Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Tower: Chapter One, Part Two

Notes: On to Part Two! I hope you enjoy it, I'm having a great time wrestling with this mystery. The plot thickens...

Title: The Tower: Chapter One, Part Two

***

Chapter One, Part Two



“Englishmen?” Anton was taken aback. “Whatever for?” There might be a fair number of his fellow citizens scattered across Zürich, but they were still a tiny minority in such a large city. Most of them were merchants, or students like himself. “Do you suspect the Dévoué?” The Dévoué were a sect of rabid nationalists, intent on breaking apart Napoleon III’s empire and reestablishing separate, sovereign kingdoms.

It was a member of the Dévoué who had been responsible for the death of Viscount Bonaparte, and in charge of the train on which Anton himself had nearly been killed more than once. It was a member of that sect that had composed a magical palimpsest that Anton was still working on translating, which contained a spell that would imbue weapons with the ability to ensure death once they were wielded.

He still had nightmares about those weapons—the gun that never missed, the knife that once unsheathed would not be put away until it had killed. Anton—and Camille—had been the targets of both of them, and it was only through sheer luck that they had survived. Such a spell would obviously be brutally dangerous in the wrong hands, and Anton had been more than ready to give the palimpsest up to Camille, but the lumière had entrusted it to his keeping instead. In deciphering the spell, they might learn how to defeat it. Or such was Anton’s hope, at least.

“It is possible,” Camille allowed, a frown creasing his brow and drawing down the edges of his moustache. Anton tried to watch him a bit less raptly, but it was hard. Camille had been a constant presence in his mind ever since Anton’s arrival in Zürich, the first man—first person, really—to get his attention and hold it, and one of the few men to openly praise his thaumaturgical skills. That he was tall, broad-shouldered and appealingly attractive were other marks in his favor. It would not be a lie to say that Anton drove himself to distraction with his work, in part, because it was better than fruitless pining.

“Possible, but if so, it is a very targeted attack,” Camille continued. “The English are no allies to Napoleon, despite the truce between our empires. Probably the only reason your leaders haven’t come out in open favor of the Dévoué is fear that such rebellion would spread to your own colonies. That does not mean that there aren’t covert actions being taken to strengthen dissent and weaken the hold of the crown.”

Anton was confused. “So then, it is spies who are being targeted? Could the killer be one of your fellow lumières?”

Camille shook his head. “Not that I know of. And as for who is being targeted, well, that is very odd. Four men have died so far, each of them relatively new to the city. They are largely solitary individuals, not members of established groups, and all of them have shown varying levels of talent in thaumaturgy.”

Now it was Anton’s turn to frown. “What do you mean by that? Are you speaking of formal masters or priests, or students, or is it street magic?” Street magic was what those who were born with more ability than most to effect thaumaturgy but without the means for a proper education, resorted to in order to hone their skills. Street magic was an unpredictable mirror of formal thaumaturgy, cut with poor ingredients and improper alchemical equations. Street magic could be immensely powerful when done by the right practitioner, but more than half who tried anything more complicated than a simple locator or resonance spell ended up hurting themselves, or even dying, from backlash.

“A combination of all, actually. One man was a journeyman thaumaturgical locksmith, employed by one of the banks. He was quite proficient within his own sphere, but knew little beyond it. Another was a priest, again a young man, stopping here to continue his study of religious architecture. The final two were street mages, one specializing in keeping away vermin, the other a finder.”

“A finder?” That was a rare skill to develop, especially for someone with an inferior education. “He must have been in high demand.”

“And he took the longest to die,” Camille said grimly. “All four of these men were killed over the past two weeks, all four of them tortured before having their throats slit. Whatever their murderer was looking for, it seems that he or she hasn’t discovered it yet.”

“How has none of this appeared in the papers? Why haven’t I heard of it before now?”

“The margrave of this canton has taken pains to conceal the deaths, putting the bodies in holding as they appeared. He requested a lumière to look into the matter, and thus, here I am.”

“You said you would allow no other to take it up.” Anton felt his face heat, and was grateful for the dim light in his laboratory. “But you haven’t yet said why, other than the fact that these men share my origin.”

“It is more than that. All young men, all arriving three months ago, all thaumaturges to some degree, all tortured to death. Do you not see the common thread?”

Anton frowned. “Other than what you’ve already laid out?”

“In addition to it, perhaps. Anton,” now Camille laid his hands on Anton’s shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes, “they are all of them quite similar to you. I kept your true identity hidden after the debacle on the train, but not everything could be concealed, including the truth that you were not, in fact, Consul Hasler, once the discovery of his body had breached the gap from Paris to Zürich.

“Puzzle pieces were put together, pieces I should have tried harder to eradicate, but there was so little time. It became known that you were English, that you had training in magic, and that you were also in possession of something very valuable. Something that a member of the Dévoué, or an unscrupulous lumière, or even an enterprising freelance spy or assassin would gladly kill to obtain.”

Anton felt the blood drain from his head. “The palimpsest.”

“Indeed. The ability of those weapons used on the train was not easily covered up, and with the revelation of Consul Hasler’s own skillset, well.” He shook his head. “It would be quite a prize.”

“Do you think it’s a lumière?”

“No,” Camille replied swiftly, which was something of a relief. “I know most if not all of my fellows, and while all of us are dedicated to justice in the name of the emperor, we are no less dedicated to finding the truth in ways that result in little collateral damage. Whoever the murderer is, they don’t care about leaving a trail of bodies to get what they want. There was another death.” He sighed. “The landlady of the locksmith was found in her front room, her throat slit before she had a chance to cry out. Her body, unfortunately, could not be held. She has already been buried.”

Anton felt dizzy. He gripped Camille’s forearms in an effort to keep himself upright. “What…what shall I…what do I…”

“Stay calm,” Camille advised. “Here, sit down now.” He led Anton over to his bench and knelt in front of him, chafing his arms and shoulders gently. “Breathe in slowly, there you go. I should perhaps have gone about telling you a bit more diplomatically,” he added, his voice rueful.

Anton chuckled weakly. “It would be hard to couch this in truly diplomatic terms, I think. Someone is murdering innocent people in an effort to kill me.”

“Indeed.”

“I wish we had burned that bloody book.”

“It would not have mattered,” Camille said quietly. “Someone would have come looking anyway. I’m sorry I involved you so greatly in the matter on the train, Anton.”

Anton met Camille’s concerned gaze. “I’m not.” He exhaled, some of his tension finally draining from his limbs. Unfortunately, the loss left him feeling sluggish, but such fatigue would tell one way or another. “So, what happens next? I haven’t finished translating the palimpsest, although I am more than halfway through it.”

“Any interesting discoveries?”

“A lot of threads that make no sense independently, but a tapestry is beginning to emerge. Once it is completely unraveled, I shall make a full study of it.”

“And where is the book now?”

Anton smiled. “It’s safe.”

Camille paused, then nodded. “Better that you don’t tell me, just in case.”

In case you are captured and tortured and…and… Anton shook his head in an effort to clear it. “How else can I help you?”

“I am not asking you for your help,” Camille said at once. “I am not well known in this city, and most never see me at all, but if I were discovered as a lumière and you were with me, it would throw suspicion onto you. The last thing you need is to be set apart in such a way.”

“I cannot sit idly by while you work on this case!” Anton objected. “People are dying, people who have the bad luck to share a few things in common with me. I am a forensic thaumaturge, and you have access to their bodies. You must at least let me help you to see their death miasmas.”

“It still puts you in harm’s way.”

“Camille.” Anton patted his shoulder. “You tell me I am already in harm’s way. Hastening the speed of your investigation shall only lead to a quicker resolution. Besides, there are some tricks I can employ to reduce my own visibility. Let me help you.”

