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2/23/24 Friday Update

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This week I tried something new and had to spend a day recovering. I’m trying to do more of my writing through dictation. I want to reduce the amount of hours I spend typing, but also see if I can use it to speed up my writing process. It’s a thing that takes time, however, and there are a lot of variables to test. This week I went for a walk out on a local trail for about an hour. I expected to need downtime when I came back in (it was a longer walk than I normally do), but I ended up with no spoons at all the next day.

I rested and read the new Anita Blake book (excellent) which put me back on track for Thursday, but now I’ve got to figure out: was I exhausted from the distance? From walking and dictating at the same time? From being outside alone and hit with autistic overwhelm? I don’t know yet, and there’s more testing to be done!

Admin work this week mostly involved clearing out the email. It’s time to start collecting paperwork and pieces for doing taxes. I’ve also closed signups for Membership for now while I overhaul the system to work with woocommerce. It’ll be a simpler system for Members and much less confusing since it’ll use the same account and checkout process as the webstore.


10k steps/day – my step goal is inching upward in the mid 8k’s now and while the weather is great it’s been pretty easy to hit. Took a break on wednesday, but got back on the horse thursday.

1k new words/day – This one has been harder this week. On the one hand, dictation allows me to get a bunch of words in a short amount of time, on the other hand, I really didn’t expect to take a day off on Wed after Monday was a holiday. Not feeling thrilled with this goal this week, but I am making progress, even if it’s slower.

1 new line art/week – When in doubt, draw fanart!

fan art of Toothless from HTTYD
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2/16/24 Friday Update

This week I got back on the normal schedule. That involved a couple of days off after the conference in Colorado, followed by slowly ramping back up into new words on Fated to the Wolf. I’ve been practicing dictating the story while I go for walks in the neighborhood, both to get more steps in each day, but also to see if I can increase my wordcount without putting more labor on my fingers. I don’t have carpel tunnel yet and I’d love to keep it that way.

Work this week also included reviewing and typing up notes from the talks I attended at Superstars. There are several talks I took handwritten notes for, others I have photographs of the slides that I need to incorporate, still others I have typed notes but I need to download the handouts the speakers provided. It’s a lot of paperwork, but it’ll be nicely organized for future reference whenever I need it.

Finally, I’m going to incorporate my goals tracking here on the Friday update rather than a separate Monday post. Monday is an odd day for me to review the previous week and I don’t think the goals need a whole other post to themselves. So!

1k words/day – Took a break on Monday/Tuesday, started ramping up words this week. Didn’t get up to 1k until Friday. All as expected.

10k steps/day – I didn’t reach my step goals during the conference, which I expected, nor the day I drove home, but things ramped back up quickly once I was home again with over 10k on Wednesday. Very pleased with this!

1 completed art/week – Believe it or not, I actually drew something during the conference week, which I didn’t expect. Since this update is before my weekend I don’t have a piece to share this week, but that’ll correct next week.

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A Brand New Day – A Scifi/Horror Short Story

Cover Art, A Brand New Day

This short story isr releasing indie on March 5th, but is available here for Members to read early.

Monica doesn’t remember yesterday or last week or even last year. She wakes up every morning in the company of 19 other women all without memories. And every day, Monica grows more certain that there are secrets being kept from everyone.


A Brand New Day

Monica startled awake on the bottom bed of a double bunk she didn’t recognize. It was wood and creaked a bit with her jerking movement. She blinked in the semi-gloom trying to remember what she’d been dreaming about, but the idea of it slipped away before she could get a good grasp on it. A kernal of frustration rose in her chest and she poked at it curiously. Why did a dream matter that much to her?

Dim, watery light flickered on far overhead. Monica sat up as she realized she lay in one bunk of several. Ten, in fact. This wasn’t a bedroom, it was more like a dorm. The walls were uniform grey. Each identical bunk held two identical grey blankets, a woman sleeping in each bed. Who were these women? Where was she?

Monica looked down at her own blanket and saw a mark on her left hand. A rippling scar, tight under her fingertips, in the shape of a circle with two dots inside. She didn’t recognize that either.

Women began to wake up, groaning or shifting or standing out of bed as they blinked owlishly around them, just like she did.

“Good morning, ladies.”

Monica jumped and so did half the dorm. The voice had come from right next to her. Almost behind her. But nothing was there.

“Please do not be alarmed,” the voice said right into Monica’s ear. A woman’s voice. Soft. “My name is Astrid. You are with nineteen other women in a housing complex developed after a global pandemic. None of you are infected.”

Monica threw her blankets to the end of the bed and stood up, trading glances with other women matching shirts and pants, matching haircuts trimmed at the bottom of the ears.

A dark-skinned woman with straight black hair climbed out of the bed on top of Monica’s and hissed at her, “Are you hearing this?”

Monica nodded.

Astrid said, “Some years ago, the disease swept through the global population. Millions died, but all of you have survived at a terrible cost. Your memory has been affected. That is why you don’t know how you got here or who each other are, but please do not worry. It is my job to guide you through your day and answer any questions you may have.”

The grey and drab room suddenly lit up with color–no, something in Monica’s eyes overlayed the world with color. She blinked rapidly, learning to focus on the neon on top of reality. She glanced at the black woman who had shared her bunk and a name blinked over her head. Camilla. Another woman: Anney. And Julia. And Lotte. 

Monica turned in a slow circle, reading numbers pinned to the side of each bunk and names hovering over each woman. That was… rather useful, actually. If they woke up every morning not knowing each other… Monica couldn’t remember yesterday, or last week, or even her dream last night. This overlay probably saved a lot of time bringing them all up to speed.

“Please look at the back of your left hand,” Astrid said into Monica’s ear. A voice, detached from the world. “Each of you has been paired with another woman for the past six months. You have worked side by side, had lunch together, and kept each other’s spirits up when the world is a confusing place. Please pair up with your partner now and introduce yourselves.”

Monica’s HUD adjusted to this new information, placing small icons beside the names she saw over each individual’s head. She spotted the circle and two dots beside the name Sophia.

They met in the center of the room. Sophia had bright blue eyes and a ready smile that Monica couldn’t help but return. Her blond hair was trimmed just below the ears. They shook hands and their smiles turned into soft laughter. Disbelief at their situation and companionship in the same. 

“I’m Sophia,” she said.


Sophia then gestured vaguely over her own head. “You can see these too, right? Names over everyone?”

“Yeah, I think it’s useful. If we’ve been like this all our lives. We’ve probably had this conversation every morning for months.”

Sophia covered another smile that threatened to turn into laughter. “I was just thinking the same thing. I don’t have any memory of this place or you or… anyone else.” She turned her left hand and the mark there matched Monica’s. “But someone clearly thought this all through before the world went to shit.”

“Now that you know your partners, it’s time for breakfast. Please follow the lighted guide for a change of clothes and directions to the cafeteria.”

Both Sophia and Monica twitched at Astrid’s voice in their ears. Monica winced. “I hope I get used to that.”

A quick glance around the room revealed small blue lights in the floor leading to a blue-haloed door set into the wall. Had that door been there the whole time? Monica took Sophia’s hand and they approached. Once they were close enough to touch it, the door zipped softly to the side and revealed a plane hallway just as grey as their dorm room. The blue lights continued down this hall and turned to the right at another door that opened for Monica.

Sophia let go of Monica’s hand. “My lights go to this door,” she said, approaching the next one in the hall.

Astrid spoke to them both, “These are seperate changing rooms and bathrooms for each of you. You will find today’s clothes on a shelf to your left. The cafeteria is through the opposite door.”

The blue lights blinked forward through the room and haloed yet another door.

Monica glanced at Sophia. “See you on the other side.”

Sophia smiled and stepped forward.

Monica’s door slid closed behind her automatically and didn’t reopen when she reached out to touch it. Maybe the room knew she was inside and wouldn’t open again until she left the other way.

A handy system to automate when your entire dorm had no memory.

She found her change of clothes on the left hand shelf as promised, and both a toilet and shower on the opposite side. As her gaze lingered on the shower controls, her HUD popped up simple instructions on how to use the dials.

“Um… Astrid? Can you hear me?”

“I can hear you. Do you have a question?”

Monica wondered if she was talking to a person without memory loss or some kind of automated robot. “Do I have to shower now or can I shower at the end of the day before bed?”

“You’ll have an opportunity to shower after your workday before leisure and another opportunity before bed. You may access bathrooms near your assigned work at any time.”

That response almost sounded automated. But she’d probably asked that same question every morning for thirty years.

Wait, was she thirty? Monica looked down at herself as if she could glean some clue from generic sleep pajamas and the brand on her hand. She didn’t know what year she’d been born, but thirty seemed accurate. Probably. Why not?

Monica changed her clothes. Astrid instructed her to leave the pajamas on the same shelf for collection by those on laundry duty. She found a mirror, like a polished piece of metal tacked to the wall, and peered at herself closely, but she didn’t recognize the face that stared back.

At length, Astrid prompted her. “Are you ready for breakfast?”

Monica stood straight, left the mirror behind, and faced the second door with a nod. “Yeah. Let’s do food.”

The door slid to the side and Monica followed more guiding blue lights down a hall and through an already open pair of double doors. She stalled at the threshold with a gasp.

There were far more than twenty women here. The cafeteria stretched for yards, lined with tables and benches in neat rows, the whole space swarming with women in matching short sleeves and long pants. Hundreds of women. Far more than Monica could easily count. All of them paired up with a partner and chatting with each other over breakfast.

Sophia touched Monica’s arm.

Monica jumped, then laughed at herself and grabbed Sophia’s hand in hers. “Wow, this is a lot of people.”

“It’s a little overwhelming. I thought I’d wait for you.”

“Thanks.” Monica pointed. “Looks like the food line starts there.”

They joined it, selecting a metal tray for each of them to slide down the buffet.

Sophia leaned in close to her. “I had no idea there were so many people here.”

Monica nodded. “And it looks like everyone is like us. Same outfits. Same haircut–“

“Same overwhelmed look on their faces.”

Monica smiled.

“Although, outfits aren’t quite the same. Look.”

Monica followed Sophia’s point and saw she was right. A woman and her partner seated at a table both wore blue shirts and pants. They were cut to the same pattern, and looked like the same fabric, too.

Monica and Sophia were dressed in green, as were at least dozens of others. “And there, yellow.”

“And white.”

“Looks like we’ll be in work teams,” Sophia said.

“Astrid told me there was a laundry crew, that would make sense. Divide everyone up to share the work.” She picked at her sleeve. “I wonder what green means.”

Over breakfast the two of them tried to compare notes and speculate about the state of the world, but with no memory of a world before waking up in their dorms, they didn’t get very far. Astrid answered a few of their questions about the pandemic, displaying a series of video clips for them right on the tabletop.

“Some of the history has been lost over time,” Astrid said, “But we know that the disease came from a wild animal. Someone either ate it or came into contact with it. Either way, once one person caught the illness it spread rapidly. The world didn’t notice right away. A few people were misdiagnosed with pneumonia, but upwards of sixty percent of those infected were asymptomatic, instead spreading the disease far and wide without knowing.”

The visuals shifted to a mass grave, what had to be thousands of bodies being covered with dirt by a huge machine.

“The death toll quickly rose beyond anything local governments were capable of managing. There followed world-wide collapse of infrastructure, power, water, and food. A secondary round of deaths due to dehydration and starvation devastated the remaining population. Over three billion people died.”

Again the visuals shifted to a plummeting graph of population count and Monica leaned forward, wide-eyed.

“Emergency measures were taken to isolate individuals in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease and in the middle of the crisis, as those who were first infected began to recover, we started noticing the memory loss. Even those asymptomatic individuals began experiencing memory failures.”

“People began recording their days in journals and digital diaries. Eventually the HUD you enjoy today was developed as a streamlined solution to a global problem. Even after the first wave of disease subsided, that same failure of memory was passed down to children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Now we know that kids learn at a standard rate through the age of five or six. That’s when memory failures first develop. By age ten, children experience the same loss of memory overnight as adults.”

The video on the table faded away and Monica looked up at Sophia. “Oh my god,” she whispered. “Without this whole system keeping us on track we’d have died out already.”

Sophia nodded, her blue eyes wide.

The pair finished their breakfast in stunned silence. Women around them chattered quietly with each other. Some stared intently at their tabletops and Monica knew they were getting the same history brief by the wide alarm in their eyes and the way they held forks half way to their mouths.

She shook her head. It was already done and over with. Generations ago, in fact. They had to move forward. How were they keeping so many people here fed and sheltered? What kind of work could they learn in one morning and do for a day just to be taught all over again tomorrow?

Astrid’s voice spoke to every woman in the cafeteria at once. Monica saw the twitches ripple through the crowd. “When you are done with your breakfast, please bus your plates and trays to this station for the kitchen staff, then follow your HUD to today’s work.”

A series of counters lit up in Monica’s view along one wall, then the blue lights she’d been following all morning guided her and Sophia out of the cafeteria and down a hall. Women streamed along with them, dividing out of the flow where their HUDs dictated, each color of their uniforms leading them to a different station. At the end of the hall, Sophia and Monica walked through double doors with other women, all in green, and found themselves surrounded by plants.

Trays and trays of small sprouting plants, waving their cheerful purple leaves filled an open-ended room that led to a huge garden field. A few lines of raised beds gave way to mound rows with tall stalk plants and climbing vines. Beyond that, row after row of sowed plants, a dozen different kinds at least. And around the whole property, a chain link fence two or three stories tall that the HUD helpfully pointed out was electrified. 

