Connaught free among your colonists? Do you truly want him reading and warping your emotions? Do you truly want another Cairo Catastrophe and the resulting death, destruction, and insanity that comes with it?”

Next Bransen swept his arm to encompass all of the psychics who came with us. “Do you want highly-trained psychics unleashing their powers on your people when Matt Connaught drives them insane? Should you be among the unfortunate survivors of such a psychic onslaught, will you be able to live with the knowledge you could have prevented it all by simply refusing their request for asylum?”

Bransen’s voice softened and he smiled sadly at the council and us. “I hold no animosity toward psychics. These unfortunate people did not ask for this curse. But they are simply too dangerous to let roam free. The Federation has successfully contained the psychic threat for centuries. We can train them. We can protect you from them. We can make them safe, sane, productive members of our society. For the good of Ark’s Landing and these psychics, let us take them back to the Federation. Let us take them back to our protective embrace.”

Bransen gave a firm nod to the Colony Council, most of whom were nodding as if in general agreement with everything he said. Bransen’s presentation was masterful and emotionally persuasive, one which resonated with many on the council and among the spectators. My heart sank as my gaze swept over all of the thoughtful expressions around me. Then my eyes returned to my companions and my heart all but stopped beating.

Raal and Milla wore contemplative expressions. Nancy nodded, deep in thought. As did Michelle. My vision blurred as my life lost all meaning. Gently, I took Michelle’s hand and brought it to my lips.

In a low voice, I said, “I’ll surrender myself to the Federation if that’s what you think is best, Michelle. But only if they’ll agree to leave Cassie and the other kids behind. Please tell me you’ll take care of them and I’ll go without complaint.”

“What?” Michelle gasped, focus returning to her eyes. “Oh my God, Matt, no! Not in a million years will I let you do that!”

“But you were nodding just now,” I insisted. “You were agreeing with Bransen.”

The council chair roused herself from her thoughts and said, “Mr. Connaught? Please rise and present your case for asylum.”

Michelle rose, one hand pressing me back into my seat. “I will speak on behalf of those seeking asylum.”

“Michelle, are you sure this is-” I began.

Her blue eyes bright with excitement, her smile wide and confident, Michelle whispered, “I’ve got this, babe. Trust me.”

The council chair waved a hand. “Very well. Proceed.”

“I’m speaking instead of my husband because I don’t want anyone leveling accusations that Matt used his empathic abilities to sway the Colony Council. Even so, when I finish speaking I have complete confidence you’ll grant our request.” Michelle faced the ambassador, a patronizing smile plastered across his face. “When I finish speaking, I also have complete confidence Ambassador Bransen will retract his objection.”

“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen, Mrs. Connaught,” Bransen said with absolute confidence. “I stand by everything I said.”

“And I think you’re going to change your mind with remarkable rapidity, Ambassador,” Michelle replied. “Think back on what the ambassador said to us. His speech was rhetorically excellent, evoking all the right emotions at all the right moments. When he sat down, most everyone in the room was nodding in thoughtful agreement.”

Michelle faced the council. “You on the council were nodding.”

She spun to face the spectators. “You in the crowd were nodding.”

She stepped in front of Raal and Milla. “Both of you were nodding.”

She turned to Nancy. “Nancy was nodding.”

Michelle drew in a deep breath and let her eyes sweep across everyone, from the spectators to the council. “I was nodding.”

A murmur ran through the crowd at that. Michelle’s voice rose over it. “Yes, I seriously considered Ambassador Bransen’s words. I, who have intimate experience with Matt’s ability, was nodding. I, who gladly abandoned a life of luxury on Draconis rather than see him taken by Federation officials, was nodding. I, who put my life in jeopardy to stay with Matt, was nodding. I, who would die rather than lose my husband, was nodding!”

Tears flowed freely down Michelle’s cheeks at this admission. “What kind of woman would turn against her husband, the love of her life, the center of her universe, because of an ambassador’s speech?”

“I’ll tell you what kind of woman would do that.” Michelle wiped her eyes and turned toward Bransen. “A woman whose emotions were being manipulated by an empath.”