Camille crouched in silence for a long moment before abruptly getting to his feet. “You have the devil’s own ability at persuasion,” he said. “Fine. But only if you take those precautions, and only if, when I tell you to leave me, you go without hesitation. I would never willingly risk your safety.”

“But you would risk your own.”

Camille shrugged. “Such is the life of a lumière.”

Well then. Neither of them were perfectly happy, but at least Anton was not entirely shut out. He pushed to his feet and was relieved to find himself steady. “When do we start?”

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Tower: Chapter One, Part One

Notes: On to our new story at last! This is the sequel to The Train, and will make more sense if you've read that one. If not, then know this: this is alt history, magic-wielding, pre-WWI craziness. The continent remained conquered by Napoleon, and is now ruled by his grandson Napoleon III. Our hero is Anton Seiber, a young thaumaturge--a magical scientist, basically--from England who traveled to Zurich to continue his education. Getting there was really difficult, and he became friends--and maybe more--with an imperial investigator who is immune to magic.

This starts three months after they part. Enjoy!

Title: The Tower: Chapter One, Part One

***

The Tower

Chapter One, Part One



“Seiber!” A meaty hand clapped Anton on the shoulder before he could escape it. “Where are you lurking off to now? Not going to crawl back into your dusty lab and burn the midnight oil on one of your projects for the dead, are you?” Without giving Anton a chance to reply, his captor spun him around.

Face to face, Gerald Montgomery was even less appealing to Anton than he’d been from behind. Montgomery was the unofficial head of the surprisingly large contingent of students at the Universität Zürich who hailed from the British Isles. He was as loud, brash, and universally disliked by most of Anton’s fellow master’s students as any of his ilk had been at Cambridge. And like at Cambridge, he was not only tolerated, but by and large, encouraged—Gerald Montgomery was in line to become a marquess when his father died, and it was never a bad idea to ingratiate yourself with a member of the peerage. Anton had to remind himself of that as Gerald’s hand on his shoulder tightened to the point of pain.

“Alas, I have spells in situ that simply cannot wait.” Finally, Montgomery let go of his shoulder, but Anton’s relief was short-lived as the man immediately threw his arm around Anton’s neck. It felt—unsurprisingly—rather like being yoked as though he were a beast of burden.

“Seiber, Seiber, Seiber.” Montgomery shook his head. “You will waste the best years of your youth if you spend them all on the edification of the mind to the exclusion of the body. Mens sana in corpore sano, as the Romans say. Come with us to the pub, have a few drinks, relax for a while! The Langstrasse area is an easy walk from there, and I daresay we could find an easy woman who might tempt even your virtue.”

Oh, yes. Lovely. Just what Anton wanted after a long day of taking and teaching classes, handling both eager and recalcitrant students and pining for his own hard-earned space—a trip to the whorehouses of Zürich with a group of drunk, loud, and largely ridiculous fellow thaumaturges. Perhaps one of them would get creative with his spellwork and set off a stink bomb, or turn someone’s skin purple. Fortunately, Anton had a trump card to play.

“Have pity on a poor student,” Anton said smoothly, patting Montgomery on the forearm before casually ducking out from under his grasp. “Some of us are here on scholarship, you know. My work output is all that keeps me in my studies, and I cannot afford to falter.” Under normal circumstances, he would never advertise his own relative poverty, but on this early evening Anton was more than willing to paint himself as a sad sap in exchange for liberty.

Montgomery frowned. “You always say that. But I will spot you the coin tonight, free you from your workaday shackles.” Clearly the idea of being seen as a patron to his peers appealed to him. Anton wondered, for perhaps the hundredth time, why this privileged son of the aristocracy had come all the way to Zürich to pursue a degree he seemed to have little interest in, when he would have been accepted with open arms and grasping pocketbooks by the finest universities in England.

It wasn’t that Gerald Montgomery was unskilled at thaumaturgy—he was rather irritatingly efficient at casting spells, in fact, although his basic preparations left much to be desired and were more often assembled by his cadre of admirers. It was simply that he seemed to have little interest in doing more than the basics, spending the rest of his time in personal and rather frivolous pursuits. At a research institution like this one, it made no sense. The man wouldn’t even have to rely on his thaumaturgy skill to earn a living one day—he was nobility, he was guaranteed an income.

“Not this time,” Anton said. “My spells simply won’t wait.”

“Then later this weekend,” Montgomery insisted. “You cannot have every minute of every day planned, and if you do, then change it.”

Change your life to suit my smallest whim, Seiber. Anton kept his calm smile on his face with a great deal of effort. “I will endeavor to, I assure you.”

“Gerry!” Another one of their British fellows called to Montgomery from the lecture hall’s side stone egress. “Hurry, before we lose our chance at a good place in the pub! Ella’s section always fills the fastest!”

“Shut your flapping lips, Percy, I’ll be there in a moment!” He turned back to Anton with a bit of mischief still in his face. “Are you sure? Percy can’t hold his liquor to save himself, and he’s hilarious when he’s blotto.”

“Next time,” Anton said, and finally, finally, the other man shrugged and turned away. Once he finally vanished into his throng of admirers, Anton let out a slow, relieved breath. There was one obstacle down, at least.

Fortunately, he had no students waiting for his time this evening. As soon as the university’s Head of Thaumaturgy, Doctor Grable, had ascertained that Anton possessed a Device that allowed him to speak seven different languages—Doctor Grable was renowned for his ability to detect and interpret thaumaturgical signatures of all kinds, and Anton had had no chance of denying his father’s Device’s existence—he had made Anton the go-to graduate student for students who struggled with English and German. He’d spent many hours he would have rather been researching helping those students interpret thaumaturgical equations and simplifying high-level magic as best he could.

It was useful work, and he didn’t begrudge his professor the right to give him responsibilities, but Anton was desperate for time alone. He had far too much to be getting on with to waste time on people like Gerald Montgomery. Anton shook his head to help clear the day from it, then gathered his paraphernalia into his holdall and headed for the Tower.

The Universität Zürich had different branches scattered throughout the city, but the sciences were housed in and around the main building, an imposingly large gray stone edifice lightened by patches of lawn and sky-high cupolas. Just behind the main building was the Tower of Thaumaturgy, where the founders of the school had wisely set apart their most volatile researchers. It was less of a tower than a dark, veiny square block that rose without grace into the air, buttressed by thick stonework and fewer windows than the rest of the university monuments. It was often described as “ugly, a blight, more like a prison than a university.” It was heavily spelled to maintain a neutral magical space, and securing a place for research in it was the source of much cutthroat negotiating between graduate students.

Anton had such a place, a small laboratory on the thirteenth floor, the highest in the tower. It was a long walk up, especially after an exhaustive day of teaching. Happily, that very inconvenience made it even more worthwhile for Anton, because few people found their way up there, which meant less botheration by his peers. On top of that, his lab was thaumaturgically secured by a series of locks that Anton had been improving ever since he settled in, three months ago now. It was as inviolable as he could possibly make it, which made the sight of his door standing open rather shocking to him.

“Oh no,” he murmured, hastening along the hall toward his tiny chamber, silver wand held high to project his simple charm for illumination down the stone corridor. Rather than bolting inside as soon as he got there, though, he bent down and surveyed the door itself. The spells were still there, they had simply been rendered—inert, for lack of a better word. They would need to be recharged, but that was easier than reconstructing them completely. Only a truly exceptional master would be able to get through his defenses without setting off an alarm. There were no signs of scuff marks around the edge of the lock or handle itself, so if it was a thief, then they were very good at picking locks.

But if they were so good, why had they left the door open? There were only two logical options for who could have entered so smoothly and obviously, and one of them would never make the hike to the thirteenth floor when he had an expansive laboratory of his own on the first.