Monica walked outside, fascinated by her first look at the world beyond grey walls. A twinge of concern in her chest said the electric fence was there to keep people locked in, but then, in the dense purple forest beyond their property, Monica watched a creature with a neck as tall as the fence lumber out of the jungle. It had six tree-trunk legs, a tiny ball of a head, and a tail at least as long as its neck that terminated in a cluster of plate-like lumps of bone. A club weapon if Monica had ever seen one.

The creature swung its head toward their fence and garden, then swung away again, lumbering slowly through the red and orange grasses that swept across this valley. Two more long-necked creatures sauntered out of the purple jungle after it and away they went.

So the fence was definitely there to keep the wildlife out. That was good.

Monica turned to find Sophia beside her, equally stunned. “Ok, so nature took over where we saw nothing but buildings before.”

“No kidding,” Sophia said. She shook her head, then looked around them at the plants in the raised beds. “Alright, what are we doing out here? Growing enough food to feed an army looks like?”

Astrid spoke up, highlighting a tool shed where they could supply themselves and begin the work.

* * *

Monica startled awake on the bottom bed of a double bunk she didn’t recognize. It was wood and creaked a bit with her jerking movement. She blinked in the semi-gloom.

Dim, watery light flickered on far overhead. Monica sat up as she realized she lay in one bunk of several. Ten, in fact. This wasn’t a bedroom, it was more like a dorm. The walls were uniform grey. Each identical bunk held two identical grey blankets, a woman sleeping in each bed. Who were these women? Where was she?

“Good morning, ladies.”

Monica jumped and so did half the dorm.

“Please do not be alarmed,” the voice said right into Monica’s ear. A woman’s voice. Soft. “My name is Astrid. You are with nineteen other women in a housing complex developed after a global pandemic. None of you are infected.”

Astrid’s calm voice walked Monica through the confusing process of waking up in a strange place with strange people. She found a brand on the back of her hand, a shape she didn’t remember, but her fingers told her the skin was tight and the injury long healed over. It was a triangle with a single dot inside.

“Each of you has been paired with another woman for the past six months. You have worked side by side, had lunch together, and kept each other’s spirits up when the world is a confusing place. Please pair up with your partner now and introduce yourselves.”

Monica checked names and icons hovering over people’s heads to find the one that matched her triangle. It belonged to a woman with soft brown hair, cut like everyone else just under the ears. She blinked up at Monica with wide, dark eyes, and seemed a little nervous.

Monica smiled, trying to be reassuring when she had no better idea what was going on. “Hi, I’m Monica,” she said. She offered her hand.

The woman looked at her hand for a second like she didn’t know what to do about it. Then she passed something–a paper?– to her left hand and shook with her right. Her left hand was bandaged across two fingers. “Julia,” the woman said softly. Almost a whisper. “I… I don’t remember you.”

“I don’t remember any of this,” Monica shrugged with a general gesture around the room. “But I guess that’s what we’re dealing with. We’ve probably had this conversation every morning.”

“I guess…”

“Now that you know your partners, it’s time for breakfast. Please follow the lighted guide for a change of clothes and directions to the cafeteria.”

Monica flinched away from the voice in her ear. “I hope I get used to that,” she muttered.

The blue lines in the floor led her down a hall and to a bathroom where a clean set of yellow clothes waited for her on a shelf on the left. The color was a little gross but they fit and were clearly laundered recently. Then the lights led her out to a massive cafeteria full to bursting with women. Two hundred? Three hundred? Far more than she ever expected to find here. And some of them had green or blue uniforms! That wasn’t fair, why was she stuck with sallow yellow?

Monica found the buffet breakfast line, then after some searching discovered her partner Julia sequestered at her own table. She sat without food and looked ready to fold in on herself just to get away from all the other people. Monica sat on the bench beside her, trying to be a comforting presence. She didn’t expect Julia to scoot closer and close the small gap between them.

“Not hungry?” Monica asked.

Julia glanced at the food, then shook her head. She leaned in close, whispering, “Something’s not right.” She held out her hand, offering Monica something crumpled inside.

Monica accepted the paper, feeling a bit like she was passing notes in class. She unwrinkled it against her thigh with one hand. It wasn’t very large, clearly a corner torn off of something larger. In the margin was written in shaky hand lettering, Your Partner is Anney.

Monica furrowed her brow. “I don’t understand. Who’s Anney?”

“I don’t know,” Julia hissed. “But that’s my handwriting. That’s my note. I think I wrote it yesterday and kept it overnight so I could read it, but I don’t remember Anney.”

Monica squinted at the note as if the letters could tell her more. “Astrid said we’d been partnered for months, though.” Monica gestured with her left hand, indicating the brand on their skin. “And this isn’t new.”

“I know. I don’t–“

Someone’s voice rose above the chatter in the cafeteria. “No! I’m sorry, I’m sure you’re a lovely person, but you are not my partner. I remember. I was partnered with Julia yesterday.”

Monica and Julia both sat up straight. Monica shoved the little paper into her pocket as the woman’s gaze swept through the quiet crowd.

“Who’s Julia? We were working together yesterday in construction. You cut your hand. We went to the medical office…”

The woman’s eyes fell on Monica, then Julia, and either the HUD gave her Julia’s name or she really did remember her. “You.” She pointed and the whole crowd’s attention shifted with the gesture.

Julia tried to shrink further against Monica.

“Don’t you remember me? I’m Anney.”

Monica made a fist around the paper in her pocket.

Then Astrid spoke up into everyone’s ear at once. “This is a stunning breakthrough in our research. Everyone, I’m so pleased to report that Anney has been able to access longer term memories than we have ever recorded before. This is cause for celebration!”

A smattering of confused applause bounced in the cafeteria.

Astrid continued, “Anney, if you could please follow the markers to the medical lab, we have a few tests to run so we can verify and duplicate your results. Everyone else, please finish your breakfast. Work will begin in twenty minutes.”

Anney looked startled. Like she’d prepared for a fight and found her opponent agreed with her. Somewhat deflated, she stepped down off the bench she had used to get a better view to find Julia and bussed her tray before leaving the cafeteria entirely.

Conversation erupted behind her.

Monica and Julia exchanged a look. They both agreed not to speak about it any further until there were fewer people around.

That moment came when they found today’s assignment at the edge of the property with half a dozen other women–all dressed in yellow–directed to a pile of lumber, a shed full of power tools, and a book of schematics about how to build a new building. Between them and the rest of the three hundred women were two acres of farmland, it was about a secluded as they would get.

In their ear, Astrid walked them through the process of selecting straight boards, staging their work and helped overlay measurements directly where they should cut and assemble.

But about twenty minutes into the work, Julia pulled Monica aside with another woman, Lotte. “Something’s going on,” she said, her voice more confident than it had been in the cafeteria. “Show Lotte the note I gave you.”

Monica pulled out the crumpled paper, realizing as she did so that the paper matched that of their schematic book. She passed the note to Lotte so she could fetch the book and flipped through it.

“Here is where you tore it out,” Monica said, easily finding the missing corner. Lotte spread the wrinkles out and held the note against the tear. It definitely fit.

And below that, in the margin, was written, Anney: There’s something fishy going on, here. Astrid tells me I’ve been partnered with Julia for months, but I swear, the brand on my hand was a diamond yesterday, not a triangle. I know it.

Monica looked at the triangle brand on her hand. She didn’t remember it ever being anything other than a triangle. But then, she didn’t remember anything.

“That’s not my handwriting,” Julia said, holding the note up to compare. “Anney must have written this yesterday while we worked. And I took the corner to remember it tomorrow—today.” She shook her head and frowned.

The three of them had huddled long enough to catch the attention of the rest of the construction crew. Seeing some eyes glancing their way, Monica gestured for the other women to join them in the huddle, book at the center of them all.

Debate quickly sprang up. Were they being lied to? Why? By whom? For how long? Was there even a pandemic? Maybe they were being drugged to forget. Was this even Earth?”

Monica sat up at that, looking around them through the tall electric fence at the deep purple forests and the pink and orange sky. Both suns winked down at them from above. She shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t see why not.”

“If they’re lying to us about partnerships and work, why not that, too? We have to consider everything we’ve been told is suspect.” Lotte frowned at the book. “We can only trust our own memories.”

“We don’t have any memories,” Julia groused.

“Maybe. But we can make a record.” Lotte grabbed the book and fetched one of the pencils they’d been using to mark lumber. She flipped to the front and started writing names in the margins. Lotte, Julia, Monica, Anney… She listed everyone in their group, then women started mentioning names of people in their dorms or that they spoke to in the cafeteria.

When they ran out of names they started listing questions, then basic facts they had all observed that morning.

By the time they ran out of thoughts to put down their shift was nearly done and they’d accomplished none of the work they’d been assigned to finish.

Lotte dog-eared one page of the book before they broke for dinner, the page where she’d written down the reason they started taking notes: Anney had remembered.

None of them knew if they’d be working construction tomorrow, but hopefully the next round of women would find their notes and continue keeping them.

* * *

“Good morning, ladies.”

Monica startled awake on the bottom bed of a double bunk she didn’t recognize. It was wood and creaked a bit with her jerking movement. She blinked in the semi-gloom. She rolled to one side and her hand slid under the pillow where she found a crumpled piece of paper. A ball she’d been holding tight all night long.

Dim, watery light flickered on far overhead. Monica sat up as she realized she lay in one bunk of several. Ten, in fact. This wasn’t a bedroom, it was more like a dorm. The walls were uniform grey. Each identical bunk held two identical grey blankets, a woman sleeping in each bed. Who were these women? Where was she?

“Please do not be alarmed,” the voice said. Astrid, she introduced herself as, and would everyone please match the brand on their left hand with the other woman in the room. Their partner for the past six months.

Monica found her partner, a tall woman with light brown hair cut at her ears who introduced herself as Lotte. The brands on their hands matched: two interlinking rings, and so did the crumpled notes they held in their hands: read the carpentry book!

“What’s the carpentry book?” Lotte asked.

Monica shrugged. “I’m not sure. But the voice… Astrid, she said we’d have memory issues so I bet this is a message from past-me. Looks like my handwriting.”

“Mine too.”

“Maybe we keep that to ourselves for now.”

“No argument from me. Whatever’s going on, we’ll figure it out.” Lotte offered her fist and a wink.

Monica bumped her fist and grinned.

Astrid walked them down a hall to the bathroom, then to a cafeteria filled to the brim with what had to be three hundred other women. Far more than Monica expected. She and Lotte traded suspicious glances through their meal.

It took an effort for Monica to bite her tongue. She had questions and it looked like Lotte had similar thoughts. But past-Monica had written a note small enough to hide in her palm, which meant they had to be cautious. Better to discuss it away from so many people.

Lotte and Monica wore green and were assigned to the gardens for work, but it wasn’t until a few hours into their labor that Lotte tugged on Monica’s sleeve and they slipped away between tall rows of purple vines. They jogged away from the fields, all the way to the back of the campus where half a building was framed, but all six of the women working the area were huddled together instead.

Monica’s HUD gave her names of each one as she approached, but she was more interested in the book they crowded around.

Lotte hissed as she spotted it covered in handwritten notes. “I woke up this morning with a note that said to read the carpentry book. A note I wrote.”

“Me too,” Monica said.

“Us as well,” nodded Elena. She picked up the book and passed it to Monica. “And you’re never going to believe what it says.”

It took Monica hours to read through the book, paging through margins, finding notes that reference previous pages, a web of observations and thoughts and theories by women she’d never met, each marked with their name.

It took Monica only minutes to realize something needed to be done. She wasn’t sure what until Lotte discovered a page in the back dedicated to a map of the campus.

Monica traced her route from the gardens back to the cafeteria and through the halls to her dorm. There were dozens of other lines going back to other dorms, and a list of other work assignments that had been painstakingly organized. They had to have been taking notes for weeks. Maybe months.

But a single big question mark at the end of a hall stood out. The campus was large, but it had been mostly organized into a rectangle of space. And a full corner of that rectangle was empty. A single door marked with a question mark and circled a dozen times. What lay behind that door?

Monica tapped the spot. “That’s where we need to go.”

“I’m coming with you.” Lotte said, her eyes hard with conviction.

Monica nodded. She passed the book back to Elena. “Keep that safe. Keep making notes. And jot down that Lotte and I went to investigate that door. Keep the memories going or we’ll never have answers.”

Elena nodded. “Good luck.”

Monica turned and together, she and Lotte jogged back through the fields towards the building that housed so many women. And so many questions.

“Monica… this might not end well,” Lotte said as they entered the hall and made a left turn.

“I know. You don’t have to come with me.”

“Oh, I’m coming,” she said grimly.

There was nothing else to say.

The hallway, like all their hallways, was grey and smooth from end to end. When they passed the last bathroom, Monica’s HUD blinked to life, trying to guide her back to her workplace.

Monica traded a look with Lotte and saw determination. This was only confirmation that they were headed in the right direction.

At the end of the hall was a door.

Unlike every other door, this one didn’t open as they approached. Monica pressed her hand against it, tried to push it, ran her fingers along the seams and found nothing resembling a handle.

Then Lotte put her hand on Monica’s shoulder. She reached out and knocked twice.

The door shifted to the side.

It opened into a room only two or three yards long with a simple desk and a man sitting behind that desk.

