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And that was fast…

23 Nov

Okay, it went live already. Cover and link:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Escape-Tekmar-Kiti-Lappi-ebook/dp/B00GV4YO2O/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1385214150&sr=1-3&keywords=kiti+lappi

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Well, it’s done

23 Nov

Chosen name: Escape from Tekmar. Cover, well, I’ll post a link tomorrow when it should show on Amazon.

Blurb (more or less, I wrote this but computer refused to play copy and paste, so I wrote it again, with a few different word choices):

When their ship develops a malfunction and has to land on the colony planet Tekmar for repairs all Rahan expects are a holiday, and being able to get away, for a few days, from the other member of their two man crew and his commanding officer who is confined to the ship due to the fact that his kind – a branch of humanity genetically engineered to the point they are now a separate species – are not well liked here.

Then he meets a pretty girl, and at first it seems like his holiday is going to be even more fun than he expected. Only the girl is not telling him everything, and next thing he knows he is a fugitive on a world where everyone might be an enemy.

And then Rahan finds himself solely responsible for something important, and important to him personally, for the first time in his life. It’s all up to him now.

And now I just worry about what will show on Amazon, and how many typos and wrong tenses and whatever I left on the manuscript. I did several line edits, including one on paper, but from previous experience there will still be plenty left.

And then I will start playing with the sequels. Fourth Sword first, tentatively named White Keeper. I got a pretty good idea of the plot, but as usual it will probably get new twists and tangles when I actually start writing it. Already a new character has poked his head in, and all I did was write a couple of short scenes.

Since writing is not going to go well during the next couple of months I will probably keep to jotting down a few scenes here and there, and a lot of daydreaming which I can do. I can’t build a whole working plot that way, but I can get a general impression of what is going to happen.

I also have a sequel to Escape thought up. It will introduce the two sisters of the family, and drop the foursome on a very hostile planet. No colony, this time. There may also be a love story for Ryn’s twin, there is this guy… we’ll see. Ryn and Rahan are going to get back on Tekmar too, Lida will be needing their help, but the scary planet adventure, and meeting the sisters, Dani and Cedra, and Dani’s new love who is perhaps going to have some problems fitting into their pack, that will come first because that guy is going to have some important stuff to do on Tekmar.

And yes, painting. First the new covers for the last three short stories which still have the photos on their covers, then just painting and drawing.

chapter 10

18 Nov

This is the last chapter I’m posting on the blog. I may be able to publish the novel on Amazon this week, I’m tentatively aiming for the 20th, and the two others will also start a free promo which will last until the 24th on that day. I’ll need to see how my final edits will go (or if I decide I will need to edit more).

So, next week perhaps more art, for a change, since at least right now the problems I have been having with my hand seem to be in control – it shakes, sometimes, but not so often and not so badly I can’t finish pieces. Or finish them well enough to keep them, I did draw during the last nine to ten months, and paint occasionally too but most of the resulting pieces went straight to trash. As I have said before the main problem seems to be with my shoulder, which got badly inflamed last spring, but while that was work related so it’s not completely sure it wont happen again, I can’t exactly stop working, maybe I can keep it at least from getting as bad as it did then. Last winter and spring I’m afraid I just kept hoping it would heal on its own, or go away if I ignored it, until it finally got bad enough that I needed cortisone injections, and even after that weeks of work before I started to get where I could again do fine motor tasks well with that hand. 🙂

Chapter Ten

It took them a while to get there, but when they did the fortress turned out to be quite impressive.

The flyers were hid in a natural cave outside the walls. Wide and just high enough that they could be flown in, very slow and very carefully. Rahan noted that. He was a good enough pilot, but with that parking place he would not be able to make any kind of fast exit. If he ran he’d have to make sure nobody was right at his heels when he got here.

The rebels didn’t seem to leave any guards in place. Not human ones anyway. But it was always possible there was something automated, or that somebody or several somebodies would come back here later.

The route from the cave to the fortress showed no marks of having been used previously. There were only a couple of large trees here, but plenty of young saplings, and it was bit of a fight to push through the thicket to the fallen gates of the huge building.

The fortress seemed to be made completely of stone, huge, smooth blocks fitted seamlessly together with no signs of mortar between them. Rahan gawked until he nearly tripped on a small bush, after which he concentrated more on his feet than on sightseeing.

“Lida, this was built soon after the colonists landed, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said. “The stories tell of magic.”

“Yep, that’s what the construction robots are, pretty much. Or were. The ones in use now aren’t any more advanced than the ones these people had. Probably quite a bit less so.”

So much had been lost during the dark centuries. They still were in many ways much less advanced, technologically anyway, than their ancestors had been. The only magic uniquely belonging to their time was the FTL drive, their grav and stasis machines, all offsprings of the same scientific discovery.

There was a big courtyard, surrounded by massive walls with turrets on the corners and on both sides of the main gates. The living and working quarters, as well as storage, had probably been in the two keeps standing on both sides of that courtyard. There were also some smaller buildings there, less well constructed, made of much smaller stones and with the help of mortar, and in a more ruined state, looking kind of embarrassed standing in the shadows of the older and much superior versions. A new, smaller group of people met them when they got to a door leading in, and the people from the flyers started to disperse. A man, taller than most of the locals Rahan had seen so far, seemed to be in charge here.

So another group had gotten here first.

Lida didn’t seem to be particularly fond of of this new Maasvat leader, she just nodded curtly to him before turning to Rahan.

“I’ll take you to your room. It’s probably better if you stay there, I’ll see that everything you might need will be brought to you.”

Rahan glanced at her, but she seemed to be wholly concentrated on her feet and the ground just ahead. Here it was mostly covered in stone, with occasional tuffs of grass, some stray saplings and small bushes growing here and there, but the ancient paving was rather uneven and there were fallen stone blocks, from the newer buildings, here and there.

“So what am I, a prisoner or a guest?”

“It’s better, for both you and us, if you don’t know all that much about us.”

He was forced to admit that made sense.

***

The room she led him to was a bare cubicle of stone, with no windows. But there was a door. Old, made of thick, sturdy planks reinforced with steel bars.

And with a lock.

Old, mechanical one.

When Lida left she said somebody would be coming soon to bring him bedding, water for both a little washing and drinking, and some food. She also asked him to stay inside and wait.

As soon as she was out he went to the door to listen, then when the echoes of her steps had died down he slipped out.

The corridor was empty.

He spend a little examining the lock, then made a quick survey of the nearby rooms and the corridor. In one room there was a newer looking pile of trash in one corner. Rahan sorted through it and found some short lengths of rusted, thick wire, of which he pocketed a couple of pieces, plus a badly rusted but still serviceable knife. Well, it wasn’t sharp anymore, but he figured it would probably not snap under pressure, at least not immediately.

He secured it under the waist of his trousers, then returned to his room to wait.

***

The Ytjar program found the heat signatures of the two flyers and reported it to the human controllers. They eyeballed the bits available at first, then gave the data to another program in hopes that it might be able to find out what the actual destination of the flyers might have been.

No such luck. All they could get was the general area, and that was several tens of square klicks wide.

Their supervisor did get a permission to airborne surveillance of the area and four armed drones were launched. He would have needed about twice that number to have some sort of surety of getting results.

The man decided to send yet another request for a higher budget even though he was fairly sure that would lead to nothing – of it it did the end result would most likely be new personal flyers, or maybe vacations, to some higher ups. Or maybe some nice jewelry to their wives or mistresses.

But one needed to keep up appearances. If there was trouble due to unfulfilled duties he needed to be able to show that he had done his best.

***

A woman Rahan had not seen before brought him the bedding and food Lida had promised. He waited, obediently, until she had set them down and thanked her as she left and closed the door behind her.

He was not exactly surprised to hear the click of the key being turned in that lock.

The food was a loaf of drying bread and hard cheese, but at least the water was clear and there was plenty of it. Rahan contemplated them for a moment, a bit worried that the rebels might try to drug him to make sure he’d stay where he was supposed, then carefully tasted just a little bit of everything. When he still felt quite normal about half an hour later he ate and drank some more.

The sun was up by then.

Which time would be safer to do some sneaking around, day or night? Would he dare to wait until the next night?

Maybe not. The rebels had spend most of last night on the run. They had to be at least as tired as he himself was. They would probably sleep at least part of the day, and perhaps be more active again during the night. Dark would not offer much of a cover from the Ytjar, or from the police, but at least it mostly eliminated the risk of being seen by some ordinary citizen who might then alert the authorities.

The peons of this planet might not like their overlords, but in this type of systems the ones who squealed about suspicious people or activities – much less gave them people who really were up to no good, from the lords’ point of view – tended to be well rewarded by their masters, so as long as peons could do that without being caught by their fellow peons the temptation would be great. And while this area was not permanently inhabited, he had gotten the impression that it was still used quite a bit – sometimes by people on the run, but also by hunters, loggers, people gathering berries or mushrooms or tending the half wild pigs the peons kept, and to great extent depended on for their meat…

Yes, day might really be more likely time for the rebels to rest, and for him to take a look around.

Rahan ate a little bit more but drank a lot on his third mini meal, then decided to risk a short nap, confident that he would be able to wake up after an hour or two. He was scared enough by now that his internal alarm clock should be well primed to go off when he wanted it to.

He profoundly regretted the fact that before landing he had spend a lot more time looking up potentially fun things to do close to the port rather than trying to get any kind of real overview of the local system and its parts, and how they worked. What kind of resources the officials had, what kind of surveillance systems, or weaponry, how many men, what the individual nobles might have access to… and it was highly likely that if he had really dug into those Corps databases the AI had onboard – which was most of the not secret ones – he might have even found some snippets of Lida’s Maasvat.

As it was he was forced to plan almost completely without any real information. Just lots of presumptions and guesses. Not good.

As he lay down on the makeshift bed he wondered what Ryn was right then doing

He really missed the big guy.