Anton’s hand trembled slightly on the handle as he pushed the door the rest of the way open. Inside, the last rays of the sunset were barely enough to combat the encroaching grayness, but Anton could make out the familiar silhouette of a tall man in a top hat standing along the far wall.

He's here! But Anton had to be sure. “Camille?”

The figure turned, and Anton’s heart leapt in his chest when he verified the identity of his mysterious visitor. “Anton.” Lord Lumière, special investigator for his majesty Napoleon III, solver of the convoluted murder of the Viscount Bonaparte on the train to Lucerne, and one of a secret class of people who were immune to magic—some said because they were soulless, damned at birth by God—inclined his head in a show of perfect politeness. The smile on his face, however, was far more welcoming. “It is astonishingly good to see you again.”

That was all the welcome Anton needed to cross the room in six long steps and throw himself into Camille’s embrace. It was precipitous of him, probably even ridiculous, but he couldn’t help himself. He had experienced no truly welcome touch since their kiss farewell, three long months ago. Anton barely knew Camille, really, but he felt far closer to him than their stressful, exciting train trip together had merited. From the way Camille’s arms closed around his waist like they belonged there, pulling him closer and warming him from head to toe, perhaps Anton’s feelings weren’t entirely foolish or one-sided.

Nevertheless, he remembered his own abandoned dignity eventually and pulled away with a faint cough. “I—I wasn’t expecting you.” He winced, because what had he expected, that the lumière would tell him he was coming? That was the opposite of covert, and Camille was an expert at being covert.

“Forgive me for not contacting you in advance,” Camille replied, surprising Anton. “I was actually on my way to another part of the country when the emperor redirected me here.”

Oh. So it was mere chance that had led Camille this way again, rather than…something else. Anton nodded and put a little more space between them. “I see.” Of course he did, and he could be professional about it. “What is it that brought you to Zürich, then?”

“A murder, of course.” Of course. “Several, in fact. And when I ascertained the targets of these murders, I would allow no other lumière to take on the task.”

“Oh? Who is being murdered?”


“Englishmen.” The word dropped between them like a boulder, heavy with unspoken implication. “People like you, Anton.”

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

One last delay!

I'm going on maternity leave soon, and I've got to prep for my replacements, so...one more delay! I'm so effing sorry, but I need another twelve hours in the day to get everything done.



Which...HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!! This is going to be my life once I'm a mom! I need to get used to it now! My time management will get better, I swear to god.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Prepping

I'm prepping for the new story, I'm prepping for giving up my day job in anticipation of maternity leave, and I'm taking childbirth prep classes. I am prepping out of my freaking mind. Two and a half hours of learning about effacement and dilation and timing and relaxation techniques, all while sitting in a chair that would give anyone, much less a pregnant person, a backache. I eventually gave up and sat on a pillow on the floor.

But I'm going to be ready as hell, damn it.

So, hopefully I'll start The Tower next week. This week I'm getting my mind and my schedule straight.

Hope your week is a little more relaxed, darlins.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Forty-Two

Notes: Oh my god, it's the last chapter. It's the end! Almost 70k and one year later, it's the end! Whaaaaaaat?!? It's a bit of an open question, but that's because this universe never really ends. I'm sure I'll return to it after the next story, which will be a continuation of last year's The Train. So! Gimme a week to put myself in order and I'll compile this onto a single post to make reading easier, and...well, wow. Thanks for following along and loving my people so much :)

Title: Reformation: Chapter Forty-Two

***


Chapter Forty-Two



Cody didn’t know what to do next.

Ten would say that was a fairly normal state of being for him, but Ten was caught in the same boat. Ze dealt with it by throwing hirself into science: modifying the shield on the hoverbike, testing the fuel mixture, idly designing a better waste management system for the enormous Drifter ship that was still floating above Pandora, riddled with problems and slowly being fixed. Ten had plenty to keep hirself occupied. For Cody, things were…a little different.

Maybe it was more fair to say that he didn’t know what was going to happen next, to anybody. Independent action was all well and good, but sometimes life took over the controls. In this case, “life” was “a huge, sticky morass of political, military, and socioeconomic explosions rocking the Federation ‘verse in all directions.” News reports from Olympus showed the Senate under the direct control of Admiral Liang, a situation unlikely to change in the near future. It was far from business as usual, though. Everything about that business was under review, from the way contracts were assigned to non-governmental entities to the data used to determine allotments and supply status for various Fringe planets. A lot of Central System leaders had protested the changes, to which the Admiral said they were welcome to initialize proceedings for withdrawing from the Federation any time they wanted.

No planet had withdrawn a membership from the Federation for over a century, and the Central System had been entrenched in position and power for twice that. One of their governors decided to push things and try, and the speed at which Liang had signed off on the preliminary paperwork for Monteyo’s exit had alarmed its citizens so much that the government had had to beg to withdraw the petition, weakening their status. Things were unstable, and instability made most people reach for whatever they could hold onto that was rock-solid. Plenty of corporations were folding under the weight of sudden abandonment by their CEOs, and law and order was hanging by a thread in most places.

The upheaval touched Pandora differently, mostly because it was a Fringe planet already used to being ignored, and partly because—well, a good portion of the entire Federation’s fleet was using its resurrected space dock. There were no questions of more piracy, not on Pandora or any other planet within easy jump distance. In fact, for the first time in more than a decade, not a single planet on the Fringe had suffered any sort of external attack for over two weeks. Plenty of people had a lot to say about “state-sponsored terrorism,” but Cody didn’t let himself dwell on that either. His issues all hit a little closer to home.

He'd made it. He’d done what he set out to do, made it to Pandora and found his father in an almost-miraculous fashion. He should be happy. He should be thrilled with the way things had turned out, but it had all become so…brittle instead. Nothing was the way he’d left it. Nothing was the way he remembered it, and nothing, Cody was coming to understand, would ever be the same.

For starters, Miles was going to Perelan. Claudia and the girls were already there, and had been welcomed by the House of Grenn as political refugees. When Cody had asked his grandfather why, Miles had sighed. “I was basically illegally ordered back into the field. The people who put me here are still out there, even if Liang’s got a chokehold on the military at the moment. They tried to kill my family. Until I know for sure that they’re out of power, I’m not going to risk living on a Federation planet, and going into the Beyond isn’t an option, not with the girls. Perelan’s ambassadors offered a temporary refuge, and I’m going to take them up on it until the Senate works out a guarantee of immunity and safety.”

Even worse, Grennson and Darrel were going with them. They were still technically a part of the Academy, but the admiral had personally signed off on a study abroad for both of them. “It will help Darrel further his language skills,” Grennson had said cheerfully. “And give me a chance to educate my people about the incredible complexities of Federation life. Our matriarch had wanted to push for Perelan to become the first non-human world to enter the Federation, but now she’s thinking it might be better to form an alliance with the Dorn and the Maazi. Humanity has turned out to be rather unpredictable.”

A long-term stay on Perelan wasn’t really an option for Cody, though. The atmosphere there was so toxic to him that he hadn’t been able to spend any time outside, not without taking major precautions. So instead of going with his friends and the rest of his family, for now Cody, Ten, Jonah and Garrett were staying on Pandora. Ten didn’t really care, as long as ze had access to a lab. Jonah was just happy to have all of them together at last. But Garrett…

Garrett had been different since he joined them on Pandora. He seemed subdued, less talkative than Cody remembered, less inclined to join in their conversations. A week ago, Cody had asked his father if Garrett was still mad at him, even though his stepdad had assured him that he wasn’t. Jonah had shaken his head. “He’s a little off-kilter right now, but he’ll come around. Just give him some time.”