A man. In a compound full of women.

His hair was chopped short and spiky and he wore a thick, unfamiliar uniform covered in pockets and several neutral colors. He had hair on his face, down over his lip and under his chin. Monica was quite certain she’d never seen a man in her entire life and now she was equally certain that the person before them was, in fact, a man.

He stood up, so much taller than she expected, and walked around the desk with one hand on his hip.

No, not on his hip, he held the handle of something that sat in his belt.

Lotte lunged forward. Monica startled, unsure of Lotte’s plan, but when the man drew the tool he held, whatever it was, Monica found herself charging in right behind Lotte for better or for worse.

The tool fired, a blue shock of electricity snapped at Lotte and suddenly her legs and arms didn’t work. She collapsed on the ground.

Monica lept over her, quite certain she was about to be dropped as well but unwilling to go down without a fight. To her utter surprise, she crashed into the man–he was weirdly firmer than she expected–and they both went down in a tangle that whumped against the closed door at the back of the room.

Monica recovered. The man did not. He lay unmoving beneath her and a smear of red on the door hinted he might stay that way. Monica didn’t have much time to consider it as the second door slid open with a quiet rush.

Several men blinked at her from their desk stations like she was the alien. They all had different hair on their head, different hair on their face, different clothes on their bodies. Not a single one of them duplicates of another.

Monica’s HUD blinked to attention, naming individuals she rested her gaze on, but the people weren’t the only thing weird about the room.

Every desk had a screen, and the far wall had several more mounted on it. Monica didn’t need her HUDs help to recognize angles of view all over the campus. In the dorms, the cafeteria, the gardens, even the carpentry corner. A big screen on the wall zoomed all the way in on the cluster of women she and Lotta had left in the carpentry section and the view was close enough to read the handwriting in the book.

“What the fuck is going on in here?” Monica hadn’t realized she knew how to swear, but it fell naturally from her tongue.

The door behind her slid closed with a snap. A man at a desk closest to her stood up. The HUD named him Janus. He had no beard or mustache, just yellow hair on his head and a loose red shirt. His pants matched those of the man outside. He wore glasses. None of the women Monica had ever seen wore glasses.

Janus took two steps closer and Monica tried to back up. She only found the door behind her. Janus held his hands up, open, as if that made him less threatening. “Hello, Monica.”

She started at her name, then realized they all probably had the same HUD she did. Then, glancing at the wall of screens behind him, maybe they had better ones. More information. Details.


“What is going on?” she growled, feeling tears of confusion and anger building behind her eyes. “Tell me.”

“You’re building us a colony to live in,” he said simply. “When all the buildings are ready, the next ship of colonists will arrive and help expand it.”

“A ship… like across the ocean?”

“Yeah, kind of like that.” Janus took another step forward and there was nothing Monica could do about it.

She kept flicking her eyes behind him, to the screen zoomed in on the carpentry book that so many women had used to track their histories. Even if it was just for a few weeks.

“It’s all a lie, isn’t it? Was there even a plague?”

“There was, a long time ago.” Janus waved a hand at one of the other men. Markus “How long ago was it?”

“Over two thousand years.”

Monica flinched, her heart racing into her throat. She couldn’t even wrap her head around so many generations. “And the memory loss? Does it even get passed to kids anymore?”

“Well…” Janus shrugged. “Some kids.”

A snicker circled the room and with dawning horror, Monica realized what Janus meant. Some kids. Female kids. All the women she’d seen in that cafetera were truly afflicted, just as she was. With occasional hiccups.

“Anney.” Monica choked the words out, wanting nothing more than to leave the room and never come back. “Where’s Anney?”

“Who?” Janus glanced over his shoulder at Markus.

“She remembered…” Monica said, her legs trembling under her.

“Oh right, that one. She’s been removed from the program, you don’t have to worry about her.”

“Worry about… why are you telling me this?” Monica’s legs gave out and she slid down the door, shaking uncontrollably. There was anger in her chest, but there was more than that: fear, horror, utter despair.

She focused on the screen with the book again. The men had known this whole time that they were trying to remember, trying to create a history for themselves. They had known and they’d let it happen. Had they placed bets on which one of them would come to this door? How long it would take?

Monica thought she was going to be sick.

“Why are you telling me this?” she screamed, because screaming was better than the alternative.

“Oh, Monica, it’s ok.” Janus closed the distance between them with another step and knelt down on one knee to put a hand on her shoulder. He was warm and Monica was disgusted.

“It’s ok,” Janus said again. “You won’t remember any of this in the morning.”


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Maj And The Outlaws #2 The Trinordia Dragon

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Cover Art, The Trinordia Dragon

This short story was originally written for the scifi magazine Boundary Shock Quarterly, Issue #21


Maj And The Outlaws #2

The Trinordia Dragon

Maj Frost lay in a makeshift hammock they’d strung together from a sheet and some twine and lashed to the front porch of a man they’d killed a week ago. The body was gone, which left the house unoccupied and Maj was nothing if not an opportunist. They flicked their fingers in the air, manipulating a series of screens only Maj could see, displayed in their field of view from one of many mods in their eyes and brain.

Maj was looking for buried treasure.

A week ago Maj and two handfuls of other condemned had been launched from a GSA ship in space down to this uncomfortable planet. Too hot in the summer. Too cold in the winter. Windy during the day and at night, just to be annoying. The GSA had been generous enough to fire down a bundle of supplies, but they didn’t offer too much help. Everyone involved was a criminal.

Their exile on Ivis Three was meant to be a last chance. No one was good to the GSA if they were dead, but people also liked to have something to do with their lives. So fire criminals down to Ivis Three, give them a week’s worth of food and some hammers, point them at a pit mine of trinordia and promise more supplies in exchange.

Without any way off the planet, a small colony and it’s pit mine grew into a place some people could call home.

Even if the sky was green.

Maj had no intention of making Ivis home. They’d run amock until the GSA was forced to drop them here all in the name of chasing down one guy: Hudson Grey. Hudson had gotten himself exiled pursuing Maj’s sister, Oyana. And then got stuck. There were no shuttles or infrastructure here enough to get a person off planet once they were dropped. The trinordia only escaped thanks to a rail gun and some truly massive g’s—enough to liquefy most people.

But Oyana and Maj were not most people and with any luck, Hudson had developed a plan in the year he ruled over the colony. Maj just had to find it in the mess of data he left behind in his implants.

Maj flicked their fingers to scroll through more text.

Somewhere in all of this had to be at least an idea of what to do. Hudson had an extensive diary of his thoughts stretching back to at least his college days.

An interesting research tangent revealed Hudson was a member of an organization called Orchid. He’d done two jobs for them and earned membership, but clearly had ambitions to rise in their ranks. Orchid seemed to act wherever the GSA’s long hand couldn’t reach. Both on the edge of colonized space and in the forgotten corners of her heart.

Since Oyana and Maj would still be criminals when they got off this planet, Maj intended to make contact with Orchid. Work outside of the GSA was hard to come by and they’d need to start over.

Maj also found what appeared to be half a database of information on Oyana and her father. Dear old dad had put the bounty on Oyana to begin with, but Maj took care of him first. It turned out, killing a CEO in his secret research facility was easier than stealing his money. So Dad was dead, but Maj was still broke.

But with Hudson gone, this week was probably the most peaceful week Maj and Oyana—


Desperate, uncontrolled screaming.


Maj’s heart clenched. They lurched out of the hammock and galloped on all fours across the deck. They shouldered the front door in and found Oyana curled up on the floor, her hair fanned out on the carpet, tears streaming from her wide open eyes, her fingers clenched on her head like she wanted to tear something out of her own brain.

Beside her, Harlow—gentle, softspoken Harlow—knelt at Oyana’s head, torn between touching her and afraid it would make things worse. Harlow embodied gothic style. Her pale skin was almost translucent, her black hair straight down to her waist. She’d been fired down to the planet with Maj and hadn’t been adjusting well. A life in a low-grav laboratory didn’t prepare one for pitmining volitile trinordia to survive.

She looked up at Maj, tears in her eyes, then down at Oyana who stopped screaming but was now hyperventilating on the floor, her hands still clenched on her head.

Maj turned away. They raced on all fours to the front of the deck where they had a view of the entire colony tucked against the mountain. Hudson had picked the top of the hill to build his elaborate two story house when everyone else had little better than shacks. Which meant Maj’s modded eyes could pick out Rune over a mile away from the top of the hill. Thankfully, the medic wasn’t that far.

Maj bellowed, modding their voice for good measure. “RUNE!”

And just to make the emergency clear, they pinged Rune’s personal line repeatedly and with gusto.

So it wasn’t a surprise when a big black man burst out of a doorway and sprinted up the hill like a freight train on a deadline. Rune was perhaps the largest person Maj had ever met. He stood head and shoulders over a normal person, which put Maj up to his knee on good day, with hands the size of dinner plates and thighs like an entire forest of trees. Maj had met him only a week ago when they’d been stuffed into a pod being shot down to Ivis Three. Rune had already been strapped inside. He still wore the GSA-assigned polyfabric uniform they gave all their prisoners, not the least because it was the only outfit he had that fit. He wasn’t visibly modded, but the GSA didn’t send a medic out into the field without some impressive hardware under the hood, so when he darted up the hill without even winding himself, Maj wasn’t surprised.

Maj met him at the door to hold it open and he skidded through, down on his knees and scanning Oyana with fingers and mods without a word.

“What do you know?” he barked at Maj.

“Not much. This is the third time this week. Harlow what were you two doing?”

Harlow stared wide-eyed at Rune and didn’t seem to hear Maj’s question.

Maj grabbed her shoulders. Harlow started hard and shook her head. “What? Sorry, what?”

“You and Oyana were talking, right?”

“Yes, we were just on the couch.” Harlow pointed weakly at the furniture and trailed off, her dark eyes distant.

“What happened, Harlow?”

“What? Oh. We were talking. Oyana said she had a headache and was going to get a glass of water. She stood up and just… she started screaming….”

Rune grunted as he counted Oyana’s heartbeat with two fingers against her neck. “Same as last time, then, headache and then the attack.”

“What’s causing this?”

Rune pressed his thumb to Oyana’s forhead and the way his eyes flickered, he was reading something Maj couldn’t see. “What do you know about her mods?”

“Her skeleton is hardened but I don’t know anything else. We were raised separately.”

Oyana whimpered softly.

Then Rune did something with the thumb he had on her forehead and Oyana collapsed all at once into unconsciousness. Her hands relaxed from their claws and her face lost it’s tension. Her eyes closed.

Harlow sighed heavily.

Maj’s heart did not settle down.

Rune lifted her gently onto the couch, brushing Oyana’s hair away from her face with one finger, and looked at Maj. “I can run a few scans—“

“Do it,” Maj said immediately. “Every scan you’ve got.”

Rune offered a soft smirk. “Normally there’s paperwork.”

Maj shrugged. “I’ll sign something if you want but you’re not GSA anymore.”

Something hard flickered across Rune’s face, but he buried it quickly and turned back to Oyana without a word. Had that been too blunt? Maj had only known him for a week. They weren’t exactly best friends.

Rune stood at the edge of the couch and extended his hands over Oyana, fingers splayed like he was about to play a piano. His eyes flickered again, sorting through menus, then he passed his hands from Oyana’s head to her toes and back.

Harlow touched Maj’s shoulder carefully. Gently. And whispered, “I’m going back home. I’ll bring dinner up later.”

Maj nodded at her.

A moment later, Rune pushed his data to Maj so they could see it together, hovering over Qyana’s body like a three dimensional x-ray projection. Bar graphs and charts populated to one side in units of measure Maj didn’t understand. Rune flipped through layers of scan results: skin, muscle, organs, veins, bone, mods.

He stopped there in visible surprise. Maj stood up on two feet next to him to get a better view.

“That can’t be right,” he muttered.

Maj shook their head. This looked exactly right. Precisely the kind of thing a crazy CEO in charge of a secret research lab might do to his second child when his first one proved unruly and uncontrollable.

Oyana was overloaded with mods. Congested from head to toe, threaded into every fold of her brain, tapped into her eyes, nose and ears, laced between every muscle, tendon, and nerve ending. Oyana was possibly more mod than organic and their sheer number tangled up in her body like a loose skien of yarn after the cat got to it.

“It’s too bad I already killed our father,” Maj muttered.

Rune nodded. “Answers would be helpful.”

“Oh no, I’m sure we can find answers at his lab. I’d just like to kill him again.”

Rune’s face made a movement that he aborted before Maj could read it. He probably didn’t like how casually Maj spoke about murder. But he was a medic. Life over death was his thing.

Vidar would understand.

Like Maj and Rune, Vidar had been fired down to the planet’s surface a week ago. Unlike Rune, Vidar had expertise in killing people, not saving them.

Maj took a deep breath. “Ok. I don’t think we’re getting an easy answer, but thanks for the scans. How long will she be out?”

“I would say a couple hours, but I don’t know what this is doing,” Rune gestured to the mods. “So she might be up sooner.”

Maj wiped their face with both hands. What the fuck were they supposed to do about this? None of their resources were here on Ivis Three and getting off planet was no closer than it had been yesterday.

“I need a drink,” Maj grumbled.

“I’ll pass,” Rune said. “Call me if anything changes, though.”

“I will.”