***

Rahan woke around midday. The room was getting a bit warm then, but when the picked the lock and opened the door he was met with a blast of heat which almost reminded him of the equatorial deserts of the larger continent on the Shemasharra home planet.

The clothes he had were not particularly well suited to this kind of weather, the cheap synthetic cloth did neither breathe nor let moisture through well, so after only a few minutes he was drenched, the fabric clinging to his skin in a most unpleasant manner.

After some thought he went back to his room, took off his garish orange tunic and used the knife he had picked up earlier to cut a hole in the very thin and nicely dark grey blanket he had been given.

Well, ‘cut’ was perhaps an exaggeration since the knife had no edge to cut with. But the point was still pointy enough that he managed to push it through the blanket on several spots, after which he could tear the fabric between those holes until he had a big enough a hole to fit his head through.

As a poncho the blanket was ugly, and still something too warm for today, but he hoped it might make him at least a little bit less visible as it was also long enough to cover the lime colored trousers nearly down to his knees. Not to mention covering his pale torso and arms – he had spend a lot of time outdoors during the previous months, but since he had been quite well covered in both UV proof clothing and sunblock during those times he didn’t have a tan worth mentioning. The best one could have said that he was pale rather than pasty white.

He wondered briefly what would happen if he ran into any of the rebels, then shrugged. Most likely they would just drag him back here. If not… by now he doubted he would gain anything by being nice and obedient to them.

The first thing he did was to check rest of the floor he was in, but the rooms and corridors of the place were empty, empty of people and empty of anything potentially useful. So next he headed towards the ground floors. His room was on the third floor of the smaller keep. He figured the rebels would be inside the same building, most of them anyway, when Lida had been bringing him here he had seen a couple of men carrying things in.

Possibly ground floor.

The place was eerily quiet. Only thing he heard was the slight sound of the gentle wind from the outside. No birds sang, no rodents flitted across the floor anywhere.

And no humans.

Rahan reached the ground floor and found himself in a larger, long and narrow hallway about two stories high, with lots of mostly doorless doorways dotting the walls – some up the wall on the level of what would have been the second floor which meant there had originally been a floor there, made of something which had since either decayed to the point that there was nothing left, or maybe been reused for something else.

He turned towards the direction he thought the main gate was in. He’d need to find the door which led out. The stairs he had taken down were not the same ones Lida had used when she had led him to the room. He had thought he’d have a better chance not to be discovered if he used the other staircase he had found. Only now he was somewhat confused over exactly where he was in relation to what he had seen on the way in.

When he was about halfway through he heard a slight sound coming from a narrow side corridor.

Snores?

Some more sneaking and he found a room where five men were sleeping.

The guns tempted him for a moment, but right now he was still unsure as to what would be his best course – was he going to run now, or still wait a little while to see how things might develop – so he didn’t try to steal any of them.

The other rebels were probably somewhere close.

Once he got out he noticed a small twisting corridor running next to what he thought might be the outer wall – it was not straight, but neither had the outer walls of the keep been when he had seen them from the outside – and took it. The outer wall guess turned out to be right when he first found a few very narrow window holes opening to the courtyard, and then a door – not just a doorway, the door was there too, and in relatively good condition – and, when he tried it, it opened into the courtyard.

And at the same moment he heard the sounds of fast approaching conversation. Two people talking in that corridor, just around the corner.

There was no place to hide. Except outside.

***

This part of the courtyard was a mess. It seemed there had been a lot newer, small building – or possibly buildings – made most of brick here once, and it or they had fallen almost completely apart with time so there were a few low walls and a whole lot of fallen masonry, some as piles including some more intact bricks and as a harsh gravel formed from the disintegrated bricks and occasional larger pieces, and as the the brick gravel which covered most of the ground between them.

Rahan ran to a slightly higher nearby wall and crouched behind it as the speakers got to the window holes and approached the door. He hoped they hadn’t heard his steps on the gravel. He had not been exactly noiseless.

But they, whoever they were, seemed to be too absorbed in their discussion to have noticed anything.

When they got closer Rahan started to make out some snatches of the discussion. Something about a ship coming.

Had they been honest to him after all, and were now talking about his ship?

He could hear their voices clearly when they passed one of the windows, but between them their conversation was just noise. Both speakers seemed to be men, and he thought he maybe recognized one of the voices as one of the men who had met them on the courtyard, the one who had seemed to be as much in charge as Lida was. What had been that name he had heard… Kerrin? The other was unknown, but they were speaking in Kinagt, which might mean he was also an offworlder.

Something about a…

The rebels meant to sell something? Something illegal and highly valuable.
To an offworld buyer. The probable offworlder mentioned something about… his boss? Who was going to land somewhere near here in their ship. The next word he heard well enough to be sure of it was ‘the jumper’, a word often used of ships which had the FTL drive.
Some sort of… container? Cold. Rahan was sure one of the used words was something about cold.
A cellar. In a cellar?
Here?
It kind of sounded like that. Something in a container of some sort stored in a cellar. Either a container which needed to stay cold, or a contained which needed to be kept in cold. Here, somewhere in this old fortress.

Then they were gone.

***

The sun beat on Rahan, making him uncomfortably hot underneath the makeshift poncho and most probably burning the exposed parts of his skin while he sat behind the wall and thought.

He had a bad feeling about that snatch of a conversation.

Now where would a cellar, or cellars, be in this place… Close to the kitchens, maybe? Or did ‘a cellar’ mean something like a dungeon rather than food storage…?

He looked at the buildings around him.

The original keeps or the newer ones?

Originals. They were much better build. If the rebels were using this cellar for storage it was probably in good enough shape that they didn’t worry it might collapse on top of them, or this valuable merchandise.

Would the entrance be inside, or outside?

He would not be able to figure this out while sitting here.

Rahan got up and peered at the keep he had been in. He’d just have to start looking. It perhaps raised the risk he’d be caught by them… well, he’d just play clueless and spin. Some pressing need had made him force the lock open, maybe he had gotten thirsty, or had needed to relieve himself – that might be a good one, nobody had provided him with a bucket this time, and anything left in a corner in a small room like that would have started to stink in no time in this weather – something, anything which would keep them thinking he was maybe still not suspecting anything. Spin, appear sincere and friendly and wounded, deeply wounded by the fact that they had locked him in, ask nicely not to be imprisoned again and who knew, maybe they wouldn’t – well, one could hope – or at least the might still stay less than completely vigilant and he’d still get a chance to run.

Try to make them believe he was stupid. Shouldn’t be that hard. He had walked right into this – whatever this was – like a lamb to a slaughter, hadn’t he? Just because the girl was pretty…

By now he was quite sure he’d better run. Maybe he still was not completely sure that the rebels were up to no good towards him, but he had enough doubts that taking the risk of trusting them any further seemed rather foolhardy. Trust your instincts. That’s what the Shemasharra he knew were always telling him. That if he thought the people he was dealing with were concealing something from him, he was probably right.

And now he had finally figured out one potential reason these people might have had for kidnapping him. A reason he very, very much hoped he was completely wrong about, because if he was right he was in the middle of a nightmare.

Now, realistically speaking it was a very unlikely potential reason. It was the stuff of sensations, a subject most only ever saw in over the top action, or sometimes weepy drama type of stories told in games or vids or novels, meant to entertain rather than to tell anything more than marginally related to reality. Something most people assumed was just a good, scary fairy tale.

The problem was that those stories were based on something that actually did exist. Perhaps not in the more civilized parts of space, and it was something rare even in the frontier, but still, something that did exist and was a big, lucrative business to a very small portion of human criminals.

And Tekmar was not exactly in the center of civilization.

So no matter how far fetched his guess might be, the problem this presented to him was that now he had to find that… container before he ran.

Find it and see what was in it.

Escape on somewhere, sample chapter 7

10 Nov

I’m still vacillating when it comes to the name of the planet. Rudanos I like, but now I started thinking about the fact that the main character is named Rahan, and the Shemasharra guy is called Ryn, and that may be too many names starting with R in one story. Rahan and Ryn are, hopefully, just different enough that they won’t confuse anybody, but maybe I should use something different for the planet after all.

So, back to the mythology books. Well, this time I looked at older Greek deities, and found a goddess called Tekmar. Seems to have been the lady of limits and end of lives. Scary. Well, the planet is supposed to be dangerous (or rather the people there) so… maybe. I will think about this for a few days.

Chapter Seven

Ryn had known the police would be coming sooner or later. The AI had informed him that the Ytjar had identified their male suspect as one of the offworlders from one of the five ships currently sitting on their single starport. The men outside the hatch were, however, members of the regular police. Not that surprising though, the Ytjar had jurisdiction over the regular police, and could use them to do their dirty work when necessary.

“Should I open the hatch?” the AI inquired.

“Yes. If they require me to go with them I will. Keep tabs of all the information you can get at.” Ryn wasn’t particularly worried about his own safety. These people presumably knew what he was. But they had no experience dealing with people like him.

And if he saw people who knew something face to face he’d find out what that person knew. That might give him the lead which would help him to start unravelling this whole tangled ball of yarn. Information was what he needed most of all right now. He would not be able to act until he knew at least something.

It would be still be over a week before the ship would be able to make a jump safely – provided the police would not prevent the repair shop from fulfilling their contract – but it would be able to get into space. If he got Rahan back they could either risk a jump, or hide somewhere in the system and wait for help to arrive.

But he needed to find the boy first.

***

The headache was the first thing Rahan noticed.

The next one was that he was lying down, but not on the floor, on something at least a touch softer.

He spend a few moments listening before he finally opened his eyes. It was fairly quiet, there were some sounds of the kind of traffic you’ll hear in any larger town or city but they were muted, and he heard nothing indicating anyone was there – wherever there was – with him. Something which got confirmed when he did look around.

A bare room, with walls, floor and a slanted ceiling consisting of raw, rather new looking planks. One window, small and closed. The bed he was on, one shaky looking small table, three chairs, one of which was missing a leg. One closed door.