Garrett wasn’t supposed to need time, though. He wasn’t supposed to get off-kilter. He was always in control, always perfect, always healthy—how could he not be, when he had full access to Regen and was smarter than most entire groups of people? The change made Cody nervous, and he tiptoed around his parents until Ten finally got sick of it.

“If you want to know something, you have to ask,” ze’d insisted one night, after commenting that Cody seemed unusually mopey. “Even if there isn’t an answer to the question yet, it’s better to know, isn’t it? That way you won’t be distracted when I’m giving you a blowjob, either.”

“I’m not distracted!”

“Prove it.”

Cody had definitely proved it that evening, and the next day he took Ten’s advice and went to Garrett directly. It was kind of hard to find him: he wasn’t in the command center, wasn’t supervising any of the ship repairs or communicating with Perelan or any of a hundred other things that would have been normal for him. Instead Cody found him standing just outside the force field that kept out the worst of the weather, his eyes closed against the cool mist that whipped up into an icy frenzy every now and then.

Cody stopped next to Garrett and stood awkwardly for a moment. “Hey.”

“Hi.”

Nope, his dad wasn’t going to make this easy on him. “What are you doing out here?”

Garrett shrugged. “Nothing in particular.”

But Garrett was always doing something! “Why?”

“Because it’s nice.”

“And cold. And wet.” On impulse, Cody reached out and took his stepfather’s hand. “Walk with me?”

Garrett smiled slightly. It wasn’t the beam that Cody was used to seeing, but he’d take it. “All right.”

Cody led him back into The Box, and after a moment steered them in the direction of the playground. It was where he’d run to, back when he first wanted to join the Academy and his dad had told him no. Garrett had been the one to mediate that fight, the one to figure out how to make things work for everybody. It was time for Cody to do the same for him. He tugged Garrett down onto a swing, then sat down beside him. “Are you sick?” he asked point-blank.

“Hmm.” To Cody’s dismay, his dad actually had to consider the question. “No, I wouldn’t say so. Not right now.”

“But you’re acting differently.”

“Because things are different. I’m different, you’re different, the whole universe is different. If that’s not a good reason to change things up a little, I don’t know what is.”

“But you don’t seem happy,” Cody pressed. “Not like you used to.”

“Was I happy, or was I just busy?” Garrett wondered out loud. “I’m not entirely sure. I’ve been breathtakingly busy for over a decade, now. I think…I think everything I am just needs a break from that.”

Cody felt like he’d been punched. “You weren’t happy before?”

Now it was Garrett’s turn to take his hand. “I was, when I was with you and Jonah. When I had my family. But that happened less and less as time went on, and I know that I’m not going to be able to keep everyone within arm’s reach of me forever. Look at Miles and the girls, look at Robbie and Wyl. Look at you.”

“I’m so sorry—”

“I know, I’m not mad about you leaving the Academy anymore,” Garrett soothed. “Although I maintain that the way you did it was tempting fate. But I’ve been taking care of so many people and processes and ideas for so long, I hardly know what to do with myself when all of that goes away. I think now is as good a chance as I’m ever going to get to figure it out.”

“But you’re not going to do it…alone, right?” The thought of Garrett deciding he needed to completely separate himself from the rest of them, from his family, made Cody’s heart race.

Garrett shook his head. “I’m not leaving Jonah. I’m not going anywhere, I just need to take the time to consider what happens next without thinking ten steps in advance. It’s exhausting and it never works out how I foresee it anyhow, no matter how good I think I am at it.” He smiled crookedly. “You’re the one who drove that lesson home for me, and it’s good that you did. My life, my future…they don’t and shouldn’t revolve around your choices. You’re an adult now, for all that you’re still my kid.”

A month ago, Cody would have rejoiced at such a statement of independence. Now, though… “I’ll always be your kid.”

“I know.” Garrett leaned over and kissed his forehead. “Let’s go find your dad and get him to make us dinner, huh?”

“I’ll see if I can pull Ten out of hir lab.”

“If anyone can, it’s you.” Garrett stood up and put his hands in his pockets. “And if you can’t, well…nobody can control everything.” He sounded considerably lighter saying it this time, like he was breathing easier. “And it’s better not to try.”

They walked in silence back to the house, but at least for now, it was a contented silence.


The End

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Forty-One

Notes: Did I say one more chapter? I meant at least one more. This one isn't exactly a sweet, light-hearted reunion, but that's coming, I swear! In the meantime, have some Garrett and Jonah. Some ACTUAL Jonah.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Forty-One

***

Chapter Forty-One



Five minutes to docking.

Jonah let the text pass across the visual input from his implant and vanish, trying to ignore the way the words ratcheted up the tension crawling across his shoulders and tightening his chest. There was no need for him to be nervous. This was his husband, for cryin’ out loud. This was the person he’d been trying to reach out to for over a month, the man who’d featured in every one of Jonah’s daydreams, sustained him with his memory. He wanted him here, right now, yesterday, before any of this had ever happened. So why was he so…not nervous…concerned?

The texts didn’t help. They’d been cleared for enough bandwidth to send video messages for the past two days of Garrett’s travel, but his husband stubbornly clung to words only, no visuals. Jonah wondered what that said about his husband’s state of mind, and tried not to let fear get the better of him. Garrett didn’t blame him for getting shot down, of course he didn’t. There was no way he could have known that Pandora was going to be invaded then and there, and Lacey had come through okay, so there was no reason to hold a grudge. Not that he would, it wasn’t Garrett’s style, but…

But maybe he resented the fact that their son had spurned every safety Garrett had offered in favor of flying to the Fringe in a Drifter deathtrap with people who’d as soon sell him for parts as take care of him, all to find Jonah. Maybe he was too busy dealing with the fallout from the state of near-anarchy in the Federation senate to give Jonah more than the cursory attention he was getting. Or maybe…

Maybe the thing that was wrong here was Garrett, and he didn’t want Jonah to know. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d neglected his health when something caught his attention. Usually Jonah was there to badger him into taking better care of himself, or Miles, or Claudia. But this time around there had been no one, and it had been more than three standard months since Jonah had physically been in his husband’s presence. A lot could happen in that amount of time.

Jonah determinedly relaxed his clenched fists and made himself take a deep inhale, then exhale slowly, loosening some of the pain in his chest. It would be fine. He knew things were gonna take a while to get back to normal, and for a first meeting—well, there was a reason he’d asked Cody and Ten to stay behind. If they were gonna fight, the kids didn’t need to see that. If they were gonna cry—and Jonah couldn’t speak for Garrett, but it seemed like his tear ducts had been on a hair trigger all morning and jut seeing his husband’s bright hair would be enough to set him off—then they didn’t need to see that either. It wasn’t shameful, but it was personal.

Jonah squinted up into the surprisingly-sunny sky, looking for the familiar outline of his husband’s ship. There—coming in slow, the sleek lines beautifully illuminated by the daylight. Jonah shivered, anticipation and desire warring with his nervousness now in a way that made his muscles try to jump straight out of his skin. There he was. Just another minute and Jonah would have Garrett in his arms again.

The ship set down smoothly on the landing pad, hydraulics settling with what sounded like satisfied hisses. The outer hatch opened and the walkway extended, and Jonah held his breath. Any second now…any second…

Can you come aboard?

What. The. Hell? Why was he being asked to board when there was a whole planet waiting beneath their feet? Jonah felt a cold wave of fresh anxiety sweep over him. Sure, darlin’.

With steps that trembled despite his best efforts, Jonah headed up the ramp and toward the cockpit. Garrett was there, but he was sitting down at the small table that unfolded from the wall behind the captain’s chair, the ship’s portable medkit open next to his left arm.