Rune saw himself to the door in time to allow someone else in as he lift. Maj stared down at Oyana for another moment, just watching her breathe peacefully, until the woman who had come to see her started bouncing with anxiety.

Maj waved Penelope into the kitchen and poured them both a drink of some unlabeled liquor Hudson had stashed. Maj needed a shot to focus their thoughts. Penelope probably needed one to stop stressing.

Unlike Maj, Rune, and Harlow, Penelope had been exiled to Ivis years ago. Before Hudson had come in and taken over the colony, Penelope and four others had formed a council in order to organize and make decisions. That had worked well until Hudson had killed most of the council, named himself their leader, and beat everyone else into submission. Including Penelope.

Maj had dragged her out of Hudson’s bed that night a week ago, a privileged position Maj got the feeling Penelope had never wanted. They hadn’t talked about it since.

They had talked about this, though. About Penelope coming to Maj whenever something slightly out of place happened in the colony.

So when Maj threw their drink back and put the glass down, they didn’t even ask what the problem was. “You know I’m not in charge here, right? You don’t answer to me.”

Penelope tuned her glass around in her hands without drinking it.

“And you know you have a new council that you can go to with problems. That’s what the group is for. Hudson is gone. For good.”

Penelope’s head dropped further, but she stayed put on the stool at the counter.

Maj felt like they’d just kicked a puppy and took Penelope’s drink from her with a sigh. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a dragon at the front gate.”

Maj paused with the shot half way to their lips. Blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

Then Penelope sent a video feed to Maj’s mod inbox and Maj put the drink down to watch it full hyperdigital glory. A recording from one of the guards at the wall down at the bottom of the hill.

A creature the size of a small space shuttle, four legs, two wings, glittering in shifting shades of green and blue that made it hard to pick out against the green sky and blue grass that was Ivis Three. Long neck and tail. Claws. A dragon if Maj had ever seen one.

It was fucking huge and it passed in the distance, it’s arrow-shaped head pointed at the gate like it was considering who lay behind it.

It didn’t seem to be approaching, though, and after watching the video several times, Maj threw back Penelope’s shot and said, “Take this to the council. It doesn’t look like it’s threatening us, it’s probably just wandering by. But ask any of the older folks if they’ve seen it before.” Older in this case didn’t mean physically older, as the GSA dumped people regularly on the planet’s surface at any age. But there were some people who had been around since the founding of the colony. At least twelve years ago.

Penelope nodded her head quickly, her short hair bobbing, and scrambled back out of the house. If anyone had seen this creature before, Maj could reassure Penelope and the council.

Maj sighed.

How had they come to be in charge of anything? They were much more effective when pointed at something that needed slaughtering, not… people management. That required things like friendship. Maj shuddered.

They opened Hudson’s diary and resumed combing for clues on his escape plan.


Treasure hunting, Maj discovered, was very boring for a very long time punctuated by sudden excitement. They spent hours combing through Hudson’s notes, his diary, the paperwork he collected the way an old lady collects spoons. There was a lot of nothing. A few details about the contract Hudson had taken on Maj’s sister reassured her that killing him had been the right move. They found a few other references to the Orchid group, but Maj couldn’t contact them until they got off planet.

Then, tucked away in a file, Maj found the list. Offplanet it wouldn’t have been anything significant, but here on Ivis Three, it was the treasure they’d been looking for: a list of parts and material necessary to build, or perhaps repair, a surface-to-space shuttle.

Based on the data Maj had been digging in for days, Hudson didn’t have the expertise to build a shuttle from scratch. It was far more likely a shuttle had been found, and Hudson had been working to repair it. Unfortunately, both of Hudson’s lackeys were also dead, and Maj hadn’t thought to download their data before their bodies had been cremated. Maj had only been here a week, though, it was entirely possible Hudson had additional sympathizers both in the colony or hiding in the jungle beyond the walls. He certainly hadn’t hid any shuttle here where anyone could stumble on it.

Maj was also not an expert. They knew enough to be dangerous, which for Maj largely meant enough to destroy thoroughly anything that got in their way. Based on the parts list, Hudson seemed to be retrofitting the shuttle to run on different fuel. There was no fuel here because there was nowhere for anyone to go. But there was a fuckton of trinordia.

Trinordia, when refined, was a powerful energy source. It was stable in solid form, which was how the colony carved it out of the mountainside. There was no way to refine it here. Instead, tons of it was launched into space for the GSA to collect via a railgun system. Maj was pretty sure they could stuff themselves into the box and survive the launching forces involved, but they were probably the only one. Oyana needed to come with them and Vidar didn’t want to stay stuck here either. So the question was: had Hudson found a way to refine the trinordia here on Ivis Three into solid fuel blocks, or was that problem the reason why he’d been stuck here for over a year?

Trinordia wasn’t typically used as starship fuel. But when trying to escape the prison planet, anything that burned could work in a pinch.

It was too bad Nancy and Owen were already dead. They might have known where Hudson was stashing his ship and supplies. And if any other colony member preferred Hudson’s leadership, they were smart enough to keep their mouth shut the past week.

From the couch, Oyana muttered in her sleep, then sluggishly sat up. She blinked, looking around the room as if she’d never seen it before. When her attention landed on Maj, her focus cleared and she gave Maj a watery smile.

Maj pushed the list to Oyana’s inbox, but cleared all of her research and approached the couch. “How you feeling?”

Oyana sighed, “The headache is gone. I’m sure it will be back.”

“These started before I came down, right?”

“About two months before. They were weaker at first.”

“Okay,” said Maj, “that means it’s not a trinordia allergy or something. You were here for a year and a half before they started.”

Oyana shook her head in agreement

Maj sat on the couch on the corner. “I had Rune run a bunch of scans and we found some weird shit none of us understand.”

Oyana laughed, a little huff of air. “So you’ve seen the mess inside my head.”

Maj gave her a wry smile. “Do you know much about it?”

Oyana sighed and held her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. “I can tell you how many surgeries it took. Or all the testing they did. I’m faster and stronger, of course.” She opened her hand as if to reference the steel wrapped around her bones. “But I never saw Dad’s paperwork. And he never talked to me about it of course. I have some perception mods, enhanced pressure and temperature sensing, some weird settings in my eyes that allow for heat detection. They tested me with ion trail recognition, like that matching memory game you do as a kid. So if I’ve seen a ship’s signature, I can reliably identify it again.” She shrugged little. “It’s entirely possible this is a mod that’s gone bad. I wouldn’t know. I’m sure none of it is legal or well-vetted.”

Maj grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “We’ll figure it out. But in the meantime I have some good news and some strange news. Check your inbox.”

Oyana’s eyes went a little unfocused as her attention shifted inward. Maj watched her watch the video of the dragon, and the surprise on Oyana’s face told Maj this thing had probably not come near the colony before.

“What in the spiral ring is that?”

“Penelope just brought it to me today. The recording is from front gate. It doesn’t seem to be a threat, so I asked her to bring the video to the council. They’ll know what to do about it.”

“I’m surprised native fauna that large exists here in the GSA didn’t do anything about it before starting the colony.”

“They probably didn’t want to draw too much attention to Ivis since it’s supposed to be uninhabitable.”

“There’s a zenobiologist somewhere missing out,” Oyana laughed.

“More importantly,” Maj clapped their hands once. “I have found a treasure map!”

Oyana gave them a skeptical look with one eyebrow up.

Maj hedged, “Okay, it’s a packing slip, but it’s a good one. Hudson left behind a list of supplies that I believe he was collecting in order to build, or repair, a shuttle to get himself off planet. I don’t know where he hid the thing, but I think he was trying to use trinordia to fuel it. And we’ve got a way to scan for trinordia.”

“You’re right.” Oyana sat up, her eyes sparkling. “We use it up in the pit mine to give us direction. But it’s just a little hand held machine.”

“I thought so. Do you know how good it is? Does there need to be six tons of trinordia for it to work?”

“No it’s more sensitive. GSA wants us digging up deposits as small as a quarter ton. Depending on how much Hudson stashed, we might even be able to detect it from here in the colony.”

Maj accessed their contacts and dashed a note off to Vidar requesting that he bring back the sensor when his shift was done tonight. They refocused on Oyana. “Okay, our project tomorrow is to find that stash. I don’t plan on staying here for another week. I’m sure you’re more than over it.”

“I don’t know, you get used to nature’s soundtrack. Instead of recirculating fans.” Oyana chuckled. “But we won’t figure out these headaches without better medical access.”

“Or Dad’s notes.”

Maj might have eliminated their father, but his company still ran its business and Maj had no doubt the scientists involved had simply replaced Oyana and continued their work. Once they got back into civilized space, their records were Maj’s first stop.


Maj sat in the back of an electric-powered truck with an open top and an open bed. A steel frame boxed in the occupants. The tires were oversize, and made of a flexible, solid material that didn’t require air to keep their shape. Sufficient for rock climbing in considerable terrain.

They weren’t doing a whole lot of rock climbing around here, but the large tires and heavy tread were great for plowing through the jungle surrounding the colony. In the driver’s seat, Vidar tried his best to keep them on a smooth path, sweeping mostly parallel to the front gates in ever wider arcs. As a front passenger, Oyana had the trinorida scanner in both hands, squinting to read it in the dim dawn while the truck bounced and wiggled around.

Vidar had come down to Ivis with Maj, Rune, and the others, but he kept his personal details close to the chest. Maj knew he was dangerous and skilled with the knife, but not much else. That didn’t bother Maj. He wasn’t visibly modified, but like Rune, Maj suspected he had a lot of work done under the surface.

The colony sat in a valley, wedged like an arrowhead against a mountain range that stretched into the horizon. Maj hadn’t seen a map yet, nor were they particularly interested in finding one, but from the floor of the jungle the mountains seemed to stretch forever. Vidar bounced the electric truck from side-to-side in the valley—like radar—extending slowly outward toward that distant point where Maj, Penelope, and the front gate had seen the dragon creature native to Ivis.

So far the scanner insisted on pinging the pit mine halfway up the mountain side behind them, but they were looking for a stash much smaller. One that wouldn’t accidentally be stumbled upon. Maj understood why Hudson had taken over security, and not just the council itself. It was easier to hide things in the jungle if everyone wandering in the jungle reported to you.

The truck skidded out of forest and onto shale and meadow, sliding a bit to the left as Vidar did his best to keep it going. Green sunlight broke through the treetops and their passing startled local birds in great flocks.

Vidar slowed the truck as they came to the foothills of the mountain range and prepared to turn around again, when Oyana put her hand on his shoulder. He rolled the truck to a stop.

Oyana squinted at the scanner, making an unsatisfied face. “I’ve picked up something. Could just be a small deposit in the hillside, but it’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, Maj.”

Vidar idled the truck gently forward, following Oyana’s direction. Maj was about to scramble up the hillside themselves, when abruptly they found the entrance to a cave. The angle tucked it out of sight, and probably out of wind, but it was at least as large is the front gates of the colony.

Vidar flicked the headlights on and trundled inside.

Maj stood up in the back seat. They didn’t need the headlights to see that this cave stretched deep into the mountainside and split quickly into confusing paths and caverns. Oyana directed them to the left on a fork but shortly thereafter Vidar had to park the truck. An old landslide obscured a portion of the tunnel.

“We can bring the truck in, but I don’t know if we will be able to turn it around later or have to back out.”

Oyana hissed suddenly, and pressed her hand against the middle of her forehead. She squeezed her eyes shut. Another headache.

Maj scrambled on all fours across the front seat and over the hood of the truck. “I’ll scout it out.” They tapped their temple. “And let you know what I find.”

Maj did not wait for approval. They rushed into the darkness, activating the skin mod that made them all but impossible to see, especially in the dark. Anyone with a heat sense would still be able to find them, but Maj intended to upgrade as soon as they got off planet.

Their off-planet to-do list was getting a little long.

The rock slide was minimal and could be cleared if necessary. Maj passed the final boulders and crept into a larger room that had once been a natural cavern and since been dug out with some of the colony’s mining tools. Maj saw marks on the edges of the walls that had smoothed the natural cave into a wider hole in the earth.

And there really was a shuttle in here. Small enough to drag through the tunnel, large enough to hold at least three, maybe five people. It appeared to be standard issue GSA—or it used to be—it had clearly been modified and patched with the tools at hand. Hopefully that made it space worthy.

A panel in the body of the shuttle lay on the floor of the cave like a ramp, and the darkness inside was too deep for Maj to see from the tunnel. But the mess of stone, metal pieces, and—were those rough gems?—spilled out of the shuttle and across the floor not unlike a treasure hoard.

Maj crept deeper into the cavern along the edge, circling the shuttle in order to find another doorway, a window, any other way in that wasn’t so obviously an animal’s den. The shuttle’s small wings had been folded in along its body, and in the back along the engines Maj saw additional panel damage that would need fixing. But it was in surprisingly good shape considering neither Hudson nor his cronies were engineering experts.

In the back of the cavern, Maj found the trinordia. It wasn’t solid as expected, but in discrete ten gallon drums. Liquid.


How Hudson had processed raw, inert trinordia into its liquid form, Maj couldn’t begin to guess. If the shuttle was rigged to run on liquid trinordia, then getting off planet wasn’t going to be the problem. It was surviving the launch that would test them.

This escape plan wasn’t much safer then stuffing a person into the rail gun that delivered raw trinordia to the GSA in orbit.

At least they would all live or die together.