“Looks like I have come up in the world,” he muttered to himself. “From the cellar to the attic. Yee. Lets celebrate.”

He felt slightly dizzy when he sat up, and needed to rest a bit before he dared to stand up. Had he conked his head when he fell? The knock-out gasses or liquids which could be used as an aerosol, the few he knew about, shouldn’t have affected him like this.

But none of them should have made him pass out for more than a few minutes either. Presumably he had been given something after the initial attack.

It was full daylight behind the small window. Rahan walked to it, shuffling his feet a bit, and saw a scene consisting mostly of rooftops, and some higher buildings in the horizon, plus a blue sky with a few fluffy white clouds sailing across it.

Yep, attic.

How high an attic was one question. How well guarded was a different one. Was he a prisoner or a guest?

And ‘where’ was the third. The scene didn’t look like the more sparsely built area – and those buildings had been lower than these seemed to be, and there had been trees – where the building with the cellar had been.

He could not see to the ground from the window, and he could not open it for a better look either.

Should he break it? The glass seemed thick, but he doubted it was nothing more than ordinary window glass.

Next he tried the door, but it was every bit as locked as he had assumed it would be. Rahan spend some time examining the hinges and the lock of the door, but then retired back to the cot.

He needed information.

Food and drink might be nice too. Not to mention toilet…

He settled down to wait.

***

It took maybe an hour, but then he heard a key being used in the lock, and the door opened. The first person who came in was a woman, but not Lida. Her face was almost completely covered with a bright lime colored scarf, and she was carrying a tray with some bowls and a tall glass on it.

After her a man came in. He was sporting a scarf too, only his was black, and instead of a tray with food and drink he had some sort of rifle with him. Rahan peered at it but could not make out much, the make was unfamiliar. All he could tell that it was of the type which used ammo, not an energy weapon.

“Eat and drink. Your friend will come soon. She will tell you what you need to know,” the man said while the woman put the tray on the table  and then left.

“Okay. Any chance of a toilet visit?”

The man shook his head, then yelled something in an unknown language, without taking his eyes off Rahan.

After a moment the woman came back in carrying a plastic bucket and a roll of toilet paper. She put it against the wall and left again, and this time the man followed her.

“Okay, I guess that will do.”

The armed man had seemed fairly professional. No openings. Except for the fact that Rahan could have attacked the unarmed woman who came in first.

He wasn’t sure what to make of that. If anything.

***

He had just finished eating when Lida finally came in. This time the guard didn’t step in, but Rahan thought he heard him, just outside the door.

Lida was dressed differently than before. The generic look was still similar, bright pastels, a tunic and trousers, but it had, before, seemed like an upscale imitation of what the lower classes here wore, now the cloth was the cheap synthetic and her leather boots had been changed for the cloth slippers used by the all the poorer people here. And her hair had been straightened and dyed black when it had been dark brown and curly before.

“So… how about some explanations?” he asked.

“Yes, I guess I owe you that,” Lida said and blushed lightly.

Rahan got up from the chair and walked to the cot, then slopped on it and crossed his arms. She took the chair he had been using and brought it next to the cot, then turned it around and sat down, resting her arms on the its back, and sighed.

“Sorry I got you involved in this mess.”

“And what mess would that be, precisely?”

Lida looked at her hands for a moment, then said slowly:” You know the system we have here?”

He nodded.

“Okay. It’s kind of… well, it’s just not right, is it? The peons are practically slaves, and it’s almost impossible for anyone born into that class to rise out of it. They have no power, and they are permanently poor, and…”

“I get it. Let me guess, you want to change things?”

She glanced at him and went back to studying her hands. They looked a bit different now too. There was ingrained grime on her palms and underneath her now short fingernails. Whoever had designed her disguise was either experienced, or smart.

“Yes,” she said quietly. “Anything wrong with that?”

“Nothing. A lot. Depends on how you are going about it.”

“We have secret schools for the peons, and we distribute medicines and have hidden autodocs, and we are trying to organize them so that when there finally is an election maybe we can keep it honest…”

“Does sound recommendable,” Rahan said while studying her face.

Was she being honest? The man with the gun had seemed pretty experienced too. Considering what little he had learned about this planet Lida’s organization would need to know how to deal with violence, but how much violence were they willing to use? Underground teachers, rebels or terrorists?

And would she know?

“You are a noble yourself?” he then asked.

Lida nodded. “I wanted to do something. My parents are… not bad, but they are unwilling to disturb the status quo because they are scared of the consequences. But I wanted to do something. That friend I talked about…”

“The one who died?”

She nodded again. “Yes, she was in before me.

“And it’s possible her flyer accident wasn’t an accident. The Ytjar… they can play ugly.”

“Why did they jump you? Have they found out about you?”

“One of those men had maybe seen me when they almost caught up with one of our med shipments two months ago, or possibly there was a cam I didn’t notice, and they have images of me now. I really am going offplanet, and that’s the main reason. So, he recognized me, anyway, and since it was away from the nobles’ compounds – I am still safe there, a lot of the nobles are not all that involved in politics, and the Ytjar do not want to cause any alarms among them. And I’m not the only child of the Families who is involved either and many of the parents kind of turn a blind eye to us, and while they might let it slide if any of us get caught here, as long as the sentence wasn’t too harsh anyway, they would definitely get angry if their own area was disturbed. I guess the elders kind of see it as a phase most of us will outgrow, or something. We do suspect that if one of us becomes too much trouble in the opinion of the Ytjar – and if the High Lords approve – there may be an ‘accident’, there have been some suspicious ones, although they probably are very careful about doing those.

“So, to repeat, I’m personally not in that much danger, probably, even if I get caught outside our compounds I will just have to sit in a slammer for a while but it’s unlikely they will otherwise do any more than make my parents pay for me, and that they can easily afford. And my family is… pretty well connected… an accident, like the one that happened to Becca, is unlikely. Becca’s family is pretty low tier. They had no resources the Ytjar would have needed to worry about. If it was arranged it was well done too, it really could have been just an accident. It’s just that there have been more of those lately than there should have been if they were all just real accidents. And unless the family pays for a private investigation there is no way to tell which are real ones and which have, maybe, been arranged. Mine definitely would if anything happened to me. So I don’t worry too much about this.

“But you… if they catch you it could be worse. You are Corps, but they don’t respect the Corps all that much here.”

“They should,” Rahan said drily. “So what now, then?”

“You can’t go back to the ship. The landing field is too well guarded, you would not be able to get inside. But once your ship has been fixed – it’s not likely they will try to interfere with that, the nobles do want more ships to visit and any rumors of that kind of trouble would be bad to the port’s reputation. It’s one thing if a crew member gets arrested for a crime, another if the police then go after his ship when there is no real proof that the rest of its crew was involved, so no, they will not do anything like that, your ship will get fixed. And once it has been – it can land anywhere, right?”

“That ship is Survey. Yeah, it can land anywhere.”

“Well, your shipmate -”

“The captain. He is my commanding officer, and captain of that ship.”

“Your captain can then take off and pick you up from the country, right?”

“What kind of planetary defenses do you have here?”

“Hardly anything, just some robots and a pretty lousy missile system. They will know what happened though, the surveillance is good enough, and they may send something after the ship, but it won’t be anything particularly dangerous, and your ships, the Corps ships, they do have good combat preparedness too, right?”

“Yes. Very.”

“Okay. What we have planned is this: we will sneak you out of the city, and get word where to find you to your captain. He will take off once the ship is ready and make a slight detour, pick you up, and you will be good and gone.”

Rahan frowned. “Are you sure you can’t get me in contact with my ship now? You do have encrypted communications between yourselves? It should not be that hard to call the ship.”

Lida shook her head. “Our leaders don’t want to. You lost your com, and we can’t go back there to look for it. We have eavesdropped on the police net, and you have been identified. Which means any communications through the local channels to and from your ship will be very closely monitored now, and we are not that much better than they are, we operate mostly on the strength of trying to be where they are not right then looking. The plan was to send the information on an actual letter, you know, paper?” she said and grinned a bit, “We do have some friends in a couple of the cleaning crews which work on the field, one of them could hand deliver it. When the time is right. But that might take days.

“So, I’d really recommend that you go with our plan. Your captain will have to worry for a couple of days, but the Ytjar vigilance will surely slacken after a short while, and then we can tell him. And getting you from the country with the ship would be a lot easier than trying to get you into the ship while it’s still in that field. And it’s a lot safer there too, the Ytjar and the police are most active here in the city. So how about it?”

Well, it did sound like a reasonably good plan. If everything she had told him was true.

Did he trust her?

He wasn’t… quite sure. But he wanted to. And the alternatives he had weren’t good. No, he would probably not be able to sneak back to the ship, not easily, the port was well guarded. And even if he could and the ship had not been fixed… well, they could jump, but it would be risky, and he wasn’t sure if that was an acceptable risk, or whether Ryn would think it was. One alternative of course was for him to hide somewhere on his own and try sneaking back when the repairs had been done, but he didn’t know much of anything about the planet so hiding here for days might be difficult for him without help. And he knew nobody here but Lida.

He decided to trust the girl. For now.

But he would keep his eyes open.

***

Ryn had been sitting in the police station for several hours now.

They were trying to make him nervous. Mostly he was slightly amused. They knew what he was, but since they only had theoretical knowledge of his abilities they didn’t quite believe in them.

If he wanted out of here he would get out of here. The only complication was that it would probably require killing quite a few of these people, but killing  people like most of these seemed to be was not something he had any personal problems with. And his own superiors –  if there seemed to be any justifiable reason to suspect that his life or well-being might be in danger, or even if he was only detained but feared for the life or well-being of his crew, that being one idiot cadet, so he had to get out in order to go after and try to rescue said cadet – they would probably approve.

Even the human ones.