He looked…ghostly, was the best word Jonah could come up with off the top of his head. So pale he was wan, too thin for the cobalt blue suit he was wearing. Still gorgeous, still the best thing Jonah had seen since Cody almost crash-landed here weeks ago, but not well.

“Darlin’?” he asked, careful not to press too far into the cockpit. He didn’t want Garrett to feel crowded. “What’s goin’ on?”

Instead of answering him directly, Garrett looked to the side and said, “So, you see that too?”

Jonah felt his hands clench again. Shit. He was having hallucinations. He needed the med unit—hell, at this point he probably could use an hour or so in a Regen tank, to help regain some of the muscle mass he’d lost—but Jonah couldn’t just up and demand it. Especially not if Garrett wasn’t sure he was real. “It’s me,” he said softly. “It’s Jonah, I’m here. Really here.”

“Of course that’s exactly what he’d say if he were like you,” Garrett said miserably to the wall. Or, no—he was definitely focused on something. Someone. Whatever vision he was having. “What if he isn’t?” He glanced back at the medkit, it’s glove port already open. All Garrett had to do was stick his hand inside and it would pop out an assessment and deliver an initial, stablilizing dose of Regen.

Jonah fought off the urge to take his husband’s hand and stick it in there himself. He hadn’t seen Garrett in the grips of his illness often—usually his husband was meticulous about maintaining his Regen levels. But if he hadn’t been taking meds, he’d probably gone off them for a reason. Jonah couldn’t force him to use the kit, any more than he could force his son never to do anything that might endanger his fragile, natural health. As long as Garrett wasn’t hurting himself…then Jonah was gonna to talk him into it, slow and gentle. “Sweetheart,” he said. “C’mon, let’s get you fixed up, yeah? Then you’ll know I am who you think I am.”

“Who do you think I think you are?”

Jonah was almost surprised to be directly addressed, but grateful for the opportunity. “You think I’m a hallucination of Jonah. But I’m really here, darlin’. You made it to Pandora and I’m here, I’m fine. Cody is back home waiting for us, him and Ten, and Miles is in the command center. They all want to see you.”

“Why?”

Good God, did he want to reach out and grab his husband and just hold him in his arms until they both stopped shaking. Jonah forced the words out through his suddenly-sticky throat. “Because we all love you. So much. We want you with us, not here on board. Come with me, Garrett. Come on outside, get some fresh air.”

“What if you go away?”

Jonah shook his head. “I won’t go away.”

“One of you will, eventually.” His eyes teared up. “I don’t want either of you to leave.”

“Nobody wants to leave you either,” Jonah pressed. “And I won’t, I promise. I’m here, and I’m not gonna let go of you.”

Garrett looked away from him, back at the nothing to his left, and cocked his head like he was listening to someone else. “Are you sure?” he asked after a minute. His hand trembled above the medkit. “Are you really sure?” There was a long silence, and then Garrett closed his eyes and leaned forward, almost like he was leaning into a touch. A moment later, he lowered his hand into the medkit glove, which beeped alarmingly and flashed a whole bunch of lights before finally returning to a steady green. Jonah held his breath.

Garrett opened his eyes again, and they fixed steadily on Jonah. “You’re…really here. This is real.”

Jonah nodded. “Yeah, darlin’.” He was crying now, there was no way around it, and in the end he didn’t have to go to Garrett—his husband came to him, wrapped him up in an embrace so tight Jonah’s ribs clenched against the pressure, but he didn’t care, just held Garrett back twice as hard.


It was a start. That was all he needed right now.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Fourth of July

Hi darlins!

It's a holiday here, which means while I'll try to get my writing done (we're down to the last chapter, WHAAAAT) it's also very likely I'll spend most of the day doing chores/hanging out with my man/chilling. So, forgive my lapse, and if you're celebrating it, have a wonderful Independence Day!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Forty

Notes: Only a happy reunion to go, I think. Because of course I've got to draw this out! Enjoy some political machinations and people knowing things they shouldn't. And by people, I mean Garrett.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Forty

***

Chapter Forty



“There’s fighting in the Senate.”

“What a shame.”

“Open fighting. Just fists so far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone pulls a weapon or sets their bodyguards on another senator before the morning is done.”

Garrett shrugged. “You can’t expect me to be bothered by any of this, Sigurd.”

Admiral Liang’s sharp, knowing gaze stayed fixed on him. “I wondered if you had any idea how far you wanted to see things fall, in the end. Political chaos is inevitable, now that Alexander’s demise is being broadcast on every holo station.”

“And evidence of his perfidity,” Garrett added. “You’re the one who helped me dig that up and make it public. Everything they’re reporting on about the dark fleet, the money laundering, the attacks on the Fringe—that’s all coming directly from your investigation. If you were really all that concerned about instability, you would have waited until someone else had consolidated power to release that information. I wouldn’t stop you either way.”

Sigurd inclined his head. “I know. And timing-wise, if we’re going to prevent another regime from springing up among the former president’s followers, it had to be now. But you can’t simply run away from the mess you helped make.”

“Watch me.”

“Settling back on the Fringe isn’t a long-term plan, Garrett, especially not now that the planets’ legal status is unclear. There will almost inevitably be power plays made out there that the fleet can’t respond to. There will be interplanetary war, every pirate or Drifter with enough people and ships making a play to increase their status, not to mention conflicts between the planetary governments themselves.”

“It’s a good thing that what’s left of the Fleet is out here already then, isn’t it?” Garrett drawled. Jonah snickered next to him, and he resisted the urge to smile. “And that they’ve got you as their commander in chief.”

“I don’t command the entire navy.”

“But you do have ultimate authority over the Academy and its cadets, who are doing the patrolling out here. The rest of the fleet might be powerful, but it’s scattered. You’ve got a nexus of power recovering at Pandora, and better yet, you’ve got the children of people in positions of power. Nobody’s going to move against you with this kind of leverage, and while Alexander’s dark fleet might have been a trial for Federation forces, no real pirates or municipal navies will be able to muster anything like that level of offense. You’re the king of the Fringe.”

“I don’t believe in monarchies.”

“Well, I hope you believe in a benevolent dictatorship, at least for a while, because that’s what I’m putting you in position for.” Admiral Liang’s gaze narrowed, and Garrett hastened to explain himself. “It’s got to be you. You already know that. There’s nobody else in the entire government who comes close to your level of trustworthiness, and your reputation is unassailable. And so are you. You have no family, no children.” And I know why. “Your work is your life. You want the best for your cadets. Well, that’s going to be whatever treaty or reconciliation you can hammer out of those hardheads in the Senate, and you need to act fast, while they’re panicked. Their fortunes are falling, their lives are chaos, and who knows if they even have any legal authority anymore? They’ll listen to you. They have to.”

“Perhaps for now. By next week I could be dodging assassins of my own.”

“You’re not that easy to kill.” It was the closest Garrett could come to being totally blunt, and he appreciated Sigurd’s simple nod of acknowledgement.

“And why should I let you fly off into the sunset and leave me to fix this mess without your help? You have a lot of influence here. You’re the architect of this dismay. You should have a hand in cleaning things up.”

“I can’t.” He couldn’t be any more honest. “I—I can’t. I almost lost everything already, I don’t even know if—” He couldn’t say it. “I’m not saying I’ll be gone forever,” Garrett said. “But I can’t stay right now. I have to be with my family, I have to make sure they’re okay and get them somewhere safe to recover.”

“Where do you have in mind?”

“Somewhere beyond the reach of the Federation, diplomatically speaking.”

Admiral Liang’s eyes widened slightly. “Perelan? Will they accept your presence?”