Maj approached the nose of the shuttle, peering into the polyglass of the cabin. A large shadow moved behind the front seats, then slid like a snake out of the fallen side-panel doorway. Arrow-shaped head, long neck, thick legs with blunt black nails. Maj didn’t stick around to see more. They skittered away from the shuttle back to the edge of the tunnel on all fours, sending video evidence in batches to Vidar just in case.

Their skin mod didn’t seem to make a difference. The creature tracked their movement with small, gleaming eyes. As it exited the shuttle, its wings ruffled, like the flapping of a thick leather.

Maj turned and ran. They weren’t a hero, and they had confirmed the location of the shuttle. Everything else was a problem for tomorrow.

By the time Maj returned to the truck, Vidar had turned it around and was idling with the headlights on, pointed toward the exit. Maj sent him a text. Start running. Maj vaulted into the back of the truck as it started down the tunnel. Vidar never even looked back.

Maj steadied themselves with a hand on Oyana’s chair, peering back into the darkness of the cave to see if they would be followed.

The dragon lives back there. Maj sent to both Vidar and Oyana silently. The shuttle is intact, but the creature has made it a den. We will have to steal the shuttle or clear out the dragon.

Oyana sat in the front seat, the scanner in her lap as she clenched her hands on her head and tried her best to breathe quietly. Vidar navigated the truck through the fork, and Maj thought they might be in the clear when Oyana whimpered softly.

And the dragon came charging up the tunnel.

Maj leapt from the truck immediately with instructions to Vidar to keep driving. They picked up a few stray rocks and launched them at the dragon’s head, harassing the creature so it would follow them down the fork instead of chasing the truck. The effect was laughable. A tiny human on all fours the size of a large dog throwing pebbles at a creature so big it could swallow Maj whole by accident.

The dragon did not follow Maj, but it did skid to a stop at the fork, swinging its head down the tunnel in their direction with small squinted eyes. Better than nothing.

The two of them squared off in the tunnel, Maj ready to sprint further in at the slightest sign the dragon would come for them, the dragon peering into the tunnel with wings flicking in anticipation.

Then the dragon turned away and lunged toward the truck instead. Maj raced after it, throwing rocks and trying to come up with another option. They were better at taking down person-sized people than they were dragon-sized ones.

Maj heard the truck rev and Oyana’s alarmed voice echo in the tunnel. Then, all at once, they were outside again, tucked among the rocks of the mountainside and with much less room to maneuver. The truck’s tires skidded on loose gravel. The dragon’s tail swung back and forth with every step.

With no better options, Maj took a running leap at the dragon and pinned themselves on the top of its tail. They sank small fingers into lizard hide, and clamped down with serrated teeth to be sure.

The dragon nearly sat down in surprise. Its wings flared wide. Maj used the opening to run straight up the creature’s back. The dragon reared up, a huge, snarling roar issuing from its chest and vibrating up through Maj’s feet. The distraction worked.

Vidar got the truck under control and squirreled it out of the rocks and back toward the jungle.

Maj leapt off the back of the dragon toward the closest mountainside. Hot, wet breath washed over them as they fell, and a massive click of sharp teeth whiffed above them. Maj landed hard, rolled, and scrambled on all fours straight down the mountainside. Their titanium bones took the impact and let Maj keep running despite the questionable footing.

Maj saw Oyana standing in her seat in the truck, waving them down. But halfway across the rocks, Oyanna’s face blanched, and her hand reached for her own head.

The dragon roared behind Maj, too close for comfort. Maj dodged left when the dragon tried to stomp, then right to avoid teeth. They dove into the back of the truck as Vidar got it going again.

They weren’t going to outrun it though, and Maj was out of ideas.

“Stop yelling,” Oyana said, clutching her head. “Stop yelling, stop yelling.” She suddenly pointed at the dragon and screamed across all of Maj’s senses, not just her hearing. “Stop yelling!”

Pressure crushed outward in a cone from Oyana’s pointed finger, out the back of the truck, and enveloped the dragon. Maj collapsed in the back of the truck, their ears ringing, and every mod in their head vibrating with static. For several seconds Maj couldn’t even access their contact list.

What the hell had that been?

Behind them, the dragon flared its wings and stuttered to a stop, snapping at the air like something had physically attacked it.

And Vidar dove the truck into the jungle.

Maj blinked up at the trees from the back of the truck thinking Oyana had done more to rescue them than either Maj or Vidar, and that her mods were meant to do more then give her headaches.


It was just falling dark and Maj sat on the couch, scrolling through information Hudson had left behind, when Oyana staggered into the room looking like she’d been wrung out and twisted. It was not an improvement from their morning jaunt into the dragon’s cave.

“Are you ready to talk about that psychic yell you did earlier?” Maj asked without looking away from the data. Shortly after saving them all, Oyana had passed out in the truck before they ever made it home. But the dragon had not pursued, so whatever power she’d harnessed had been enough to make it think twice.

Maj made sure Oyana got into bed and she had slept the rest of the day away. Whatever she had done took a lot of time to recover from. Hopefully she hadn’t drained anything vital.

Vidar agreed that no one should know about the shuttle yet, so Maj had parked the truck up on the hill. They both had expected a quite evening.

Oyana leaned on the back of the couch and whispered hoarsely, “I think it’s coming.”

That made Maj sit up straight and close their screens. “Say that again?”

Oyanna was pale and sweating. Her eyes were too wide, all the whites showing around them. “It’s coming to the colony right now. It’s coming for me.”

Maj stood up, grabbed Oyana’s shoulders. “The dragon? Right now?”

Oyana tried to nod and she stumbled into Maj, only remaining on her feet thanks to her sibling.

Then Maj received a ping from Vidar. They answered it and opened a voice channel. “Let me guess: the dragon is coming”

“I recommend we take the truck and run for the shuttle now.” Vidar’s voice didn’t sound stressed, but by the cadence, Maj knew he was on his way up the hill.

Maj slung Oyana’s arm over their shoulder and rushed out the door. They dumped her in the passenger seat and Vidar met them just in time for Maj to receive pings from both Penelope and Singe. Than a ping from Ruin.

Then the screaming started.

From the top of the hill where the truck had been parked, Maj look down on the colony valley and could see the dragon coming beyond the colony wall.

It looked the same as before—arrow shaped head, long neck and tail, wings—but this time it didn’t stay at a distance. This time it headed straight for the gates.

Maj climbed into the bed of the truck, and Vidar speed down the hill.

“Who are we taking?” Maj scrolled through her contact list. “Do you know how to fly a shuttle?”

“I can probably make it explode.”

Vidar would not be in charge of flying, then. “I’m calling Singe. We probably don’t have room for many more.”

“She’ll want to grab Rune.”

“I won’t say no to the medic,” agreed Maj.

Like Maj, Singe had come down to Ivis in the latest round of criminal abandonments. She was former GSA, though, like Rune, and the two tended to stick together since they shared history. Singe sat on the council and had been de-facto leader of their small crash-landed group in the moments before Hudson found them. Now Maj was about to fuck up her day.

The dragon didn’t attack the colony wall so much as simply climb over it. No one on-site stuck around to try and stop it. Ivis Three had no guns, no significant weaponry of any kind. A few knives. Someone had strung up a bow and arrow from native trees and birds. Nothing that could stand up to a dragon.

Like it was following a scent, the dragon trundled inexorably up the hill. It paused at occasional buildings long enough to swipe claws through their roofs, throwing debris into the street, and peer inside, clearly looking for Oyana. Whatever psychic sense it was following, Maj was thankful it wasn’t precise.

Colonists ran screaming from their homes up the hill, but the wedge of the valley between two mountains would only funnel them toward the truck. There was nowhere to hide. Regardless, the dragon paid them little attention.

Singe finally responded to Maj’s frantic pings and directed Vidar down to her house where she stood with Ruin on the porch, watching the dragon. Vidar skidded the truck to a stop in front of them and Maj yanked Ruin into the back since he didn’t seem to realize rescue was at hand. Singe stood on the wheel well and held on to the open frame as Vidar spun the wheels and sent the truck skidding against fleeing traffic down the hill.

To Maj’s surprise, their little truck whipped right by the dragon without it noticing. But then, if it was tracking some psychic signal, Oyana was putting out a big one.

Vidar crashed the truck right through the front gate and they zipped out into the forest, but Maj knew they had only bought themselves a little bit of time. So they opened a data channel to Ruin and Singe with everything they knew about the shuttle hidden in the mountainside.

It was time to get off this rock.


With the truck’s winch and a little bit of luck, clearing the tunnel enough to drag the shuttle out of its cave proved to be the easier of their problems. Figuring out how the machine ran on liquid trinordia without exploding was appreciably beyond everyone.

They had hauled the shuttle into a field large enough for take off, but Singe worked in the engine room cussing loudly and with vigor as she discovered more and more layers of modification. Singe was ex-GSA and while not a pilot herself, was the closest thing they had. If she couldn’t figure it out soon, they were all very doomed.

Maj parked Oyana in one of the shuttle’s seats and strapped her in just in case the headache made her pass out. Then they teamed up with Ruin and Vidar to clear out as much of the dragon’s hoard as possible while Singe figured out how to get the machine running.

They didn’t have enough time to tear it apart and rebuild it, nor the expertise for that anyway, but with every minute ticking down, Maj became more and more certain they would just have to push the launch button and cross all their fingers.

The dragon had collected every spare piece of metal , shiny rock, and apparently anything blue it could find. Maj ejected armfuls of material out the door just to reduce the weight of the shuttle. From front to back it measured just over ten meters plus engines and there were a surprising number of nooks and crannies inside. Every compartment, cabinet, and room had been stuffed full. Most of the items where man-made—Maj recognized pieces of the crafts that had brought criminals down planet-side and the bullet they used to send supplies. The creature had probably been collecting them for years. Maj didn’t know anything about rocks, but some of the things they hauled out into the clearing glittered in the rising moonlight. They were probably worthless, but they were quite shiny.

At the doorway—newly bolted in place—Maj saw the colony wall in the distance and the green-blue shape of the dragon climbing back over it, arrow head pointed in their direction.

“Time to go!” Maj yelled abruptly. They scrambled into the back to find Singe and yanked her into the hallway.

“When did you find this? How was it built?”

“No time for questions,” Maj said, pushing Singe despite the woman being twice Maj’s size. “Pretty sure you’re the best pilot we’ve got. Make it happen.”

“I don’t know anything about this craft!.”

“Neither do I, but the psychic dragon is hunting my psychic sister and we are leaving!”

Singe moved from the engines to the front of the shuttle and with what appeared to be random button presses, began a startup sequence. Lights turned on, several doorways both internal and external attempted to close. Some of them were successful. Maj had to dig a scrap piece of metal out of the shuttle’s external door frame before it screeched and complained to a shut. Hopefully an airtight one. Maj wasn’t betting on it.

Rune found a seat and buckled in next to Oyana so he could check her heart rate and shine a light in her eyes. Maj didn’t know what testing he was doing, but they were glad to have him aboard. Vidar took the copilot seat next to Singe and, without touching anything, began scanning the buttons and dials intently.

Singe grunted and made a vague gesture at the console. “I don’t understand how this ship has been Frankensteined together and we are all probably going to explode.”

“No pressure,” said Rune.

Oyana leaned back against the bulkhead and muttered, “Might as well find out. The dragon is coming this way.” Her pale face looked waxy and drawn.

Maj risked a glance out of the front of the shuttle’s polyglass window and cursed quietly at the sight of the forest shaking, trees and ferns waving wildly as something massive moved through them. They found a seat.

Singe muttered to herself but strapped in, and shook her head as she pressed a new series of buttons. She paused over one that lit up amber and said, “If you believe in anything, now is the time to send a prayer.”

She closed her eyes, and pressed the button.

Nothing happened immediately. Nothing happened for long enough that Singe opened her eyes and peered curiously back down the shuttle’s body to the engines like she might be able to see what was happening internally.

Than with an abrupt explosion, the shuttle jerked forward, lunged like a running animal, and Singe did everything she could to keep it going in a straight line. The sound was incredible. The entire shuttle jerked and shook as if it would fall apart into components.

The folded wings stretched out, grinding and complaining, and with another jolt, the shuttle was airborne. This did not improve the volume at all. Wind whistled through the cabin like the polyglass was made of a net, throwing Oyana’s hair into disarray.

According to the screaming alarms and blinking lights either the craft was about to explode, disintegrate, or the dragon was hot on their tail. Maj would put money on all three.

Singe attempted to steer the craft with some success. They gained altitude, banked over the forest, then suddenly the dragon was there, flying like an enemy aircraft across their bow.

Singe dove under it, pulled back to gain altitude again, and circled wide over the valley. If they crashed and burned now, the entire colony would know they had a shuttle.

If they crashed and burned, the colony knowing about the shuttle would probably be the smallest problem.

Okay, I figured it out. Vidar announced through the mod chat. The level of screaming wind and violent rattling wasn’t conductive to conversation. He reached for the console and flicked a series of levers. Preflight check is electric and initial atmospheric launch is hybrid. If we want to get off planet, we need to activate the trinordia engines.

Are we not running on engines? What was that explosion? Singe banked the shuttle again, trying to draw the dragon away from the colony at the very least. She stayed low over the trees.

We are not. They needed to be primed. He flipped a switch. That’s done. Vidar covered his hand over a large lever on the dashboard. Point us up and I’ll get us into space.

Ruin interjected, Are we sure this thing is spaceworthy?