But as long as there seemed to be no pressing need to get out he would not risk harming them. He might not give a damn about them but he preferred things clean and ordered. Doing something which would, no doubt, be seen as inappropriate behavior by at least some human groups would not be be that.

He yawned and settled more comfortably. He was sitting on the floor of the interrogation cell, leaning against the wall. There were chairs in here, two of them, on both sides of the table, but they were not very comfortable, especially not to somebody his size.

He could wait. It would be interesting to see how long the local police would.

Escape on Rudanos, sample chapter 6 (heh)

7 Nov

I just wrote the last chapter, so the next job is editing. I will maybe wait a little, at least a few days, before I start going through the whole story again. Fresh eyes and all that. It might be best if I waited several weeks, but I really want to publish this now, not wait until spring, and it is getting dark here now, I don’t know how much longer I can concentrate well enough to be able to do this (SAD, bad version, for those of you who may be new here).

Now I don’t know how smart this is, it would perhaps be better to strive for the best possible product. On the other hand one of my problems is perfectionism, if I start thinking in terms of ‘perfect’, or even ‘best possible’, it might take me years to get even a single novel out. And volume matters in self publishing. It’s hard enough as it is to get any visibility in the crowded marketplace, whether that is just Amazon, or all the possible ones, and since I have nothing else but my stories – no noticeable blog following, no noticeable presence online anywhere else, no twitter account, no facebook one either (yet, but I’m planning to go there), and no damn money to pay for advertising – well, maybe it really would be smart just to try and get as many novels as possible out as fast as possible. Some will be better, some worse, but I think even uneven but voluminous output with some good novels in it, and some slightly less good, and maybe a few bad ones (so lets hope the percentages really will be those, more good than bad in them) might be better than few maybe slightly better ones coming out now and then, with very long quiet spells between them. Lets say I’m aiming towards becoming one of the go to names for people who want the book equivalent of something like McDonalds meals – no great culinary experiences, maybe, but cheap, fairly reliable and easy to find fare with which they pretty much know what they are getting. Well, not that I except to become anything as successful as that brand…

And if I want to get there, I guess becoming somebody who publishes new stuff in a fairly reliable schedule might be a rather big selling point. And volume. Having lots of novels for the buyer to choose from, and then, if they liked their first purchase they will be able to pick several others before they start to run out of things to read.

 

Chapter 6

They had ran for a while, then slowed down to a walk.

The streets were becoming quiet now. The sun had set, and streetlights were completely missing on several of the side streets, and sparsely spaced on the main thoroughfares which maybe explained part of the lack of people, nobody likes to stumble around in the dark, but Rahan suspected some of it was the area itself – he had thought the route to the restaurant had looked disreputable, but this was far worse.

Lida seemed to know where she was going. They had dodged into side alleys a couple of times when they had seen more official looking vehicles in the distance, and once hid in a small thicket of young trees growing on an abandoned lot, wrapped into each other and simulating the movements of an sexual act while a flyer had, for a few moments, lingered in the vicinity, but either it had not been looking for them or their playacting had convinced whoever had been manning the heat viewer that they were not the refugees but just some random couple overcome by their need for some instant nookie in the warm evening.

If he had not been so nervous it would have been quite pleasant. Even as it had been Rahan had needed to use some mind control methods he had been taught in order not to embarrass himself, or his partner.

He was fairly sure nothing like that was going to happen for real, not now. Which was a pity. But now one of his main concerns was getting out of this mess without totally compromising his chances of graduating.

Staying alive, unhurt and free, and making sure Lida did as well, were even higher on his list.

“We are close,” Lida said.

“The safe house you mentioned?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not going to ask anything until we are safely hidden. But I think I deserve some explanations after that.”

She gave him a sideways glance but didn’t answer anything.

What the hell had he gotten involved in? Lida was not just some innocent aspiring student looking for offworld information, she was involved in something shady right here on this planet.

Which of course might explain her need to get off it.

***

A ping from the AI told Ryn that the search was finished.

“What have you found?”

“Ytjar net. An alert for reinforcements near a restaurant called ‘The White Room’. The description of the male perp matches cadet Rahan Kendal.”

“Go on.”

“A female suspect was seen leaving the restaurant through a back door. Three agents went to talk to her – this seems to be some sort of euphemism, possibly meaning arrest, or at least roughing up – and she tried to flee. There was a fight, and the male suspect exited the restaurant, also through the back door, and attacked the agents.”

“And the Ytjar lost the fight?”

“Yes. The suspects are still on the loose.”

“Well well well… glad he has learned at least something.”

The AI didn’t comment.

“I’m going to play this by the book. Hide a message in the next bundle being send out through the main Startalk station. Both to the clan contacts and my immediate supervisor in the Corps.”

“Done. They will go out five days from now.”

Ryn growled. A lot could happen in five days. And nobody would get here until several days after that, if that. Depended on where the closest ships able to respond were right now, and how close they were to well funded Startalk stations. Ones which could afford to make contact often.

Not likely there would be any ships large enough to have their own station anywhere close. Startalk took nearly as much power as a ship jump. Mostly it made more sense to use ships because then you could transfer more than just information at the same time. Only the largest warships and most exclusive large transports had stations onboard.

And when it came to what he could do here, himself, Ryn knew he would not be able to do much outside the ship, at least not well. He stood out too much, looked like a Shemasharra too much, and the locals were, according to the data, actively hostile towards suspected non-humans. Or artificial humans, which seemed to be the preferred term on this planet.

“There is something else you need to know. I am not the only one infiltrating the Ytjar net. There are six or seven spies I am able to see in it. Also in the regular police net. Do you want me to trace them?”

“Figures. Separate sources or connected?”

“Some of the programs display similarities. Possibly three or four sources, but at least two of them are connected, either by having purchased the programs from the same source, or, if independently developed…”

“I get it. Trace them. Try not to let them notice you.”

“Yes sir.”

***

The house didn’t seem like something anybody would be living in. More like a warehouse with some office space.

“That door,” Lida said and pointed to one at the end of a short staircase leading down from the street level.

“Cellar? Nice.”

“We go in, but you will need to wait at the top of the stairs, right next to that door, until I have talked to the people down there.”

“Exactly what…”

“Not now. I will explain what I can later. But we don’t have the time now.”

Rahan sighed and nodded.

The wait was long. How long in real time he wasn’t quite sure since the only watch he used had been in the com, but way too long for his state of mind. But finally he heard her calling and started to descend.

The stairs were long and badly lighted. The lighting was even worse once he reached the low ceilinged room at the end of them. One filled to capacity with all kind of crates, some on the floor, some on shelving which turned the place into a maze.

“Lida?”

Rahan walked a little past several wooden crates piled on top of one another. There didn’t seem to be anybody here.

A sound from his left. He turned to look, only to be greeted by the sound and smell of some aerosol being sprayed on his face.

His last thought before he hit the floor was that Ryn was going to kill him for falling for such an easy trick.

 

 

Sample chapter 5

5 Nov

I’ve been thinking about the name for the novel. It’s a fairly simple adventure story. Strongest Ties fits, but is damn generic and does not tell much of the genre.

So, maybe I’ll stop trying to be clever and go old school: Escape on Rudanos?

If I’m going to use the name of the planet on the name of the novel the original idea for that, Madalait, might not be a good idea. This is supposed to be an adventure. Madalait… well, it kinda sounds more like a group of older ladies who gather together to knit once a week, or something, not anything which might bring in mind action, and danger, and an exiting and dangerous planet to get into trouble on.

So, I’ll dig out my mythology books and start looking for names. Rudianos is some Celtic god, and right now I no longer even remember what he is god of, but it sounded kind of… maybe rugged? Only a bit too long. So, lets drop the i. Rudanos.

I’ll use Madalait for some other planet, probably. That’s from Australian aboriginal mythology. Generally speaking mythology names might be good fit for planets which have no indigenous populace so the human colonists can pick and choose whatever they want since mythology names are rather a tradition, well, not that unlikely that would hold for quite a long time into the future too.

Chapter 5

Lida was having second thoughts.

She liked the offworlder. During the last days Rahan had been a perfect gentleman, unlike too many of the men she knew, in or out of the movement, and she liked that. He seemed kind, and smart, and he seemed to be rather smitten with her, which made her feel even more rotten about the way they were planning to use him. And even though he had professed no obvious liking for his shipmate she was getting the impression he felt responsibility, as a shipmate – that no matter what his personal feelings might be he would defend the Shemasharra as a matter of course.

And Rahan did seem to like the Shemasharra, as a group.

Even if they were not humans.

But she had no idea what to do about her feelings of doubt. Maybe, if she could have hinted something to Rahan, made him worry about the Ytjar, or the police, and stay inside their ship the rest of their forced stay, until the ship was repaired and they could leave… only she could think of no safe way to do that.

Do it wrong and her own might figure out that she had done it, and that might force her out of the movement, and she didn’t want that to happen. The movement… so maybe what they did, sometimes, was not quite… right, but what other means could they employ? There were no legal methods which worked.

And what they were doing was important. So very, very important.

And her friends were getting impatient. She would not be able to stretch this much longer before they would act, with her consent or without it.

Rahan would be all right. He’d never figure what had been going on, and would leave the planet. The Corps would come and investigate, probably, but they would not know who to interrogate, she’d stay in hiding when they were here – easy enough for her, with her family, vacation on some off the official maps luxury resort perhaps – and since they would not be able to use their Shemasharra here it would be just humans anyway. And humans could be fooled.

***

The walk through the city was mostly uneventful, if you didn’t count the revelations it gave to Rahan about the world he was on.

The girl had been right, the area around the port was not representative, not truly. Here, away from it, the differences between the haves and have-nots of this world were stark. For a while they walked through an area with walled houses and clean streets, and the flyers and ground vehicles in sight were new and shiny, if more old-fashioned looking models, and the people they saw were rather well dressed, their tunics, trousers and long skirts in most cases made of similar fabrics as those of Lida’s, with colors which imitated those of the cheaper ones more commonly worn by the people he had seen in the tourist district, but of better quality otherwise.