The room was absolutely silent for a few seconds as everyone absorbed Michelle’s words. Then Bransen jumped to his feet, shouting, “That’s a lie!”

“Is it?” Michelle asked. “Have you ever been tested for psychic abilities?”

Face red and eyes bulging, Bransen sputtered, “Of course not!”

“But you wouldn’t object to being tested, would you?” Michelle asked.

With a force of will, Bransen regained his composure. “Alas, there is no psychic testing machine on Ark’s Landing.”

Michelle sighed in resignation. “So much for that idea… Just so we’re clear, though, you’d allow testing for psychic abilities if it was possible?”

A self-satisfied expression on his face, Bransen said, “Absolutely and without reservation.”

What can only be called a devilish smile spread across Michelle’s face. “Are you aware, Ambassador Bransen, that telepathy and empathy are incompatible powers?”

“What on earth are you talking about?” Bransen asked, his composure slipping a bit.

“Telepaths cannot read empaths—at least not beyond a few surface thoughts—and empaths cannot read or sway the emotions of telepaths.” Michelle turned to the one man on the council who wasn’t nodding after Bransen’s speech. “Sir, that means you’re either a psychic null—someone who isn’t affected by mental abilities—or are a low-level telepath yourself.”

Bransen fought to regain the upper hand. “This is all very interesting, young lady, but I don’t see how it applies here and now.”

“Don’t you, Ambassador Bransen? We’ve got a dozen or more telepaths in this very room.” Michelle looked at the teenage boy sitting next to Zav. “Gene, can you read the ambassador beyond his surface thoughts?”

Bransen leapt to his feet. “I protest this abuse most vigorously!”

“Did you not just say you would agree to a test were one possible?” Michelle asked in the sweetest, most innocent voice she could manage. “I believe ‘Absolutely and without reservation’ is the exact quote. Are you a man of your word, Ambassador Bransen?”

With that last question, Michelle had Bransen and he knew it. He could either refuse Gene’s test and watch his career as a diplomat come crashing to an end or allow it and deal with the consequences. Bransen’s shoulders slumped and, his voice barely audible, said, “I am, of course, a man of my word. Proceed with the test.”

All eyes turned to Gene as the teenager’s gaze turned inward. He knit his brow as his concentration deepened. Gene broke into a sweat as he pushed himself harder. After half a minute Gene’s expression softened and his eyes focused on the outside world again.

“I can’t read him.”

Pandemonium broke out among the spectators as Bransen’s composure broke. As the council chair banged her gavel and demanded a restoration of order, the ambassador buried his hands in his face.

It took the council chair nearly a minute to restore order. When she did, the woman asked, “Do you have anything further to say, Mrs. Connaught?”

“I do, ma’am.” Michelle met the eyes of each of the council members. “Consider what you’ve seen today and think about how many other psychics you may know—good people with some minor ability who have no idea they are different from you and me in any way. My friends are no different simply because you know they have abilities. Consider that when you make your decision today.”

The chair nodded and then said, “Ambassador Bransen, do you have anything you wish to say?”

“Yes,” Bransen replied, his voice thick with emotion. “I hereby retract my protest to the request for asylum.”

By unanimous vote, the council approved our request for asylum.

Safe on Ark’s Landing, what will our heroes do now? Find out in Chapter 44, the final chapter of The Fugitive Pair.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 42

My third novel, Scout's Duty, is out in ebook form! In celebration, the first two books in the Scout series--Scout's Honor and Scout's Oath--are on sale for 99 cents each. Also, Kindle Unlimited subscribers can now read all three books as part of their subscription.
< Chapter 41                                                                                                       Chapter 43 >
The Southern Star enters wormhole delta and leaves Piscain Station and the naval task force behind.

Once the gray mist of the wormhole engulfed the Southern Star, I finally took the time to check the star charts for our course to Ark’s Landing. We had a six-hour wormhole transit ahead of us and an eight-hour journey across a system mostly dedicated to mining before making a final two and a half hour wormhole jump to Ark’s Landing.