Nope! Offered Maj unhelpfully.

We can’t outrun the dragon in atmosphere, said Singe. We can come back down if we need to… I think.

Singe angled the shuttle above the trees and pinged Vidar to go. Vidar pushed the lever up slowly and the shuttle jerked forward again, pinning everyone into their seats. This time the engines screamed, their power flooding the shuttle with heat and throwing it up out of the atmosphere of Ivis Three like a stone skipped on water.

The second they punched out of the atmosphere, the shuttle began leaking. Emergency foam seals popped on every wall and doorway. Most of them expanded appropriately. Others dribbled down the wall, their chemical makeup too degraded. The sound of the engines and air cut off into abrupt silence.

It kept them alive.

Singe pointed the ship away from Ivis, shoulders dropped in relief.

Maj, too small for a proper seat harness, floated up against their straps.

Oyana’s face flushed with new color and her eyes cleared a little as they put significant distance between them and the psychic dragon on Ivis. “I feel like a mountain has been sitting on my head.”

Ruin unstrapped from his seat. “I think there was a medkit back here. It might have a painkiller.” He pulled himself down the hall and Maj heard him open several containers.

Out of the atmosphere, the vibration settled and they were left with the engines pushing them out of Ivis’ gravity well. Some of the shuttles alarms still blinked, but Singe had managed to turn off their noise. Vidar figured out scanners, but there was nothing in the local space they needed to avoid. The GSA didn’t hang out when there was no trinordia to pick up.

“What’s the plan then?” Singe glanced over her shoulder at Maj. “You seem to be the mastermind here.”

Maj snorted. All they had done was crash land on Ivis and immediately kill the guy in charge. But Hudson’s mod data did have an answer. Maj pushed a set of coordinates to Vidar and Singe, a small independent mining rig close enough that their little shuttle could make the run. At least in one direction.

“If we can get some place with a repair bay, the rest is easy.” Maj said.

“Out into space we go,” said Singe. She set the coordinates and started muttering as the computer returned errors.

Rune returned from the back holding what appeared to be a duffel bag. Oyana sat up, looking curiously in his direction. “Whatever you found is helping my headache. What is that?”

“We have a stowaway.” Rune put the duffel bag in Oyana’s lap.

She peered inside, and started laughing. The laughing turned to tears, and Oyana tried to wipe them away while hiccuping.

Maj cocked their head and pinged Oyana a questionmark.

Oyana reached inside the bag and pulled out a baby dragon. It fit in the palm of both hands, its wings akimbo in the way all baby animals were too much leg and not enough coordination. Its soft skin glittered in greens and blues and it chirped like a bird.

Oyana dried her tears enough to report that her headache was entirely gone. “And it’s talking to me. It says its name is Lissie, Eater of All, and do I have lunch?”

Rune chuckled.

“Are we sure dragon-mom can’t fly into space?” asked Vidar.

Singe checked the scanners. “I don’t see anything chasing us.”

“Let’s keep it that way,” said Maj.

They were more than criminals now. If the GSA ever figured out they got off the surface of Ivis Three, they would live long enough to regret ever being caught.

“Singe, does the shuttle have a name?”

Singe worked through a series of menus and reported, “Just an alphanumeric. This shuttle probably had a mothership to return to.”

“Well, if we’re going to be outlaws, we need a good name.”

Vidar smirked. “We should just name it Maj.”

Maj blinked. “What?”

“Because anyone who knows you will steer clear, and anyone who doesn’t will learn.”

Singe and Rune chuckled. Maj crossed their arms and bared serrated teeth in protest.

“What about The Trinordia Dragon?” suggested Oyana, holding the baby in one arm as she tickled its nose. “Boop!”

Rune frowned at her. “What are you doing? That—that is a predator.”

“It’s not a predator, we’re boopin!” Oyana tapped the baby’s nose and laughed. “Boop! Boop!”

The dragon mimicked her voice in a much higher squeak. “Boop!”

Vidar shrugged. “All in favor of The Trinordia Dragon?”

Everyone pinged affirmative.

“I guess we’re pirates, then,” said Singe as she entered the name into the console. “Cast your votes now for Most Likely To Piss Off The GSA First.”

Four votes were cast immediately for Maj.

Maj sighed. “That’s fair.”

The crew laughed as they rocketed into space.


dragon divider

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Goals Tracking: Week 5

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Goals tracking! There are three major goals I’m tracking this year for both personal and business improvement. Comment below with your goals and how you did this week.

1k words/workday:

Monday: 2.5k – Re-plotted Fated
Tuesday: 1300
Wednesday: 0 – Appointment Day
Thursday: 1056

Notes: This week had some upheaval on Wednesday. I had a 3 hour hair appointment to lighten, dye, and get a cut. One of the most impactful side effects of my autism is a limited tolerance for public settings and a very long recovery period following an outing like this. The bigger, longer, or later the event, the more time I require to recover from it. Therefore, a 3 hour hair appointment (arguably doing nothing but sitting in a chair) turns into an entire afternoon and evening of rest, a full night’s sleep, and a nap the following day. (still got the 1k on Thursday, though!) I do my best to recognize when an outing is going to drain me and deliberately make plans after to read a good book and wear my noise-canceling headphones to reduce input. All of that allowed me to bounce back on Thursday quite well. Needing only a nap is a great result.

I went to a Nascar race once. 2 hr drive there, 5 hrs of race cars (with headphones and ear plugs), 2 hr drive home. I spent the next three days asleep except to eat a single meal. Honoring the rest I require has been a very hard lesson to learn.

Next week will be a 0 words week while I travel to Colorado and attend a conference!

10k steps/day

Monday: 9935 – So close!
Tuesday: 8793
Wednesday: 10,070 – 2nd 10k of the year!
Thursday: 9610

Notes: The step goal is in the mid 8k’s now, which means I’m brushing up against 10k on days with an errand to run or an extra walk around the park. I’ve found that I can use the stepper while I knit or crochet and watch a video, which is great when I realize I’m 2k short around dinner time.

I’m curious to see how my effort changes once the weather is nice enough to go running again. This week I’m in Colorado with plans to go hiking and with a lot of walking expected at my conference. I don’t think these step goals will be hard to hit!

1 completed line art/week

Notes: I had one idea, then another idea, then a slightly different idea–things were all over the place this week.

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Friday Update 2/2/24

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Friday Update 2/2/24

In an unusual move, this week I decided the big plan I had for Fated to the Wolf needed to be cut down to something more compact. It’s a story meant to go in an anthology with a collection of other shifter authors and the target length is 20k. While they would accept a 70k novel, that isn’t the goal of the project. At the same time, much of my fiction study in the last month or so has focused on the Villain Gets The Girl trope, as well as the general beats for dark romance, and I realized the main characters in Fated could be pushed into some stronger positions.

So on Monday, I re-plotted Fated to really punch up the Villain trope, the cinnamon roll trope, and the kill for you/touch him and die tropes. I also cut the plot down from 70k to less than half, now at 30k. The intent here is to leave some of the world building for future books in the series while also hitting the novella length instead of the novel.

On Tuesday I started re-drafting Fated from scratch to accommodate the character changes which leaves me in the very rare situation of having over 20k words of novel that probably won’t see the book in its final form. Little pieces of description will be pulled, like outfits or locations, but even those need tweaking for the new character voices.

Fated to the Wolf will be serialized here on the blog for members to read early and I think I will include some of the deleted scenes or chapters so people can see how dramatic the shift has been.

My main human character, Amari, is now a much stronger voice and character, and my shifter MC with a heart of gold has a clearer role in wooing him. Both of those changes made the new outline for the story pour out of me in one massive writing session, which is always a good sign.

Look forward to Fated to the Wolf later this year!

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To Heaven And Back Again – A Steampunk Short Story

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Cover Art, To Heaven And Back Again

This short story was originally published in Galaxy’s Edge magazine. It’s releasing indie on February 5th, but is available here for Members to read early.

Meleny is a Lady of the Queen’s Court and that makes everyone frustrated, but Meleny is the most proud of how well she can piss off the captain of the Queenguard. So well, in fact, that he will commandeer a spaceship of the fleet and pursue her to the very ends of the system. What is she to do with him now?


To Heaven And Back Again

Meleny watched the dotted line on her screen that indicated a safe path between the moons hurtling around this edge planet and very carefully kept the Lion’s Pride flying on that line. The engine spun so fast her entire craft shook.

At only ten meters long, the Lion’s Pride was a tiny ship, hardly large enough to register on radio or sonar. She held a single bunk room that Meleny shared with Konsta and just enough storage for food and tea. Space was at a premium and thankfully, Konsta didn’t hold to the British Empire’s ideas of propriety. Meleny always found them stifling and with so little room to live on Lion’s Pride, having a co-conspirator would never work otherwise.

Steam hissed out of release valves, alternately easing pressure and sealing. They’d started this adventure with a full tank of water, but the system wasn’t closed and they’d lost steam to the vents and a slow leak in the hallway. It made the air hot and humid. Meleny’s hair stood up around her head, but she didn’t have time to pull it back. When they got out of this mess, Meleny swore she would track down the plummer who’d installed this system and make him fly it around for a while. He would probably fix the leak in record time.

They approached the first moon on a vector that brought them just to the edge of its gravity. Lion’s Pride jumped against the pull, shaking and shuddering.

Behind Meleny, Konsta sat with his hand on a radio dial, manually filtering the planet and moon’s magnetic influence to see the large craft that pursued them. His skin, dark like mahogany, looked polished in the humid air. He was tall–over one hundred and eighty centimeters–though he’d assured Meleny he was merely average for his people. Since Meleny measured an even one fifty, she was certain his people were all descended from giants. His towering presence among the English court helped keep the more violent-prone lords at heel, which Meleny couldn’t manage herself thanks to her stature and gender.

He wore a snug jacket buttoned from waist to the tight collar, the cotton weave dyed green–as was the Lion’s Pride–and the buttons shining brass. Not at all an acceptable style at English court and therefore one of his favorites.

The Queenguard’s own HMS Valkyrie pursued them at high speed. The captain of the Queenguard himself chased Meleny at the edge of the known universe. She was proud to have pissed him off so completely. It was disappointing that she didn’t have some other plan in place to take advantage of his absence back at court. She never expected him to chase this far.

Captain Finley Mills was known at court for his cool head under pressure, broad shoulders, and winning smile. Meleny knew him as a selfish prick who cheated his way to the top and enforced his position there brutally. He couldn’t intimidate Meleny and she’d been a thorn in his side ever since gaining his position. She quite enjoyed poking that bear. Especially since Konsta could take the man in a fair fight and they both knew it. Hand to hand or with the sword, Finley Mills simply wasn’t the exceptional lord he claimed to be. Still, he remained the court darling and Meleny could only run.

“Still gaining, Lady.” Konsta reported.

Meleny frowned. “Release a tracer decoy on my mark.”

“Last one.”

A lady of the fleet didn’t curse. Meleny let out a low colorful one, long past the point of caring about ladies–in the fleet or otherwise. The situation was getting dire. “I’m going to try a sling around the first moon to pick up some speed. Ready that decoy.”

The Valkyrie Mills captained measured over forty-five meters long and nearly thirty on the diameter. She could dock the Lion’s Pride like one of her shuttles. Over one hundred people could staff that ship at full-capacity, but with the urgency everyone launched, Meleny wouldn’t bet there were more than twenty on board now. Like all English ships, she was outfitted with three torpedo launchers. Mills hadn’t fired at Meleny only because he knew the Lion’s Pride was too quick to catch with a static missile. They were better saved for surprise engagements. But if the Lion’s Pride slipped too close, the Valkyrie was equipped with more than enough grappling power to clamp down like a hunting dog and never let go.

Konsta was silent for a moment, likely reading their situation and checking Meleny’s course of action. Meleny was happy to hear any suggestions that might keep the Valkyrie at bay. But Konsta offered only, “Yes, Ma’am.”

Meleny turned the ship. They slipped off the carefully plotted dotted line and fell into the gravity well of the moon. Its yellow clouds swirled, a creamy coating on top of a surprise dessert.

“Release the tracer.”

A thump shook the ship as the tracer, little more than a ball of metal filled with fuel, ejected from Lion’s Pride and shot along their former dotted line. With luck, Lion’s Pride could disappear in the static and the English captain would follow the tracer instead. He’d figure it out as soon as the little ball ran out of steam, but by then, Meleny would be halfway around this moon and well out of sight.

Lights on her console flashed red. The shaking smoothed into nothing at all. Deceptive. Many inexperienced pilots had crashed their ships into a planet or moon chasing that smooth ride through space. Meleny had been doing this for a while–the coasting silence dug into her heart and rose the hairs on her arms. They were crashing.

“Valkyrie has followed our course.” Konsta reported quietly.

Blast. There was nothing for it, now. They were committed. She could pull the Lion’s Pride out, but Valkyrie would be on her in a breath, grappling and securing her for the long flight back to English space. She and Konsta would be treated well, escorted directly to the Queen for execution. Meleny had harassed the monarchy enough to know she wouldn’t be spared. And Konsta… they wouldn’t be kind to him. The monarchy considered his people little more than animals in the face of their savage beliefs. Meleny had stuck more than one lord with a hat pin and a smile for that.

There were wheels turning slowly in the English court. She had people and good places, whispering in the ears of those who could change the world. But without Meleny her best laid plans would grind to a halt. English court loved the latest gossip but chose to act very slowly. There was still so much left to do. She couldn’t be caught.