According to Lida those were mostly servants.

And then there were the few nobles.

The fabrics they wore didn’t even pretend to be cheap. Luxurious, deep colors, often decorated with expertly done hand stitched embroidery and both pearls and semi-precious jewels sewn straight into the fabric. Soft leather, expensive looking furs, about the only thing he didn’t catch sight of was silk (and a quick check on his com confirmed that real silk, indeed, was not something produced here, nobody had yet imported silk worms, nor any of the systems to make silk without them).

Those people were very well groomed too.

But once they got past that walled area the streets got narrower and the houses shabbier. There were some apartment houses around, but most looked like they might house two to three families. Gardens were common, but all of them seemed to be filled with vegetables, in spite of lots of peering Rahan managed to spot just one narrow flower bed, squeezed between a row of cabbages and a path with what looked like old tiles in one garden they passed. That house was a bit neater than most of the surrounding ones too.

Paint didn’t seem to in use here much. White, occasionally, probably made of chalk and almost universally either flaking off, or visibly only as some small remnants in some slightly more sheltered pieces of a wall. Mostly the houses seemed to be made of yellowish or gray tiles. The windows had glass, but most of it was greenish and uneven, with bubbles here and there, and divided into small panes. Doors were wood, and mostly looked very sturdy.

To protect the occupants from criminals?

Highly likely. This kind of places rarely had low crime stats.

Rahan was feeling the lack of the familiar weight of the gun on his hip acutely by now. Carrying often made him feel slightly self-conscious, as if he was pretending to be something he wasn’t, but he could not deny the comfort having a gun gave him. After having trained with them more than half his life now he knew he was good enough with one to not doubt his ability to use it well, and wisely. It was just the image which occasionally made him prefer not to carry, at least not openly, maybe because he had spend his earliest seven years of life in a culture where nobody did, and where even the entertainment, at least one directed to children, did its best to paint them as something quite… stupid? As a result a gun sometimes still made him feel as if he was trying to draw attention to himself. As if he was pretending to be somebody he was not.

But in places like this he would have preferred to have one anyway.

On the other hand, he had also received plenty of training how to deal with all kinds of threats and dangers while completely unarmed. A gun was a tool, a tool one should have with him if at all possible, but it was not supposed to be a crutch without which one could not walk.

He had his brain, and his training, and his well maintained body. Under the circumstances those would have to suffice.

And besides, not completely safe was one thing – was there any place you could declare as completely safe, anywhere? But surely Lida would not have suggested their trip if there was some real, immediate danger to be found here? Not when the danger would be as much to her as to him… and she seemed competent enough, not the type who would blithely waltz into a bear’s den, thinking that she was one of the charmed ones and that nothing could ever happen to her just because she maybe had the theoretical right to be there…

So there were potential risks. But probably not high likelihood ones.

But he couldn’t quite get rid of the slight itch around the base of his neck, as if the hairs there were trying to stand up. No matter how much he kept telling himself he was just being stupid.

***

The restaurant didn’t look like much from the outside. Not really from the inside either, once they had walked past the opened double doors. A big, undecorated room with white walls – and no flaking, here, for which Rahan was grateful – mismatched tables and chairs, most ugly but serviceable, as was the tableware.

The food, however, really was quite good.

They ate several courses, starting with some sort of pureed vegetable soup and some small pastries, then the main course, fish, unmistakably some salmon variety for both, with vegetables and what probably were some sort of potatoes, ending with blueberry – maybe, at least the juice stained their teeth and lips the same way as the blueberries he was familiar with did – cake and the same coffee substitute Rahan had tried in the cafes next to the starport, only the one served here tasted a lot better.

Lida was unusually quiet the whole time.

“Is something wrong,” Rahan finally asked.

She startled, then gave him a small smile. “Not really. It’s just… some memories.”

“Unpleasant ones?”

“No, pleasant. I used to come here with a friend. But…”

“Boyfriend?”

“No, a girl I grew up with. She died, about two years ago. A flyer accident. I have been here after that too, I don’t really know why I started to think of her this time. Sorry.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

She shook her head. “No problem. Are you finished?”

Rahan nodded, feeling slightly troubled. There was still something a bit off in her manner. He just couldn’t quite put his finger to it. “Yes. Do you want to leave?”

Maybe it really was just some sad memories. But…

“I guess… I need to use the ladies room. This won’t take long.”

Rahan nodded and smiled again, got up when she did and sat back, trying to catch the eye of the waiter when she left.

His neck hairs were still itching.

***

Lida left through the back door, not sure what she was going to do. She needed to clear her head. And she needed to decide. Now.

Call her friends? She had been dithering long enough. She had not told him anything yet. She did not want to tell him anything. Deceiving him no longer seemed like something she could do. Maybe just let her friend take him by force… she’d still be deceiving him but at least she wouldn’t have to outright lie to his face.

Maybe she could just run. Leave this whole mess. Go home.

The decision was taken out of her hands when she saw the three men clustered close to one end of the alley she was in. She recognized one of them. She had seen him once, as a member of a raiding party she had managed to hide from when they had burst in to one of their warehouses when she had been there making an inventory.

Unfortunately they also seemed to recognize her.

***

Something seemed to be happening. Rahan had paid and had been twiddling his thumbs waiting for Lida to come back when he saw one of the waiters hurry from the corridor leading to the toilets – at least he assumed it did, since that was the one Lida had taken – and close the door behind him, then go and whisper something to the man who he had assumed was in charge of the place, from the manner he had been keeping an eye on the room while sitting and reading in one of the back booths.

Both of the men stole a sideways glance at him.

Time to go. He did not know what was happening, and figured he had no pressing need to wait here to find out. Discretion being the best part of valor, and knowing when to leave usually the best way to keep your freedom and your skin intact.

Besides, unless Lida had suddenly developed severe case of diarrhea she should have been back already.

Rahan got up and headed towards the now closed door, hoping it was not locked.

***

The corridor was a short one, and the toilets really were there. There was also a third, closed door. When Rahan opened it he found himself facing a narrow back alley.

There were noises of struggle coming from one end. When he stepped out to look he saw a bunch of people moving there.

The sun was setting, and the shadows were deep. It took him a moment before he could make out what was going on, but when the smallest of the four figures managed to land a good high kick on the jaw of one of the two men in front of her – the third was behind her, holding her arms – he figured he was looking at Lida and three assailants.

He didn’t stop to ponder what was going on. The girl was under an attack, and she needed help.

It didn’t take him more than a moment to reach them. One of the men turned to face him when they heard the sound of running feet coming towards them, a big wall of a brute who didn’t seem to be too much worried about the tall, slim and obviously very young man charging him.

That turned out to be a mistake. Rahan’s blow to his jaw landed him on his back on the dirty ground with no problems.

He had always liked things simple.

And he spent half of his time in high gravity environments, and did most of his training in them. The slimness was deceiving.

The man holding Lida threw her against the wall, where she crumbled down, stunned for the moment. The man she had kicked was still reeling, and Rahan didn’t think he’d have any major problems with the third man, but this time he had underestimated his opponent who turned out to be a lot more quick than most humans he had ever dealt with.

But still no even close to the Shemasharra he was used to sparring with. The man got in a couple of blows but Rahan sidestepped the third one, looking for an opening. They circled each other for a moment before his trained eye saw one, and he went in.

Only to receive a hard punch to his back.

The kicked man had recovered.

The punch itself didn’t bother him too much, but the fact that it dropped his com did.

Time to finish the fight.

***

Lida got up in time to see Rahan dispatch his two still standing opponents, one in front of him with a twofer to his solar plexus, the one behind him with a kick to his… sensitive spot.

She had thought he was bragging when he had mentioned he was a trained fighter. He didn’t look like one, or at least he didn’t fit her idea of one.

Seemed she had been wrong.

For a moment regret filled her. What she was about to do was not honorable. Especially not after this.

But the situation was out of her hands now. She needed to get to her friends, and he would not be able to get back to his ship – nor would he be quite safe there anymore, even if he reached it – after this.

There was nothing she could do now but stick to the original plan.

***

“We need to go.”

The girl’s voice was worried. Rahan checked the three men on the ground and saw they would not stay down long, then looked for his com and didn’t see it anywhere.

“I dropped my com. I need it.”

“I don’t see it. Can’t you access it without direct contact?”

“It has pretty long range, and it’s nearly indestructible, but I haven’t got the implants for it. So no.” He hadn’t liked the idea of something inside his skin – in his skull bones, actually – and had been dragging his feet about getting them for several years now.

Right now he was regretting his tardiness.

“So you can’t tell your ship…?”

“Not unless I find it.” Rahan said, starting to feel slightly panicky. He needed to contact Ryn. Now.

That was when he saw the grating of a rainwater drain right next to them. The slats were widely spaced, a com could have easily fit through them if it had hit them on the right angle.

Or exactly the wrong one.

In there? He knelt to look, but it was too dark down there to see anything.

“Rahan? We have to go. Now. Those men are coming to, but that’s not the main problem. They send an alarm, I saw one of them do it, and their reinforcements could be here any minute.

“And these are Ytjars. If they get hold of us we will probably just disappear.”

The near panic in Lida’s voice got Rahan up. He remembered reading about the Ytjar. Ending up in their hands would not be good. He knew he’d get people looking for him, but it would take days, maybe even weeks – depending how close either the closest Corps ship, or the closest Shemasharra clan ship was – before his reinforcements would get here.

Better not to get into that pickle.

Ryn would know what to do.

“Okay,” he said. “Which way should we run?”

***

The beeping of the alarm woke Ryn up from a nap.

Rahan’s com was no longer in direct contact with him.