“They will if their ambassador has anything to say about it. They’ve already got Claudia and the girls. It won’t be permanent, but it’ll give us space to breathe and recover.”

“I suppose it will.” The admiral sighed. “Go, then. Take your well-earned rest, but I want you to maintain a channel with me. If you vanish off the face of the universe, I’ll assume the worst and come after you, even if it causes an interplanetary incident.”

“I understand.”

“Then good luck, Garrett. Tell Cody I’m disappointed he and Tiennan won’t be attending classes any longer, but that I understand.”

“Well, I’m not sure that Ten—”

I am.” He cut the connection, and Garrett sat back in his chair with a loud exhale.

“Well. That went better than it could have.”

“A lot better,” Jonah agreed. “Wouldn’t have surprised me if he kept a few ships in reserve just to send after you and escort you back to help him deal with this clusterfuck.”

“Sigurd Liang is an expert at dealing with clusterfucks, he doesn’t need my help.” Garrett’s eyes unfocused a little bit as he thought about it. “I managed to track him. Did I tell you that? Found evidence of him throughout the centuries, new names and new jobs after his wipes, but a lot of it’s the same. He’s always a stand-up guy, and he’s always competent at whatever he puts his mind to. He’s dealt with rebellion, revolution—hell, he’s led a few of them himself. He might not remember the details, but so many years of experience will come through for him. He’s going to be all right, and whatever he hammers the Federation into after this, it’s damn sure going to be better than the mess we had before.”

“Is there anything you can’t plan for?”

“Too much.” Garrett checks his comm again—it doesn’t matter that he would have heard it going off and dropped Liang’s call in a hot second if it meant getting through to Pandora—but there was nothing. He was in his private ship, and the comm system didn’t come with the bells and whistles that would get him more immediate contact with Pandora. From his official quarters, he would have been patched straight through to Jezria. Without them, he was one of what was probably a very long queue, especially since it looked like the Fleet really was using the planet as a place to refit, and taking up most of their bandwidth at the same time.

Garrett sighed. Soon. He’d be there soon, and then all this waiting would be over and he’d know whether or not it was worthwhile for him to keep…going. He was so tired. Fuck, he was so tired of everything, and he still didn’t know what he needed to. His husband, his son, his father—were they even alive? Odds were good that at least someone had survived, but Garrett wasn’t sure that someone would be enough for him at this point. It had to be everyone. He needed everyone, or else he might as well fly his ship into the nearest star with no one but his hallucination for company.

“No, darlin’.”

“No what?”

“No, you’re not gonna do that.”

Fuck, I forgot he’s not real. He can actually read my mind. Garrett chuckled. Because he’s all in my mind. Only in my mind. “How would you stop me?”

“I’d find a way. For now, though? You need some sleep. When you wake up, you’ll be that much closer to Pandora.”

That was a good thing. So why was he dreading it so much? “Okay.”

“Good.” Invisible hands helped Garrett over to his bunk, the autopilot keeping everything on the ship running smoothly. “It’ll be all right. Promise.”

“You can’t promise.”

“How ‘bout you let me worry about what I can and can’t do?” Gentle lips pressed a kiss to his brow. “Sleep, sweetheart. Sleep.”


Garrett did.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Nine

Notes: Aw, some father-son bonding time. Only Jonah might not be thrilled to hear exactly how Cody and Ten got to Pandora. Maybe, just possibly, not thrilled.

Almost done!

Title: Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Nine

***

Chapter Thirty-Nine



Jonah had never thought that being rescued would feel anticlimactic, but that was before he got a handle on exactly what his only child had been doing for the past few weeks.

They were rescued before the night had finished, and his conversation with Cody had been put off out of necessity—the kids had been tired, they’d needed to sleep, and Cody had been beside himself about Lacey while Ten had grilled Lt. Reyes about their friends. But now they were back in The Box, sitting in the hospital waiting room to get an update on Lacey’s condition as soon as her surgery was done, and it was all Jonah could do to keep his voice from bouncing off the rafters of the damn place once his kid started speaking.

“You what now?”

“Snuck on board the Drifter ship,” Cody repeated, looking a little nervous. “Only we didn’t really sneak, Jack helped us out.”

“Of fucking course he did.” And Jonah was gonna have some words with Jack, that was for damn sure, and the man better be damn happy they were separated by a million miles of space when they did because otherwise Jonah would punch him in the fucking face. “And then you…what, disabled it?”

“Disabled its hygiene systems, really. That’s all,” Ten said, like that made it so much better.

“You disabled a ship with thousands of residents—”

“Only two thousand and fourteen,” Ten offered.

“Like I said, thousands of residents, in hostile space, while a battle was going on, so you could fly down to a storm-covered, besieged planet on a modified—” Jonah had to force himself to say the next part “—hovercycle. A fuckin’ hovercycle.”

“But the design was sound.”

“Obviously, or the two of you wouldn’t be here, and Ten?” Jonah took a deep breath and looked at his son’s significant other. “I need you to either be quiet right now, or go take a walk. What happens next is between me and Cody, and he needs to speak for himself.”

Ten frowned. “You should be nice to him. We came here to rescue you, after all.”

Jonah made himself nod. “I get that. I know both of your hearts were in the right place. But that doesn’t mean that what you did was okay, and again—this part of the discussion doesn’t concern you, so actually?” He stood up and held his hand out to Cody. “We’ll take the walk. You stay and keep an ear out about Lacey.”

“It’s fine,” Cody said softly, and only then did Ten finally relax. On any other day, it would have made Jonah smile to see them looking out for each other like that. Today was not any other day, though.

Jonah spread his fingers, and after a moment, Cody reached out and took his hand. He led the way down to the hospital greenhouse, its plants wan after days without light or water, and manually locked the automatic door behind them.

“I know I shouldn’t have come, but I was worried about you and Garrett wanted to ship me off someplace safe instead of letting me help look for you, and I knew I’d never get a place with the other cadets in the fleet,” Cody started before Jonah could get a word in edgewise. “And Jack was there, and he was willing to help and so was Ten, and so I did it. And we made it safe, and you’re all right and I’m all right, so everything is fine!” He sounded a little desperate. “Isn’t it?”

Jonah sighed. “Let’s unpack that a little. You were upset because Garrett wouldn’t let you come to Pandora. Did he tell you why?”

Codys jaw tightened. “He said it was political.”

“Right. Because like it or not, we married into a family of politicians, people tryin’ to make the ‘verse and the Federation a better place for people on the Fringe. So he told you that, and you got upset. What did you do next?”

“I found Jack and—”

“No, bucko. What did you do next with your father?” Jonah was pushing a little hard, he knew it, but a push was what his kid needed right now. Cody was young and clever and he’d gotten so incredibly, amazingly lucky, but he was also a natural and a political target. He could be the breaking of their family, if Jonah let him get away without thinking about consequences.

“I told him…I wanted to come and find you. Be part of the fleet, and he said no. Even though Darrel and Grennson—”

“Who are MIA for now,” Jonah interrupted. “As is your grandfather, Miles. But yeah, keep going. Even though your friends got to come.”

“And he said…I was too important.” Cody’s voice had gone quiet.

“Uh-huh. And you said?”

“I said that…that you should be his first priority, and that you’d want to know we cared enough to look for him.”

Oh, Cody, really? “And he said?”

“That you’d want me to be safe, and that he was sending a shuttle for me.”

“And?” Because Jonah knew his husband, he knew how his coms usually went.

There were definitely tears in Cody’s eyes now. “And he said that he loved me.”

“And what did you say?”

“Goodbye.” Cody bit his bottom lip. “I didn’t tell him I loved him back. I should—I should have done that.”

“Yeah, bucko.” Jonah felt like his heart was splitting in half just listening to it secondhand. How much had it affected Garrett? And then sending a ship, and learning that his son had run away… 

“Probably.”