Meleny turned the ship deeper into the well. Perhaps they could still escape the Valkyrie with a close skim of the surface and a gravity-assisted fling back into space. Clouds of yellow and amber swirled on the moon’s surface. None of her instruments could penetrate the thick weather. For all she knew there were jetties of rock waiting to greet her. The Lion’s Pride skimmed through the wispy upper layers of atmosphere. Meleny fought to keep the ship up, out of the worst. Crosswind buffeted their craft and the shaking returned with a vengeance. They weren’t pulling up.

“Lady…?” Konsta said.

“This might get rough.” Meleny grit her teeth and braced in the chair. Straps over both shoulders held her in place, pressing her practical jacket and trousers tightly against her skin. A proper English lady wouldn’t tolerate such dress, but proper English ladies didn’t find themselves in space. Except on large and slow cruises to Luna with plenty of room for their ballgowns and hoops.

Lion’s Pride dropped into the mustard clouds. Visibility fell to effectively nothing. They screamed through the space, faster than Meleny had ever pushed her ship. The moon and planet’s gravity hauled them along–just another speck of dust to collect.

Something roared. Like the voice of a world, or maybe space itself? They suddenly skimmed over a rough surface and Meleny spun Lion’s Pride wildly upward to avoid it. Spires the size of Helvellyn. Evenly spaced. Teeth. They were teeth.

“Oh…” Meleny’s heart thumped. Her hands twisted on the controls, tense and hard. There were monsters here in uncharted space. Had they found one?

The Lion’s Pride shook through the atmosphere. They darted out of the teeth and past a vertical cliff of… something. Dark and craggy. Rock-like. It blinked. A wide eye, yellow as the clouds and sharp, focused on them. They were close enough for Meleny to see the individual string structures in the iris, layers and layers, a tapestry of depth around the black hole of the pupil.

Meleny gaped, “What… is it?”

Konsta crossed himself. “It is the face of God.”

They broke out of the clouds. The beast churned them, kicking material into space. Huge, broad fins the color of a mountain breached the yellow clouds and stirred them like the universe’s largest cup of soup. Spines surfaced and plunged under the waves. The beast roared again and this time Meleny saw the mouth gape, the jagged spire-teeth, a dark chasm for a throat. A tongue, thick and wide, forked like a lizard. A monster the size of a moon.

Suddenly Meleny’s sense of relativity changed. The mountain of creature rose rapidly overhead and it seemed for all the world as if the Lion’s Pride was falling, plunging into the depths of the moon. Meleny yanked back on the controls, but she had already pulled the yoke as far as it would go. She checked her attitude on the instruments, but all her readings said she was still flying up.

The beast twisted out in the churning clouds, exposing an outcropping–a limb tipped with three claws the length of redwood trees. They knocked the Lion’s Pride at a glance and the ship careened to one side. An accident of proximity, nothing more. Meleny’s view spun, up became down, then up again.

Steam hissed into the cockpit from a busted pipe. Sparks danced over Konsta’s controls and he cursed as they nipped at him. Meleny wrangled the spin and got them pointed upward again even as her hands trembled. She’d never seen anything like this before and now even the Valkyrie didn’t seem like such a threat.

“Stopper that leak, Konsta,” Meleny said as she drew the ship further away from the moon and its resident.

Konsta stood, the repair kit already in hand. The cockpit was small, but if the Lion’s Pride got hit again, Konsta wouldn’t survive it out of his seat. It was up to Meleny to keep him safe.

As the distance yawned below her viewscreen, Meleny watched the monster–the dragon–dive back down into the thick mustard clouds. Its fins mixed the air as it passed, its massive tail slapped the surface like a monstrous whale. Then it was gone again, as if it had never been.

With a snap, gravity flung them free.

Konsta sealed the leaking pipe with wax and wrapped it tight. He returned to his seat with a heavy sigh.

“Where’s the Valkyrie?” Meleny demanded. The ship had been right behind them on entry, but the Lion’s Pride was smaller, more maneuverable, quick to spin and dart left when gravity pulled right. Or when a monster yawned.

Konsta jumped at his station. “I… don’t see her, Lady.”

They were falling through space at a speed the Lion’s Pride could hardly convey on screen. Zipping away from the moon. “Pray they are safe.”

“Are they not an enemy?”

“I wouldn’t wish a death like that on anyone.” Meleny shook her head. Captain Mills was an ass, but he deserved an honorable death on Konsta’s sword like anyone else.

Konsta shrugged. “Being devoured by a God is not so terrible if it serves a purpose.”

“There are many beliefs among your people, Konsta, that I have no wish to meet in person.” Meleny said wryly. Lion’s Pride flew on a rapid tangent beyond the pull of the twin moons and their planet. If they truly were free of the Valkyrie, Meleny had work to do, people to put into motion, and little time.

With any luck, they had not been followed by man or God.


dragon divider

To Heaven And Back Again is available for purchase or preorder as Ebook or AI audio. Members, don’t forget your 10% off coupon for (DIRECT sales only) listed on the Perks page.

Ebook: Direct
Ebook: All Other Stores (preorder, releases Feb 5th)

AI Audio: Direct (coming soon)
AI Audio: All Other Stores (preorder, releases Feb 5th)

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Goals: Week 4

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Goals tracking! There are three major goals I’m tracking this year for both personal and business improvement. Comment below with your goals and how you did this week.

1k words/workday:

Monday: 1000
Tuesday: 1374
Wednesday: 400
Thursday: Put Hellhounds through PWA, +~400 words
Friday: Break

Notes: I finished a short story this week! That’s Princess Hellhound, To You was written specifically for an urban fantasy anthology call by an editor friend of mine. I’ve submitted that story and now everyone cross their fingers! Hopefully she buys it! Monday I’ll be getting back to my PNR novel Fated To The Wolf, which will be serialized here for members first.

10k steps/day

Monday: 6239 – below goal
Tuesday: 7203
Wednesday: 7384
Thursday: 7432
Friday: 7936
Saturday: 7852
Sunday: 7731

Notes: Monday wasn’t a surprise. I had a 9k day last Sunday and Monday I was tired! 6k is still much better than previous tired days, though, and it’s great to see progress. The rest of the week went very well. I’m getting better at front-loading my morning with at least a third of the steps I’ll need for a 10k day. And the weather has finally warmed up enough that some of these steps are outdoors now!

1 completed line art/week

Notes: I’ve realized that I need to post the art here even if it’s incomplete, in order to keep myself from going “well, I’m not going to finish it, so it’s fine if I don’t work on it” No. All progress gets posted from this week forward. I’ll go back and post the incomplete art from last week, too.

Last week I started something heavy on the scale patterns and I wasn’t too pleased with the design of it. So this week I went heavy on the scale patterns with a different style. I like this style more, but I’m still not thrilled. More exploring to do.

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Friday Update 1/26/24

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Friday Update 1/26/24

Progress was made this week! I’ve finished and submitted a Hellhounds short story to an anthology for consideration. Cross your fingers for me! I think it’s a good one.

I’ve also tackled the initial stages of publishing for the next three short stories. Preorder will be populating in all the stores over the next couple of days. Anyone interested in getting them early can find all three listed on the web store: To Heaven And Back Again (an alt history steampunk scifi), A Brand New Day (a scifi horror), and Carrot Cake (a contemporary horror).

I’ve started the AI audio, but I realize I have to make cover art, so more work will be done there next week. I’m also checking on my contemporary romance Rough Recall. I have a note in my to-do list that it didn’t end up on all stores when I went wide, so I’m following up on that. (Which, oh look, I can’t link to the webstore because it’s not there! Gotta fix that.)

Next week is also my last full week of work before Superstars conference in Colorado! I’ll be driving out on Monday the 5th and really looking forward to meeting up with old friends. It will be a week full of learning and talking and people, which will be exhausting but oh, so, fun.

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Maj And The Outlaws #1 Murder Is A Family Business

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cover art, Murder Is A Family Business

This short story was originally written for the scifi magazine Boundary Shock Quarterly and has since turned into a series of shorts. They will be released here for members to read as I get the rights to publish them indie.


Maj And The Outlaws #1

Murder Is A Family Business

Maj Frost, tiny, offended, and sentenced to exile, tried their best to bite the GSA soldier that held them in two steel-augmented hands. They squirmed, snapping their teeth at the soldier’s pale nose. The soldier just picked them straight up by the arms, like a child. Maj kicked and twisted, they tried to pitch themselves to the floor, then lunged backward without warning.

The soldier just held them out at full arm’s length with a slight grimace. He’d been given the unfortunate task of escorting Maj to the drop pod where they’d be pitched into space and left to crash land on an alien planet with a handful of other criminals. Maj didn’t try to argue about it, they were guilty. Didn’t mean they liked it.

The soldier had to manage Maj with one hand in order to open the drop pod door. Maj tried biting again, twisting around to get a handful of standard issue green uniform in their teeth. They ripped it right out of the seams and had to spit it out. Starchy.

The soldier hauled Maj inside and slammed them hard against a seat set into the wall of the pod. Maj blinked, stunned for a second. Across the pod they caught the curious eyes of a very large, dark man, already strapped in for the ride. He lifted a quiet eyebrow at Maj. Maj hissed and resumed kicking.

A lucky strike caught the soldier in the stomach and his air wooshed out of his lungs. He went to one knee, only a weak hand on Maj’s shoulder to keep them in place. Maj knocked it aside and scrambled for the exit.

They only glimpsed a moment of freedom. The soldier yanked them back by the collar and threw them across the pod. He didn’t even try to strap them in again, just stepped out of the door and closed it with a frown.

Maj lunged for the door, but it snapped shut in their face. They bared their teeth through the polyglass at the GSA soldier. Their serrated points flashed in the polyglass.

He shook his head. “If you don’t want to strap in for re-entry, that’s your choice.”

Maj punched the door. The metal dented outward with a hollow echo, but not enough to compromise the lock. They were stuck.

“If you die in vacuum before re-entry, that’s also your problem,” the soldier added, stepping back.

The second door closed, cutting the pod off from ship life support and power. It also had no window, leaving Maj growling at a blank metal wall.

Maj shook themself all over, throwing off the encounter and the fury that came with it. The bristling dissipated in seconds. Calmed, they took stock of the drop pod.

It contained four seats positioned in a tight semi circle around the door, each with five-point harnesses and minimal comforts. They were meant to keep passengers from bouncing around inside like egg yokes for the short flight, not to provide any perks.

The black man and Maj were its only occupants, and the way the sound of some large mechanical systems were echoing through the pod, it didn’t seem like anyone would join them. Maj had lost their chance to escape into a spaceworthy ship—though admittedly, that plan had been flimsy from the start.

With a sigh, Maj dropped into one of the hard seats and strapped in. Even with the ties pulled as far as they would go, Maj still had room to move, but such was life as the shortest adult they’d ever met. Malnutrition could do that.

Their augments made up for some of their genetics. They could leap twice their own height, had some excellent perks in their vision, and they’d recently installed a skin mod that almost worked like true invisibility. Oh, and the teeth. All of which helped them stay two steps ahead of the GSA for the last six years.

Of course, they didn’t help a wit once the GSA had caught up. And even the most lowly formicida had enough strength and stamina mods to keep Maj’s tiny ass under control.

Still, being manhandled rankled and they wrinkled their nose.

The pod clunked as it disengaged from the ship and lost local gravity.

Maj floated up two inches until they hit the straps of the seat.

Then the pod’s thrusters ignited and Maj was thrown back into the chair. For several seconds, the experience was too loud to think. Maj shook in the chair, rattled by the power of the engine, like a jet turbine strapped to the back of a commuter car. Overkill was an understatement.

Then, abruptly, the engine cut off. So did the noise and the shaking. Maj drifted off the chair again.

“Hey, Piss and Vinegar?” the big guy said in exactly the kind of sub baritone Maj expected.

Maj smiled at him and it wasn’t visibly different than the snarling they did earlier.

“Do you have a plan or should I just stay out of your way?”

Maj twitched one shoulder. “The plan was to not be in the pod. I am now open to suggestions.”

“I see,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“Maj. You?”

“Rune, Formicida medic—well, I guess I’m ex-GSA, now.” His face wrinkled like he was upset, but it cleared a moment later.

Maj wasn’t interested in his emotional state and ignored it. “What are you exiled for?”

Rune cocked his head. “Is it relevant? Why are you here?”

A dangerous chill clenched Maj’s chest at the question. They swallowed hard and looked away. Looked back. “Ok, I take your point, I retract the question. New question: what do you know about this place they’re dumping us on?”

“You didn’t sit through an orientation?”

“Nope.” Maj shrugged. “Was too busy breaking out. Got the elevator twice but they always caught me before I got to the spine. Didn’t get a third chance.”

Rune made a sound in his throat like he was holding in a laugh. Maj narrowed their eyes at him, but he kept his expression expertly neutral. Maybe that was a medic thing. The doc who had tried to give Maj a physical before their trial had been a hard nut to crack, too.

“It’s a barely habitable planet. Gets a little too cold in the winter and a little too hot in the summer so no one wants to settle down. But it has surface access to trinordia, so there’s a pit mine and a ground to space payload launcher. We get sent down, work the mine, GSA sends a supply box every few months in return. No trinordia, no supply box.”

Maj grunted. “Isn’t trinordia explosive?”


“Coolcoolcool, and how do we leave?”