The kid had not gotten the implants so he would not be able to communicate with the ship if he lost the com. On the other hand the fact that it was not close enough to sniff him no longer might not mean anything too bad – if one discounted the fact that if the kid had just taken it off his belt without at least leaving a short explanation as to why and when he’d put it back he was going to be getting one more negative mark on his record, and while his record was not too bad yet he had a couple too many on it already – so, perhaps he had only gotten into a heavy petting session with the girl and the com was right now sitting on the floor next to the couch or bed or whatever they might be on since it didn’t have to get more than a few yards away from him before it lost its ability to smell him.

He needed to take a look. If Rahan had taken it off himself he would have only himself to blame for the loss of privacy.

Ryn activated the sensors.

To be answered by the distant sounds of several echoing footsteps, and total darkness from the viewer.

High humidity levels. In fact the com seemed to be sitting in water, if not submerged.

The other diagnostics seemed to indicate something like an underground drainage system.

This was not good.

Ryn woke the ship AI and told it to hack into the police net. Both of them, including the one belonging to the Ytjar.

Sample chapter 4

1 Nov

I’ve been thinking about the name, I’m not happy with the working name I gave this story. Something both simple and descriptive might be best. So, maybe *something happening* on (the planet) Madalait. Or possibly I’ll change that name a bit too, it was taken from mythology – not any of the Baltic ones, although the other names used tend that way, but who says the people who named it and the people who settled there have anything to do with each other? – since I’d presume our tendency to name planets with names taken from some mythology might remain as it is something traditional, but let’s assume the names might still morph at least a little with time. Only the change I made is very tiny, just one letter, and now the planet is called Madilait. (Well, not saying I’ll keep that, not yet).

So. Escape on Madilait? Rescue on Madilait? And a cover which brands the story as science fiction. I did gave the planet two visible moons, so any scene which has those should suffice… okay, thinking about that.

And here’s the chapter:

Chapter 4

The next days were very pleasant for Rahan. The girl – Lida, she was called, she had said it was a pet form of her actual name which she had so far refused to tell him, saying it was embarrassingly goofy – was good company. Pretty, with a sense of humor, not self-centered like many of the pretty rich girls he had met so far seemed to be (there were points to working for the Corps, and not all of them immediately obvious, one being the possibility to sometimes getting a chance to mingle with the upper social echelons of some planet just because you had gone there to check how their birch trees were doing). He had to admit he was becoming a bit infatuated with her. Not much, but enough that these days would count as a mild romance. Who knew, maybe he could make them even more of romance, with some luck. She had not seemed all that skittish when he had placed a friendly arm over her shoulders a couple of times the previous day.

Maybe he could try some kissing today.

He intended to be careful, though. She really seemed to be actually rich, not just well-off. Not middle class, not even upper middle class, but the real upper one. And as far as he had been able to find out, with this place that meant she was probably a noble. And the attitudes about the daughters of noble families were… rather strict. And a scandal, even a minor scandal on a backwoods planet, would not be good for his just barely starting career, a career he at least now very much wanted.

So he needed to be careful.

But that did not exclude a little bit of fun.

Ryn had been giving him some long glances, but had refrained from asking any questions out loud. Rahan appreciated that.

Besides, Ryn probably knew everything he himself did anyway.

***

There probably was a girl involved.

Rahan’s body language was pretty unmistakable. Ryn had seen the kid getting infatuated a few times before. And he had smelled her on him a couple of times. Rahan had been overly generous with the aftershave lotion for a couple of days – the kid refused to use any of the blocks which would stop his beard growing for any chosen period of time, and insisted on shaving, daily – possibly in an attempt to stop Ryn with his acute sense of smell from figuring out he had been getting in close contact with some girl, but while the scent traces when he had returned from his daily explorations had been very weak, Ryn had still been able to discern them. If he was right she was girl or a young woman, or at least young enough to be naturally fertile, which might mean anything from a teen to about 80 or 90 – even if the hormone production stayed pretty similar for older women it was not completely similar, and their scent changed subtly after that – but knowing Rahan she really most likely was either young, or very skilled pretending to be so.

Probably nothing serious. Even if she was somebody older, and basically taking advantage of the kid – the boy was tough enough, smart enough and knew enough to handle something like that by himself. And at least right now it didn’t look like he was seriously falling for whoever she was, mostly it seemed to be just a normal short term infatuation.

Ryn shrugged the thoughts off and concentrated on his virtual investigations. The power structures of this planet were fascinating. Seemingly rather simple, but there were underlying tensions which made the situation far more complicated than it seemed. And trying to guess the direction they were headed – and whether it might be possible to help them, indiscreetly, to push gently in a direction which might make life easier and more pleasant for the now badly oppressed lower classes, without having to resort to any kind of violent uprisings – well, not really his field, but he knew enough that his report to the Central might be useful. Corps didn’t officially interfere with the natural development of colonies. They were, however, somewhat prone to behind the scenes manipulation. A well working colony was an asset. A dysfunctional one was of no use to anybody but criminals. And the Corps was strongly influenced by the Shemasharra clans, and they played the long game, one goal being a strong humanity both willing and able to function as a unified whole, if necessary – that humanity including both humans and themselves.

The clans worried that the two branches of humanity might not be alone in the galaxy. They liked to be prepared. For everything and anything.

While getting absorbed in his work Ryn, for some reason, still found himself vaguely worried about the kid. He just wasn’t quite sure why.

***

“I will take him to the restaurant today.”

“Have you gotten any closer to telling him about the problems? Does he seem to notice anything, on his own?”

“Not yet, and maybe yes, but…”

Kerrin’s voice interrupted. Lida hadn’t known he’d be on the other end of the connection, and felt her stomach cramping a bit at the too familiar voice. “We are running out of time. The service shop should be getting the necessary parts done by the end of this week. You have two days. After that we’ll take him by force. It might take years before we are going to get another chance like this. Our prospective client is starting to get impatient too.”

“Yes. I hear you. I was planning to talk to him a bit today. If he seems receptive I will take him to a meeting tomorrow. Then you can arrange that false raid. If not I’ll contact you and tell where to find us tomorrow. Good enough?”

“Good enough.” Kerrin sounded grumpy.

Lida said her goodbyes and grimaced. He, nowadays, always did seem grumpy when she managed to achieve something important. Once upon a time he had courted her, and during that time there had been no win so small by her that he wouldn’t have come to her with some sort of praise, but when that hadn’t worked and she had made it clear she was not going to become his girlfriend – or arm candy, or favorite prop, and one reason for her rejection had been that she had not liked the way he had acted with the three previous girlfriends she knew about, who had, whatever they had been before being ‘Kerrin’s girl’, soon become only that after they had started to sleep with him… He was an enemy now. No going around that. And it bothered her. So they didn’t like each other, but they were both working towards the same goals, weren’t they? So why waste time with personal vendettas?

***

“So, what will you show me today?” Rahan asked when he met with Lida in the cafe which had become their base of operations.

She smiled and turned her head, seeming to inspect him. “Weelll… “

“What?”

“I thinking that perhaps you might like to see something of the real city.”

Rahan raised an eyebrow and glanced around. “So what is this if it’s not the real city?”

“Tourist area.”

“Yes, with your huge hordes of people coming here, eager to sample the exotic cuisine and relax on the endless white beaches.” There were no beaches close to this city. It was a seaport, but all the shore areas nearby seemed to be in wholly utilitarian use. Rahan had gotten the impression that locals simply didn’t have the custom of going to a beach, or swimming, or fishing, or doing any of the other customary water related activities for fun. Yes, they fished, and a lot of them perhaps knew how to swim, and there were lots of boats and other types of water vessels around, but they only seemed to be used for practical reasons – to get food, and because knowing how to swim was generally speaking a good idea when you worked on or near water, and because a boat was a practical means of transport when there was lots of water around. Fun, to them, seemed to be cafes, and shopping, and dancing – that seemed to happen on most evenings in all of the larger squares, and he had been planning to ask if Ria would be willing to join with him one of these evenings, a lot of the dances required the partners to be very close – but not much else.

“Funny,” Lida said in a dry voice. “Alright, not that many offworld tourists here, maybe, but this happens to be one of the areas most of our own visit. To get a glimpse of the spaceport, and of actual spaceships. But they also do shop. So yes, this actually is a tourist area. Just for local tourists.”

Rahan grimaced. “Gotcha. I guess I was being a tad condescending there. Sorry.”

At that she smiled brilliantly. “Maybe a bit. But don’t worry. You’re no worse than some of my friends. Especially those ones who have spend some time offworld.

“And actually, cuisine is one part of what I’d like to show you.”

He looked at her.

“What you can get in these cafes and restaurants is… a bit bland. Good enough, usually, but not very representative. They tend to go for alternatives which might be pleasing to everybody, including offworlders, no risks taken. I do happen to know this one place in the city proper, though…”

“Ah, so you are going to take me to a real local restaurant.”

“And a good one.”

“Okay, I’m game.”

Now she seemed a bit worried, though. “Well, it is in a bit… restless part of the city. It used to be safer, but the last couple of years that area has been changing.”

“But you go there? Even alone?”

She nodded.

He grinned. “I’m a bit bigger than you are. I’m trained.” No boasting, that. He was. Quite well. He had been training in hand to hand since he was seven. “And if it comes to that… I think I could outrun you any day of the week.” Not armed, not here, though. He had found that the local laws really did forbid carrying weapons for most people, including locals. Which he didn’t like much, but what could he do? To leave – and go back to – the ship he needed to go through a checkpoint, every time, and while there undoubtedly was some sort of black market in guns he didn’t know enough to find it, nor did he have any idea how big a risk of getting caught while carrying illegally was here. And he didn’t know his only local contact, Lida, well enough to ask. So no guns it was.

She laughed. “Okay, if you think so. What I’m actually worried about is that you look like a stranger, and you are a guy, and you don’t know the local customs. That might mean a slightly higher risk you will get into trouble. But if you promise to follow my lead…?”

He nodded. “Cool with me. I’m not in the habit of grandstanding. If you tell me to grovel, I will grovel. Or run.”