“But I wanted to be with you! I had to make sure you were safe!”

“And you know I always want you around, and I’m so happy to see you it hurts. But what hurts worse is knowin’ that your daddy—the one who helped me raise you, not the one who abandoned us when you were a baby and didn’t give a shit about either of us for years—knowin’ that he looked for you, and he couldn’t find you. And he was lookin’ for me, and he couldn’t find me. And then Miles was sent away, and so were the boys, and there was nothin’ he could do but keep working, all alone, and hope that all of us were still alive.” Jonah shook his head. “You think that felt good to him?”

Cody had a hand pressed to his eyes now. “No.”

“You think that maybe he’s the one who felt abandoned? You had Ten, you’ll probably always have Ten. I had Lacey, even when she wasn’t wakin’ up, and I had other people to handle after a while. Miles had Darrel and Grennson, but Claudia and the girls weren’t with Garrett. Wyl and Robbie weren’t with Garrett. Nobody was with him. Nobody’s with him now.

“And we still can’t raise the interstellar coms,” because it took a while to get the generators back up to full capacity, and coms for people who weren’t in charge were low on the list of priorities, “so he doesn’t know we’re okay. He doesn’t know we’re safe. He’s got a whole lotta nothin’ but hope and fear right now, and I hate that he’s got to deal with it alone.”

Cody’s shoulders were shaking with the force of his quiet sobs, and Jonah unfolded his arms with a sigh. “C’mere, bucko.” He held his son and kissed the top of his head and tried to make sense of everything he was feeling, the good and the bad. There was joy there, pure joy at having his boy with him and safe, at Lacey being fixed up, at the battle being won. But there was worry too, and sorrow, and anger, anger at circumstance and fate and even at his son, for leaving Garrett swinging like that. Jonah knew his husband, he knew him well, and if Garrett was getting through this completely fine then Jonah would eat his damn boots. “I love you. I know you thought you were doin’ the right thing, and who knows? Maybe that’s what it’ll turn out to be. But I wish you’d trusted your dad a little more.”

“He’s going—to be—so angry at me—”

“Nah, probably not.”

Cody shrugged helplessly. “Maybe he should be an-angry with—with me!”

“Maybe, but he won’t be. He’ll be happy you’re okay. And that I’m okay. And that’s all he’ll say about it, which is why I’m the one talkin’ to you right now, son.” Jonah pulled back just far enough to tip Cody’s chin up. “Because you’re part of a family, and it goes beyond you and me. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Good.” Jonah squeezed his kid tight again, then let him draw back. “How about we open the door before Ten decides to hack it, and you can tell me some more about your time on the ship. Did you remember much of it?”

“Not really.” He shrugged. “But Grandma was still a raging bitch.”


“Well, time can’t change everything.”

Friday, June 16, 2017

Happy Day!

It's my birthday, so I want to tell you all real quick: thanks for being awesome! You keep me writing and give me something to look forward to, and I hope for another happy year of interacting with you. And next year will be a weird one, what with the kiddo coming, so...yeah. Thanks for being there, one of the best gifts I could have is knowing you all :)

It's also Pride weekend in Denver, and Father's Day weekend here in the states, so...omg. Lots of celebrating going on!


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Eight

Notes: We're so close to the end! This one is a little bittersweet, but that's what happens when you wage intergalactic war. Next time, we'll bring some people together instead of tearing them apart.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Eight

***

Chapter Thirty-Eight



It was satisfying for Garrett, in a rather dark and shadenfreudian kind of way, to see every single one of his official lines of communication absolutely clogged with people wanting to talk to him. Senators, lower-level politicians, interplanetary business leaders—Garrett went down the list of pending contacts and took great pleasure in ignoring all of them. He didn’t have to care, not right now. He’d done just about all the caring he was capable of. With the news coming in that the siege of Pandora had broken, that the pirate fleet was completely destroyed, and that—tellingly—President Alexander was on his way off of Olympus for a distant sightseeing tour, well…it all added up to a whole lot of pandemonium. And that was what Olympus deserved, after the advantages they’d entrenched for themselves for so long.

“Oh, stocks are plummeting,” Garrett commented, full of faux-sympathy as he watched the indicators. “Incidents of direct and indirect rebellion on Fringe planets are worrying Central System lawmakers. Confidence in the office of the president is at a fifty-year low. Shocking. So shocking.”

“You ain’t fooling anyone, darlin.”

“I’m not trying to,” Garrett said, not glancing at his hallucination. “This is what you reap when you sow so many seeds of distrust in governance. It’s time for the Central System to realize just how much they’ve been taking advantage of the Fringe planets, and how hard that’s going to be once the veil of administrative secrecy is pulled back. They had a long-term plan for either getting rid of them or putting them into positions of abject servitude, and they’ve failed. Ha ha ha.”

“Maybe you’d better take your meds now, honey.”

“No.” No, he couldn’t do that yet. Jezria had communicated to him, just once, letting him know that she had no news about Jonah yet. His father was missing as well. If Garrett lost the little comfort he got from his friendly, imaginary sweetheart and had nothing to fall back on, he’d lose it. He knew it; end of ability, end of mind, end of heart. It was bad enough he still had no clue where their son was. He wouldn’t be able to take it. He just wouldn’t. “Not yet. Not until we know something certain.”

“This isn’t good for you, Garrett. You know that. It’s been too long.”

“It won’t be much longer.” He spared Jonah a smile. “I promise. Things are happening fast now. Look.” He enlarged a hologram and projected it into the air. “That’s Raymond’s personal ship. He’s about to take off. Run, run, as fast as you can,” he whispered. “Fly away. You’ll be hounded out of the entire civilized galaxy once more of your towers start to topple.” He watched as the ship lifted out of its landing bay, engines flaring as it fought to escape the thick, cloudy atmosphere of Olympus. It was a powerful ship, and moved smoothly upward.

“What’s that?” Jonah pointed at the far side of the screen.

“It’s a…huh.” Garrett looked closer. “Space debris? Some sort of unauthorized spacecraft?”

“But look at its trajectory.”

“Oh.” Garrett’s eyes widened. “Oh, hell. What?”

“It’s on an impact course with the president’s ship.”

“He’ll evade.” Garrett watched the screen raptly as the ship shifted trajectories, then felt his jaw drop when he saw the unidentified object do the same. “Oh. Oh.”

“It’s following him.”

“It’s…more like modulating its fall into him.” Garrett ran scenarios in his mind even as he watched the ship continue to waver in its course, trying to find a way out from under the shadow of its ever-nearing impact. “What the hell is that?” Whatever it was, it had some complex and very complete shielding. If Garrett couldn’t get a read on it, then he wasn’t sure the capitol’s sensors could either. “What am I overlooking?”

“Someone who wants to kill President Alexander, I suppose.”

Jonah’s comment hit Garrett like a fist between the eyes. He frantically opened a private channel and sent out a call. Nothing…nothing…finally he got recognition, voice only. “Berengaria, what the hell are you doing?”

“I’m finishing this,” she said. She sounded perfectly calm—if anything, she sounded satisfied. “Raymond has to go away, permanently. Isolating him and tearing him down from his seat of power isn’t enough; he’ll only rebuild, especially with no clear heir or opponent. And you’re not planning on sticking around, are you?”

“No, but—”

“Then this is for the best.” She laughed a little. “He kept me like a fly in a web, like a sylph in a glass cage. But I made this cage my own, and now I’m going to show him what it feels like to have all choice in your future taken away.”

“What about your other brother?” Garrett pressed. “What about Kyle? He’s out there somewhere, and when he comes back he’s going to need family around him, someone to support and care for him.”