Contemplating the free time we had ahead of us, I suddenly found it all but impossible to keep my eyes open. When the pilot’s console blurred before me, I realized just how thoroughly I’d overtaxed myself, both physically and psychically. “Rob, can you get the regular ship’s crew to take over running the ship?”

“Sure,” Rob responded. “I’ll have to soothe our pilot’s ruffled feathers a bit, but it won’t be the first time.”

I fished one of the credit sticks with a smaller balance out of my pocket. It held a balance of a little over one million credits. “Here. Split this up among the crew, both for their help getting us this far and for their cooperation getting us to Ark’s Landing. That should settle a few of the pilot’s feathers.”

Rob whistled at the balance. “Yeah, I’d say so. What else do you need?”

“A room,” I said.

“With a double bed,” Michelle added.

Rob’s eyes flicked back and forth between Michelle and me. A wicked grin spread across his face. “Of course. No doubt the two of you are exhausted from this ordeal and desperately need a little shuteye.”

Michelle leaned against me. “Wipe that grin off your face Robert Calley! Matt and I really do just want to get some sleep!”

Under Michelle’s watchful eye, Rob’s smile dimmed but didn’t go out. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Michelle. I’ll give orders that you’re not to be disturbed. Come on, I’ll take you to a cabin myself.”

We took a moment to check on Zav and the kids. Zav was deep in conversation with Mr. Calley and Uncle Gunther while the four kids explored the Southern Star’s state-of-the-art entertainment array. We begged off joining them, pleading a desperate need for sleep. My uncle and Rob’s father gave Michelle and me knowing looks and I barely refrained from telling them that the two of us actually did use beds for something other than sex.

Zav, on the other hand, understood. “Honestly, Matt, I’m surprised you’re still on your feet. You’ve pushed your ability beyond anything I thought possible—for you or anyone else. Michelle, make sure he gets all the sleep he needs.”

“How will I know when he’s rested enough?” Michelle asked.

Zav’s expression shifted to match the ones Mr. Calley and Uncle Gunther wore. “When Matt responds…appropriately…to the lovely young woman in bed with him, I’d say he’s fully recovered.”

Gene and Mark snickered. Kristin, a dreamily romantic expression on her face, smacked them both. Cassie cocked her head as if trying to figure out exactly what everyone was talking about. Rob’s father and my uncle guffawed and raised their wine glasses to Zav. To my surprise, Michelle blushed. I was too tired to even react.

“Come on, lovebirds,” Rob said, leading us to a nearby cabin.

I had just enough energy to get undressed, leaving my clothes where they fell. Dropping into bed, Michelle and I snuggled together. I managed to give her one quick kiss before falling asleep in her arms. My dreams were troubled, filled with isolation and despair and loss. Finally, my exhaustion drove me into a deep and dreamless sleep.

When I opened my eyes, I found bright blue eyes looking back at me. Blonde hair framed Michelle’s face and her tender smile. “How are you feeling, sleepyhead?”

I felt my lips form an answering smile. “Good. Really good. How long have I slept?”

“Twelve hours.”

“What about you?” I asked. “How do you feel? Did you get enough sleep?”

“I’m fine, babe. I slept for about eight hours.”

“Have you been laying around for four hours just watching me sleep?” I propped myself up on my elbow. “That sounds pretty boring.”

“That wasn’t all I did, babe.” Michelle ticked items off on her fingers. “I took a shower. Then I composed a message for Nancy Martin on Ark’s Landing and had it sent ahead in a messenger drone. I had some food delivered from the ship’s galley. I ordered enough for two, so you could get something to eat when you woke up. Then I laid around watching you sleep.”

I looked past Michelle to a heavily laden tray of food, then looked back at my wife. “That looks really good.”

“It is,” Michelle replied. “I nibbled a bit.”

“I wasn’t talking about the food,” I said, “but I do feel like nibbling.”

I lowered my head and Michelle gasped. “I like that kind of nibbling a lot, babe!”

After that, we communicated in an entirely nonverbal manner. Finally, our bodies and emotions merged and drove the last vestiges of isolation and despair from my mind.

How will Ark’s Landing receive our heroes? Find out in Chapter 43, coming Monday.