“So lets go then. It’s a rather long walk. No convenient public transport lines from here to there. And besides, okay, we could take a cab, but I’d like to walk there. You’ll see more.”

He nodded again. “Okay.”

The day promised to be an interesting one.

***

They decided on a snack one the way. Ice cream. Rahan loved ice cream, all the endless varieties people of different worlds had invented.

“So, tell me a bit about your shipmate,” Lida asked when they were finishing their cones.

Suddenly some of the pleasure of the ice cream, the day and her company was lost to him.

“Why?”

“Just curious,” she said. “Now more than ever. Why don’t you like to talk about him?”

He shrugged. “I have spends months cooped up in a rather small ship, with only him for company. Right now I’m not overly fond of him.”

Lida laughed her tinkly laugh. “Ah, cabin fewer. But seriously, what is he like? What about him bugs you the most? You made me curious. I will now bug you until you tell me at least something.”

Rahan took another lick of the cone. “What about him bugs me the most… he’s not really all that bad, I guess. Got a temper, although he rarely does anything like yells, just kind of… fumes. Perfectionist. High demands.”

When he gave her a sideways glance he saw her looking at himself with an unmistakably expectant look.

He sighed. “He’s not human. Strictly speaking. You do know that there are two species of us now, don’t you?”

“Shemas… what was it?”

“Shemasharra.”

“Really? So they do have males?”

Rahan laughed. “Oh, that myth. Yes. The reason you are far more likely to encounter a female unless you go to one of their colonies is that there are a bit more than twice as many of them than there are males, big reason being that the girls are almost always born as identical twins. Part of the reason for those group marriages of theirs – well, the other part is that they tend to choose places which would not be coveted by humans. Like their main planet, which is a regular death world. There, if you want your kids to live they will need constant supervision until they are old enough to protect themselves. So they have… packs, basically. Two or three males, with twice or a bit more as many females, and they make sure there are only a couple of kids at a time at that age where they need to be watched all the time. And the males also… the females are really awesome too, but the males are seen as the primary protectors in the packs. Which tends to mean they are more likely to die if there is some trouble, and on that planet there often is. But while both their culture and, to some extent, their inborn preferences supports the pack model, they do pair bond too so there is often something like the primary wife and the secondary wife or wives. And most of the women would still prefer to be the primary wife. And in spite of the strength and other differences they are perfectly able to fall in love with us, and it’s easy for us to fall in love with one of them too, we are still similar enough… so…”

“The women go in search of human husbands?”

“Yes.”

“But… what if they want children?”

Rahan shrugged. “They will need a genengineer. But the Shemasharra have good ones, and the difference between us is only a few percents in DNA, however big they seem when it comes to phenotypes.

“There is just one complication, and it’s that… well, it’s sometimes called a symbiont, but it’s not, not really since it piggybacks its… okay, this gets a bit weird since the thing may be at least partially of alien origin, and it does not have DNA as such, or it does but it’s a DNA equivalent, not DNA… do you want the full official explanation?

Lida shook her head, looking perplexed.

“Okay. Thanks. Fact is I don’t remember all of it that well, molecular biology is not among my majors… Anyway, those things they have in their bodies, which are kinda like nanites, except they come as part of the package, the building code is permanently attached to the Shemasharra DNA, and while they can be purged from the gamete chromosomes it’s so hard that it’s pretty much never done. And the end result is that you can’t make half human half Shemasharra or full human babies using Shemasharra chromosomes, they have to be all Shemasharra or they never develop much past the fusion stage. Those bionanites seem to be programmed to accept only the Shemasharra blueprint. They are called ‘The Silver’, well there is a more official name but that’s the handle used in everyday speech, because the silver color you see in the Shemasharra eyes… well, it’s the nans. And their wounds, when healing, have enough of the Silver in them that you can see that color, as do their scars, as long as they have them. They do scar, by the way, but those are not permanent because the Silver will help to regenerate the tissues in time. They can’t rebuild something completely gone, like an arm, but as long as there is enough intact living tissue… well, pretty much anything as long as at least half of the tissues are still alive. Even parts of the brain, although that kind of damage tends to change the personality, sometimes even drastically.

“So, anyway, human-Shemasharra couples can have children made for them where the child has half of their chromosomes from the human parent and half from the Shemasharra parent, but those chromosomes are practically always going to be chosen so that those parts which makes them different from us are going to be picked from the Shemasharra parent, and as a result that child is going to be a full Shemasharra.”

Lida dropped what was left of her ice cream cone into a pile of trash they were walking by – lots of those around, and no trash bins, at least so far the only ones he had seen had been in the cafes near to the starport – and made a half laugh. “Okay, so they are better than human women and can give a human father superkids. Bad competition. That might make me resent those superwomen more than a bit. And even with smaller likelihood for getting them as rivals for the affections of human women I think I can figure why a human male might not be overly fond of their males…” She looked back at him with an expression which made it clear that was a question, even if she had not said it as one.

“They can be very irritating. In all honesty, part of it is, I guess, just plain jealousy from our side. The men are so bloody… perfect compared to us. And they most certainly know it. No hints of false modesty to be seen with that bunch.”

Lida was still looking at him with that same expression.

Feeling somewhat embarrassed Rahan continued. So it was embarrassing, but since this had come up why not… He had never liked to pretend being something he was not – maybe because he was so used to dealing with the Shemasharra, but he thought it also made living with humans easier. “He’s over half a head taller than I am, although I have to say he is actually pretty tall for one of them too. Intelligent. Can do all kinds of savant shit too, like calculate drive orbits in his head, up to the point of figuring out the exact jump points while the ship is moving towards the jump at full speed. And that is impossible for most humans, pretty normal to them.

“Strong. He could literally, and I mean literally – I have not seen him do that to a human but I have seen him tear the head off of a rabid mountain lion variety, one that is nearly twice as big as the Terran parent species – so, he would be able to rip a man into pieces. Not all that easily, mind you, they are not quite that strong, but he can do it. And I’m actually pretty damn good in hand to hand, but I wouldn’t have a prayer against him.

“And… bloody handsome too. The traffic stopping variety. Literally, sometimes. I’ve seen people stumbling or walking into something because they stared at him.” He made a face.

“Ah, thus the jealousy.”

“Don’t kid me. I have lived with them most of my life. It can be rather…” he shrugged. “Okay, I guess it’s stupid, but you ever got the feeling you suddenly turned invisible when somebody else walked into the room and everybody suddenly focused on her, even people who had been talking with you just a few seconds ago? Okay, maybe not, maybe you were that person who stole the attention more often…”

“Why thank you.”

He smiled. “… But while I am usually pretty able to hold my own in a wholly human company, they usually do that, and it can be kind of… okay, humbling, I guess. And Ryn is worse than most. Yes, I really am jealous. Petty, perhaps, but…”

She nodded. “I do understand. When I was a kid there was this one cousin… I think I get what you are telling me.

Rahan smiled. “It’s… not one thing. It’s more like lots of little things.”

“Is it true that they are mindreaders?”

Rahan nodded. “That too. They are not telepaths, not in the real sense of that word, but in some ways it’s worse. Telepaths have their problems with that talent. You know about it?”

“Well, some stories and rumors…”

“So, it’s a rare condition partly because it requires a very specific combination of genes combined with very specific conditions in the womb, a lot of those pregnancies do fail in the early months because those combinations also tend to give them some physical vulnerabilities, but then there is also this: because unless found out in about… well, womb, and early on at that, it destroys them. You need to remove a woman pregnant with a telepathic baby away from any crowded areas, the best alternative actually seems to be space, into some remote station, or keep them in a ship, with only a skeleton crew and at least one adult, trained telepath in that crew, because most colonies have enough people that if not shielded those babies will never develop a real individual personality, or at least learn how to express it. A telepath who is born and spends the first year or two of his life undiscovered is probably going to spend the rest of his life in some institute, staring blankly at a wall. In previous times they sometimes were classified as having severe autism, those people who never learned to communicate, usually never acknowledged the people around them in any noticeable way… well, noticeable to normal humans. Actually that was how the existence of full telepaths was originally discovered, somebody studied one of those individuals… And it’s almost impossible to rehabilitate them into anything resembling a normal human unless discovered at the earliest possible stage, before the brain has even started to develop. A lot of humans have slight traces of that ability, but because, well first because ones having the full ability are very rare in the first place, and then because of those very specific conditions which are needed before they can grow into functional humans, because of all those vulnerabilities we didn’t know they existed for the longest time.

“But even when found out in time… and shielded and trained by that adult telepath, they will always have problems. Crowd emotions can overwhelm them, as can very strong willed people. All kinds of shit. They are very vulnerable. Which means they have to keep shielding most of the time. That is, those ones who are willing to keep the talent once grown. Lots of them choose to have those parts of their brain destroyed. Even if staying as one means they have a guaranteed and extremely well paid career ahead of them.”

“You have met them?”

“One. Weird guy. I know somebody who’s an empath and a high efficiency clairvoyant – and with some telekinetic talent too – pretty well though, and she acts almost normal. Old beyond her years, but otherwise pretty ordinary for a girl in her early teens.

“But anyway… So having a telepath around is an invasion of privacy, but it’s not going to be constant because they just can’t afford to be open that much, and even when they do read you it’s not done by somebody who is so goddamn superior compared to you… But the Shemasharra, they are not real telepaths. For them it’s partly a combination of sensory issues – better sense of smell than us, to the point where they are able to consciously notice something like the scent of a person who is scared, or sick or… well, lots, and then there is the fact that they see a bit deeper into both ends of the spectrum, like they can see something like changes in skin temperature – not that well, but a bit, sort of like being able to see your blush even if it is so faint there is no change in your color a human could see?”

She nodded. “Go on.”

Her interest was starting to bother Rahan a bit. Ryn was the last person he wanted to be talking about right now. But he guessed it was natural curiosity for somebody who’d be going to other planets, where she might meet some of the Shemasharra for the first time in her life. So he  didn’t try to change the subject quite yet.