“The best thing Kyle could do for himself, and our family, is never return.” Her voice rang with sincerity. “I never believed in curses, but if any bloodline carries one, it’s ours. He needs to create himself anew, not rely on stale dogma and poisonous family connections. And if he does come back, I refuse to be a burden to him. I failed him—”

“You tried to save him.”

“But I failed him instead. You saved him, Garrett, you and your family, your friends. And I love you for that, but I can’t be of any use to him now, or to you. I refuse to be made into someone else’s pawn, no matter how much love they feel while doing it.”

Garrett clenched and unclenched his hands, desperate for something to do or say that could convince her otherwise. “You can still save yourself. Make a new life for yourself, take on a new identity. You can escape this!”

“I don’t want to.” She chuckled a bit. “I want to be with my brother. I haven’t seen him in person in nearly two decades, did you know? But I’ll see him now. And he’ll certainly see me.” A rising alarm sounded in the background of her feed. “Excuse me, I need to take his call.”

“Berengaria, please—”

“Be well, Garrett.” She ended the transmission. Garrett watched, helpless, as the ships moved inexorably toward each other, Raymond’s doing its best to evade but, ultimately, unable to escape. Less than a minute later, there was an explosion.

Less than a minute after that, the pressure on Garrett’s lines of communication tripled.

“We have to get out of here,” Garrett said quietly. His hands were twitching, but he could still make them work. He waved away the holoscreen. “Before they don’t let us leave.” He’d been counting on a vacuum of power in which to make his escape more felt, but not one quite this sudden or severe.

“Where will you go?” Jonah asked.

“Pandora.”

“You won’t be able to stay there, if you really want to be done with this. The Senate will call you back, you know they will.”

“I know.” Fortunately he had a backup plan. It was temporary too, but it would safeguard him and his family for a time…whatever was left of his family. “Come on. Let’s go while we still can.”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Seven

Notes: Shorter chapters as we careen towards THE END of this one! It's been a long haul, but the universe is changing and our darlings must change with it. A few more weeks and then...we'll see!

Title: Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Seven

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Chapter Thirty-Seven



Jezria had settled into her chair to watch the battle play out between Federation and pirate forces with as close to a sense of equanimity as she was capable of. There was nothing she could do to help in any way—apart from keeping the Box’s shields up, which would at least ensure the pirates focused on the fleet and not civilians. Dr. Sims had worked miracles to keep the shield powered for as long as she had, up to and including sacrificing everything powering the city with the exception of the hospital. Over fifty percent of the population had withdrawn to shelters, and those would be self-sustaining for a time, but the people who had stayed were the ones that needed the most help. And there was nothing to be done for them but wait, and hope, and pray that the Federation fleet carried the day.

The fight was tense. More than once, someone else in the control room began to swear, their breath fluttering and their feet skittering nervously against the floor. Jezria dismissed them immediately. She didn’t have time to coddle anyone, least of all anyone on her staff. In the end, it was just her and Steven who stayed to see it out to the bitter finale.

And what a strange finale it was.

The fight had been back and forth, sledgehammer against scalpel, cat versus mouse for so long. Jezria watched as ships flickered out of existence, as pods careened to the surface of the planet, most but not all of them landing safely—not nearly all of them. She watched as the progressively-ferocious remainders of both fleets moved against each other, cold and clear-headed tactics going by the wayside as their captains became more desperate. And then—

There had been at least ten pirate ships less, she was sure of it. Her monitoring system’s designations weren’t as crisp through the shield, but they had done a decent job of tracking who was who. When half of the ships left in the sky suddenly vanished, no lingering flickers of power indicating a drain on their resources, just bam and gone in one brief burst of light, Jezria was initially suspicious.

“What just happened there?”

Steven was already looking into it. “I’m not sure. Our system is working fine, there’s no technical error. It appears as though they’ve been destroyed.”

“By what? What would take that many ships out in such short order? If the Federation had weapons capabilities like that, they should have deployed them before they lost half their fleet!”

Steven spread his hands. “I can’t say, ma’am. They’re just—they’re gone.”

Jeslyn pursed her lips and thought about it for a moment. She thought, and thought, and then all of a sudden she chuckled. “Oh, I never thought that bastard’s paranoia would play so nicely in our favor!”

“Ma’am?”

“What we have just witnessed, Steven, is the sealing of a potential hole in someone’s overarching plan. Of course he did it this way, of course he did. He would never send out a group that could potentially be turned against his interests.” Jezria’s mouth twisted slightly. “I hope the person in charge of those pirates had time to appreciate his master’s betrayal before his ship exploded out from under him.”

“Sabotage?”

“Sabotage.” Jezria nodded decisively. “How delightful.” The communications light was glowing, signaling a call from one of the ships above. Jezria had ignored all attempts at contact between her command and the pirate vessels, but perhaps this was someone with a new song to sing. She answered it. “Jezria Dowd here.”

“Madam, this is Captain Obede of the Federation flagship Endurance. We request permission for our remaining ships to land in your port so we can begin repairs and send out search parties for our surviving crewmembers.”

“The Endurance is a Skyblazer, from what I understand. That’s not a typical flagship,” she noted.

“The Endurance is the biggest ship up here now, madam, and I’ve been in command for the past five hours.” And he sounded it, the poor man, exhaustion underpinning his voice. “We’re holding together, but we need some ground time. Can you accommodate us by lowering your shield?”

Jezria felt Steven tense, and she patted the back of his hand. “Prove to me that you’re on my side and I will.”

“That fight wasn’t proof enough?” Jezria let her silence speak for her. “Listen, I understand that you have reason to be suspicious. None of this has gone off the way it should have. Forces should have arrived to support you sooner, we should have come in greater numbers, and we should have done a better job of identifying ourselves when we first arrived, but we appeared in the middle of a war zone, madam. Our flagship was the Triumph, and her captain was General Miles Caractacus. After he went down—”

“Wait, Miles is here?”

“We think he escaped in a pod after his ship was destroyed, madam. All the more reason for us to get down as soon as possible and mobilize search parties. We’ve got a lot of people to pick up and the weather doesn’t look like it’s getting any better down there.”

Well, that was different then. “Transmit the frequency for your escape pods’ emergency beacons and I’ll begin sending out rescue shuttles immediately while you coordinate your landing, Captain.” After a deep breath, Jezria entered the code that would turn off the shields. “Welcome to Pandora.”

“Thank you, madam. I’ll be seeing you shortly. Obede out.” The connection broke, and Jezria turned to look at Steven, whose eyes were wide and curious.

“What does it mean, that Miles was leading the fleet?”

“It means that Garrett was out-maneuvered back on Olympus. He would never have approved his retired father leading an expedition like this.”

“Well, then what does it mean that the pirate ships were destroyed by someone on the inside?”

Jezria let herself smile now. “It means,” she said with a calm she didn’t really feel, “that Garrett got his revenge in some way. I can only hope that whatever our foe has planned next, he’s doing it a long way away from Garrett Helms.”

“Do you really think he’d abandon his position on Olympus, where he’s consolidated all of his power?” It was a bit foolish, discussing Raymond Alexander in such oblique terms when both of them knew exactly who was behind the attack on Pandora at this point, but Jezria knew that it paid to be safe.

“I think he probably doesn’t have a choice, at this point. Otherwise he would have rendezvoused with his protection. No, I imagine some very interesting things are happening back on Olympus. See what you can find out.” She pressed up from her chair with a low groan—lord, how long had she been sitting? “I’ve got to get ready to meet Captain Obede. Let Dr. Reynaud know we’re going to need emergency procedures at the hospital, and get everyone with a hint of medical training there to assist.”


“Understood, ma’am.”