“And hearing. Their hearing is somewhat better than ours too.

“So yes, keener senses. And there is another part which is inborn, they just are more able to read body language. So most of them can read each other, and us, to the point where dealing with them can be kind of… okay, once again, the only word I can think of is irritating. They communicate with each other a lot nonverbally, and they can react to what you were going to say before you say it.

“And then some of them get trained specifically to read humans. And with those it can be very, very damn close to real telepathy. Mr Maylo is one of them. Living with him you know he is privy to goddamn everything you think, or close enough. No real privacy there.

“Okay, there are some aspects here which aren’t that bad. They have a pretty strict policy of keeping what they read to themselves, not much of a risk any of them would blab about your innermost thoughts to another human. Very bad breach of custom, and if they find any of them did that individual will end up under a pretty big heap of scorn by the others. Bad enough even to destroy a career.” A remembered incident made Rahan smile before he continued. “And you know you will never, well, almost never be misunderstood. They also know when you misunderstood. And they do have this need to straighten you up when you do… Makes it funny sometimes, you know? I’ve listened to some pretty damn badass looking guys explain pretty emotional stuff to me a couple of times… “ He laughed.

“Well, women too, of course, more often, but with the way a lot of our cultures are it is funnier when it’s one of the guys. And because of that, they are also, well, they can seem rather taciturn with humans, and to some extent even with each other when they don’t know – or don’t like – each other, but among friends and family they are one of the most goddamn touchy feely bunch of people I have ever seen. No need to hide your emotions, since everybody knows them anyway, you know?

“Well, except… they might act seemingly quite cold with their family and friends when there are humans around since they don’t necessarily care to show that stuff to outsiders, especially strange humans – they are… not perhaps suspicious so much as wary, if a hostile human knows the group dynamics he might be able to use them to his advantage, so better not to to make those dynamics obvious to outsiders – but if there are no outsiders present… Which can also be rather funny at times. Especially since their culture also is this… well, they are called a warrior culture, and it is pretty true, fighting skills are highly valued, both on an individual basis, and also being able to function as a group – and boy are they good at that, basically you can throw a bunch of randomly selected strangers in a middle of a battle, and odds are they are going to be able to start fighting as a pretty effective unit in only a few moments… – and all that, but most human warrior type cultures like that tend towards also trying to look tough to each other. No showing fear and hiding the more tender emotions and so on…

“So, with the Shemasharra, as said, there is no point to them to pretend to each other because what they are feeling is obvious anyway, so if you are trusted by them you can see stuff like adult males, and some very badass looking ones, hugging each other, and crying openly, and giving each other gifts and kissing and all that shit. And with a human, they’ll probably tell you if they care about you and they think – or know – that you haven’t noticed.” Rahan laughed again, remembering.

She smiled, then sobered and looked a bit embarrassed “What you said about men hugging and kissing… Is it true what is said of their… sexuality? That they are kind of… depraved?”

“Depends on what your culture sees as depraved, I guess” Rahan said and shrugged.

“Yes, theirs is different. With us, sex and reproduction are always tied together, it’s the same thing, emotionally, if you are just having fun and have taken care that no pregnancy will follow, or when the older people who are past reproductive age do it. With them, there are two kinds, and those really are very clearly separate things. They produce gametes at will, well, men completely at will, women have a few periods per year but can go to that point whenever they want, but basically, unless they want not to be they are sterile. So, two varieties when it comes to sex. With different emotional content, to them.

“One is socializing and for fun, and it can be kind of of everybody with almost everybody and almost everything goes, and they are all bisexual when it comes to that, but even so it’s nowhere even close as… wild, as the stories might suggest. So yes, that is one thing, except it really truly is not the same as the making babies variety to them, their minds are wired differently when it comes to their infertile type of sex, but when it comes to having sex when they are fertile it is something where they function pretty much the same way as we do, and with that they are pretty puritanical. Well, some differences, due to the lack of males and the pack structure, the secondary wives, or more often unmarried daughters who have stayed as members of their parent’s pack, can occasionally have children with men who are not in their pack – but only if the men in the pack approve since any kids born in their pack are their responsibility. There are some fairly strict rules for all that, and they do stick to those rules too. Oh, they are also naturally fertile longer than we are, even if their natural lifespan is the same.”

“Soo… you can’t hide anything from them, you can’t hope to fight them, they can do anything you can a lot better, and you should probably not bed any of them?” she said.

He grinned and nodded. “Not a bad summary. Now mind you, usually you can trust them. At the same time, it can be kind of… Well, the fact that you pretty much have to trust them, you don’t have that many other options, besides just staying away from them altogether, can kind of eat at you. Humbling, and aggravating, and a bit scary.” He shrugged. “You just can’t compete. And knowing you will always stay the second best to a whole species is…” He shrugged again.

“Humiliating?”

Rahan’s smile was a bit forced this time.

Lida nodded. “Okay, I really can get that, I think. I have never met one, but simply that description…

“They have their groupies.”

“How can you tell you have met one, by the way? I know they are usually dark skinned, but even that is not a constant, is it?”

“Looks can be chosen by the parents. Most don’t care to play with those, but there can be benefits for producing kids who can pass as a human, so I have seen ones who look almost exactly like some of us. Their most common looks are, yes, dark skinned, and this kind of vaguely very mixed look, there are some varieties between the clans though. Mr Maylo looks mostly kind of Asian-European with some very faint African influences, if you are talking about features, has a dark brown skin and straight very deep black hair. Now some of his relatives… one of them is one of those ‘designer’ babies, he looks very much like my Mr Maylo, except a very blond almost wholly European version. And there are a couple of cousins who look noticeably more African. And I’ve seen one I could not tell apart from an Asian variety human until I kept observing her eyes for a moment.

“But generally, it’s the eyes. The one thing they all share is the Silver in their irises. And while for some it’s wholly light silver irises, which can actually be almost unnoticeable with some of the blond types since while that color is not quite the same as light gray eyes among the more lighter colored European varieties of humans are it’s close enough, more normal colored, like brown, irises with silver stripes are actually more common for the Shemasharra, and that is something that does not occur normally with humans.

“The other obvious difference in the eyes is the third lid, although that can be a bit difficult to spot sometimes since it seems almost completely transparent to us. You need to catch them blinking. Well, or seemingly not blinking at all since they often do blink only with that lid. And their pupils reflect light, like a cat’s. Same reason too.

“And then there is, of course, the strength and reaction speed difference. Some enchanced humans can get close to those, but it’s rare. And that’s mostly only with strength, changing a human into somebody even with sorta kinda that kind of speed requires an almost complete rebuild, including the brain. It can be done, but what you have then will not really be any more human anymore than a Shemasharra is, so not that many are interested. Plus making changes that big is outlawed in a lot of places too.”

Lida nodded. “I know somebody who had those changes made, for physical strength. I think with him the change was not a biomod – for that you’d need to go offplanet and his was done here so they probably mostly just added some fully artificial parts. So he’s probably a cyborg now, although he has never admitted to that, it’s considered a bit freaky here. I think he might be able do that thing you told me about – tear a man’s head off with his hands.

“But, anyway, so if I see somebody dark skinned, who is not only very strong but also very fast, with silvery eyes who doesn’t seem to blink much it could be a Shemasharra – especially if she, or he, is also very good looking?”

Rahan nodded. “Yep. And there can be the hair, sometimes, although I guess that is not that good a sign.”

“Hair?”

“Well, since it is kind of military oriented culture most keep their hair pretty short. But with their very top elite fighters long hair is allowed. Kind of a badass boast thing, and most who can have it do go for it. Ryn’s one of the longhairs. You rarely see hair that long on a man.”

“And your mr Maylo, what color of eyes does he have? How much silver in his eyes?”

“Fully silver, with a slightly darker ring around the irises. Looks very spooky, especially considering his skin color. Pretty much the only thing that mars his looks, unless you happen to like spooky.”

Lida shivered a bit. “For your information, I do not. And with everything else you have told me, I don’t think I’m going to be asking for an introduction. I may be a bit curious, but not so much I’d like to actually meet one.”

Rahan gave an inward sigh of relief, and answered her with a smile.

He had been a bit scared of that. Would not have been the first time a girl lost all interest in him when confronted with Mr. Dream Boat… and he much preferred not to put her to the test. Not that he expected Ryn to steal her, or any girl of his, that was not his style – but the fact that Ryn never showed any interest didn’t mean Rahan wouldn’t get to see her change her sights and maybe – as had happened – seemingly completely forget he even existed, except as handy means to get in close proximity to the big Shemasharra male. And that, in its way, had smarted even more than if Ryn had actively stolen his girl, the fact that even when the big guy had made completely clear he would not touch her with a ten feet pole no matter what she did she still had gone after him and lost all interest the one who would have wanted to be with her.

No. He liked this situation as it was. Ryn confined in the ship, out of sight, him free to roam and to enjoy the company of this very delightful local guide of his.

***

The Ytjar agent’s com signaled a message, and he flicked the view on with his tongue.

“Hey, some Maasvat chick is going to be in the White Room restaurant today. I’ll send you the picture now.”

The two other men in the flyer nodded after a few seconds.

“Got it? Good. We are to get her, and the young man with her. The girl will go to headquarters. The boy… okay, this seems to be some sort of black ops thing, that package will simply be left in one of the alleys in the Nevin quarter.

“And they must both be sedated after the capture.”

The Nevin quarter was a now mostly deserted industrial park. Weird place to leave a prisoner.

He turned the flyer and headed towards the general area of the restaurant. They’d leave the flyer some distance away and walk there. Might even stop for a tea on their way, according to the time when the girl and the boy should get to the restaurant there didn’t seem to be any hurry.

He didn’t particularly care of the whys and wherefores. He just did what he got paid to do: obey orders given to him.