“We don’t.”

“Ah.” Maj shook their head. “Well that’s not going to be fun for you.”

Rune lifted that eyebrow again, a darker slash against his dark skin. “But not for you?”

“If there’s a payload launcher, there’s a way off planet.”

“Being subjected to violent escape velocity pressures meant for inorganic packages isn’t an issue, then?”

“A minor inconvenience.”

“And the GSA ship that picks you up? They’ll just drop you back down.”

“A problem for future Maj,” Maj said, settling deeper into their seat. The pod was starting to vibrate just slightly.

“Oh,” Rune said, smiling. “I think I see how you ended up here. You’ll be fun to watch.”

“I am always fun,” Maj agreed. “No one ever thinks so.”

“I can’t believe it,” said Rune with another one of those medic straight faces.

The pod rattled, then, the shaking evidence of their re-entry onto… Maj didn’t know.

“What’s the name of this place anyway?”

“Ivis Three. Ivis is the star’s name technically, but GSA hasn’t named the planet.”

“Ah, of course,” said Maj. “If there’s no name, there’s no colony. And if there’s no colony there must not be anything interesting here. Nothing to see, just unexplored wilderness on a virgin planet.”

“I see you speak GSA politics.”

“It helps to know your enemy if you want to avoid them,” Maj said with another toothy grin.

Reentry shaking and noise cut off any response Rune might have had. Maj gripped the shoulder straps of their harness, feeling vibrations down to the teeth. Everything sounded like it was burning, a roar of wind and flames below Maj’s feet prepared to consume them both from the bottom up the moment their little pod failed.

Then the pod jerked twice, something clunking heavily overhead, and their ferocious descent slowed to a float. A balloon waving in the breeze.

They came to rest rather gently, the pod listing to one side at an angle.

Rune unstrapped himself easily. He stood at the low end of the pod.

Maj hung in the harness a little sideways. If they undid the straps, they would fall and there was nothing for their little legs to brace on.

Rune yanked the door’s release handle down, shoving it into place to unlock the seal. He had to slam the door twice before it disengaged. Maj’s punch to the mechanism hadn’t done any favors.


He shoved the door open—it popped off entirely, landing heavily to the ground—and stepped out into pleasant, if slightly green, sunshine.

With their landing zone clear, Maj popped the harness open and dropped across the pod, legs and arms extended like a cat. They landed with a thump on hands and feet and scuttled to the doorway on all fours for a better look.

The air smelled like plants. A little wet, a little grassy. Very organic.

The mods in Maj’s eyes automatically adjusted for the intense light, shuttering like sunglasses until they could see without squinting. They crawled out onto the pod’s prone door and squatted to take in the sights.

Three other pods had been fired down with them, two full of people that emerged from their cocoons, blinking and cursing the bright sun, and one much more bullet-shaped object that had half-buried itself on impact since it didn’t come equipped with parachutes. There were eight other people—both pods full—which made Maj grin. Maj had made enough of a fuss that their pod had been sent half empty. Better to get rid of them than risk another escape attempt. Maj was proud of that.

The clearing they’d all landed in was oddly blue. The grass was almost teal, the larger bushes along the edge a darker cyan, the trees themselves, like ferns instead of proper trees, were a royal blue so dark it was almost purple. And overhead, the sky was tornado green with fluffy yellow-green clouds and a surprisingly small sun for how bright it was.

Maj plucked a blade of grass and ran it through their fingers. It stained blue, but smelled like grass. They flicked the piece away.

Two of the eight decided to bail immediately. They ran off into the fern forest in opposite directions, diving into teal and blue foliage and gone in a heartbeat. Apparently it was better to risk their lives alone on the alien planet. Maybe they’d paid attention to the orientation video.

The rest cautiously gathered together in the middle. Still on all fours, Maj trailed after Rune. They poked at the dirt—reddish and dark—and peered suspiciously at the rest of the exiles. They debated activating their stealth mod and decided against it for now. Not while people were looking.

“Is anyone hurt?” Rune asked, projecting his deep voice easily. “I’m a medic.”

People shook their heads. Some muttered. Most looked a little shocked and had a distant cast to their eyes.

Maj flexed an eyelid and the mods in their eyes displayed a few basic pieces of information. Rune’s name hovered over his head, two of the others: Singe and Jace, also had names dug out of the GSA database Maj had swiped during one of their escape attempts.

Singe was ex formicida, a solider in the GSA. Former soldier. Built like an inverted triangle and the tallest person in the group. She still wore her formicida uniform, tightly cornrowed hair, and kept glancing along the skyline as if she expected an attack.

While Jace was some big shot CEO from a private company. How would he have ended up here? He wore a button down shirt and a nice pair of slacks that should have gone with a suit jacket, but that seemed to be missing. His shiny black shoes were already stained blue.

Rune opened his arms in a gesture at the group. “Should we start with names?”

Singe nodded and a few people shuffled closer. Rune probably made a good medic. He made people feel at ease with only a few words.

Maj stayed quiet.

A skinny man with scars up his neck and visible mods set into his skull like a set of racing stripes over his ear, scowled. “Who put you in charge?”

Rune showed his hands in a peaceful gesture.

Singe spoke up. “So we can call you Scarface, then?”

Maj snickered in their head. Singe was a good one.

Scarface grunted. “GSA doesn’t recruit for original thinking, do they?”

“No, they just exile for it,” Singe shot back. “The medic is right, we need to establish injuries, shelter, water, and food in that order. That’s easier if we know each other and work together.”

“I’m Sean,” one of the men stepped forward, raising his hand like he was in class. “I’m a hacker and I’ve never been camping in my life. I’ve never been planet-side until now.” He wore a tshirt with a logo across the front and frayed synthjeans that might have been ripped on purpose.

“Oh, good,” said Scarface. “Dead weight.”

“I’m Harlow,” the woman beside Sean spoke up softly. “We’re here becau—“

“It doesn’t matter.” Harlow’s neighbor put her hand on Harlow’s shoulder. “I’m Zara. Harlow and I have PhDs in zooherbology.” They looked like opposites of each other, Harlow with straight black hair and pale skin, Zara with tightly coiled blond and dark skin. Zara’s hand slid down Harlow’s shoulder and grabbed her hand tightly.

Scarface snorted. “What good is that to us?”

Zara pinned her bright eyes on the skinny man. “When you eat something poisonous I’ll be able to tell everyone else how the neurotoxin works.”

He made a disgusted face, but stopped complaining.

The others introduced themselves: Tone, an agender musician, and Vidar, a man who calmly admitted to murdering four people and had some experience with knives.

Tone had no hair, big gold hoops piercing their ears, and a skin mod that made them glitter a rainbow of colors in the sun. Vidar, on the other hand, was not visibly modified. He wore a simple black shirt and sythjeans—not ripped—had short brown hair that got a little wavy on top, and had the kind of open and trustworthy expression on his face that Maj had never figured out how to master.

Maj decided a small team of themself, Rune, Singe, and Vidar would be most effective given the wilderness. Rune and Singe to organize, Vidar and Maj to kill things. Scarface was right, the rest of these people were dead weight, or close to it. Unfortunately, he seemed to be one of them.

“Ok, we all know each other,” Singe said. “Next is shelter. We need to find a place large enough for most of the group to lay down so we can sleep in shifts. Preferably against a rock or inside a cave.”

“What about the colony?” Harlow asked, her voice barely loud enough to hear even with the group so close together.

“Do you know where it is on the planet?”

Harlow hunched her shoulders. “No.”

“Then we focus—“

“Don’t you worry!” Cheered a new voice from the edge of the forest. A man walked out of the foliage with his hands high in welcome and a broad smile on his face. He wore native-blue homespun—fabrics that had been woven from plants here on Ivis Three. And he lead a small group of people with him. Four others followed him single-file out of the jungle in equally native-blue clothing. Simple shirts and pants with woven shoes. They brought baskets and a dragging sled. “Don’t worry,” the man repeated, his smile still large. “I know exactly where the colony is. You’ve landed in the right spot.”

“Of course,” Rune said quietly. “They would fire supplies down reasonably close to the settlement. And we’re the replacement workers.”

“I’m Hudson,” the man said, putting a hand on his chest and bowing slightly. His beard was a bit scraggly and his head was balding, giving him a bit of a jovial uncle look. The kind of relation who never shows up for holidays, but drops in unannounced with exotic gifts for the kids. “I run security for Ivis.”

Maj was immediately suspicious. The data flickered on her overlay, getting half and quarter matches on Hudson and his followers. Possible identities but not confident.

But the lady in the rear hauling the drag sled looked familiar.

“These are my seconds, Nancy and Owen. They’re here to help me make sure you’re all healthy and help you get settled back home. Is this everyone?”

Nancy and Owen looked more like pit fighters than productive citizens of the colony, but maybe that was necessary on an alien planet. Maj didn’t want to assume, but the flutter in their gut kept them on edge and their gut was never wrong.

“This is most of us,” Singe said. Maj noticed she stayed with the group rather than stepping toward Hudson. “Two ran into the wild.”

Hudson nodded as if that happened regularly. “Penelope, get back to Ivis and let the scouts know to be on the lookout for two more.”

Penelope nodded and turned back to the forest.

Which left only—“Oyana here is going to crack into the supply drop that came with you.” Hudson waved her forward

At her name, Maj stood bolt upright. Oyana’s eyes flicked to her, widened in recognition, and immediately looked away again. With her head down, she pulled the sled to the car-sized bullet-shaped pod that had fallen with the cluster of evacuation pods.

Most of the group turned toward Hudson, Rune and Singe at the front. Maj noticed Scarface didn’t protest this time.

Maj, on the other hand, faded back toward the supply pod.

And Oyana.

She looked a lot different. Maj wasn’t surprised the mod couldn’t identify her. She wore the local blue clothing, barely more than a rectangle shirt with a belt and some pants. Her skin mods were off, which meant she looked unnaturally pale—nearly translucent—and her bright red eyes looked almost black in this green sunlight.

Maj crouched next to Oyana as she dug in the dark dirt for the access panel of the pod. They hissed, “The fuck are you doing here?”

“Don’t draw attention to me, Maj, you do not want Hudson’s attention.”

Maj knew he was a snake, good to have it confirmed right away. “You think I’m not going to talk to you?” Maj bent over and helped her dig to cover their conversation. “You vanished three years ago without a trace and now I find you by accident on some exile planet. How did you get here?”

Oyana ignored the question. “Hudson is going to hold all of you in temporary housing outside the village. He’s going to give you a mission. It’s not one you can actually do. His goal is to kill off the strongest of the group so he can maintain control. He’ll let the rest of you in as a gesture of goodwill and sorrow.” Oyana cleared the doorway and popped the hatch open. She needed Maj’s help to yank it free. “Do you understand, Maj? You need to keep your head low, pretend to be useless, and let a couple people die so you’ll be let in.”

Maj looked up over Oyana’s shoulder to see Singe and Rune nodding their heads at Hudson and making conversation. They would be the first to volunteer.

Maj muttered, “Yeah, fuck that.”

Oyana snatched the front of Maj’s shirt with a grip like steel. Technically it was steel on the inside. “Listen to me, sis. Head down, mouth shut or Hudson will make sure you don’t make it.”

Maj gave her a look. One that said, peace was never an option.

And Oyana’s eyes shuttered closed for a moment like she was praying for patience. But she let go of Maj’s shirt and started pulling packages out of the hollow supply pod. “Whatever the plan is, you need to make sure it ends with Hudson’s death. He’s in control, but only through fear. Eliminate him and maybe we can reestablish our council or something.”

Maj was small enough to crawl into the pod and start handing packages out to Oyana. “How long has he been in charge?”

“A year.”

“How long have you been here?”


“What kinds of missions does he ask people to do?”

“I don’t know, but they’re all out in the jungle. Probably kill three panthers or something. But no one ever comes back and if I were Hudson I’d send the scouts out after to make sure of it.”

“Cute,” Maj said.

They emptied the supply drop. The sled wasn’t large enough to carry everything, but by the time Maj handed the last box out, glittering Tone and quiet Harlow had led the newly exiled group over and started handing out boxes. Between eight people and the sled, all the supplies were handled. Maj noticed Hudson and his two lackeys, Owen and Nancy, didn’t offer to carry anything.

The group set off into the jungle.

Maj maneuvered themselves next to Singe and tugged on her sleeve. Singe glanced down, then let herself linger further back in the group, away from Hudson and his enforcers.

“What’s your opinion of Hudson?” Maj asked.

Singe didn’t reply right away, but the wrinkle in her nose told Maj everything.

“Good,” Maj said, “Then you’re not going to call me crazy.”

Singe lifted an eyebrow.

“Hudson has been killing people that arrive in order to keep control of the village. Do we go along with it or do we kill him?”

Singe opened her mouth, closed it, gave Maj a curious look, then said, “Think you can run the town better?”

Maj snorted heavily. “Not on your life. But you could. And Rune. There’s probably good people in town, too.”

“I wasn’t planning on a coup my first day here,” Singe said with resignation. “But I guess I’d be top of the culling list.” She cocked her head. “How do you know?”

Maj grinned full of pointed teeth. “We’ll be taken to temporary housing tonight and assigned some impossible task tomorrow. Watch your back.”

Maj held their assigned package under one hand and dropped to threes to gallop away.


Early the next morning, well before the small green sun rose over the horizon, Maj woke to the sound of muffled voices and scuffling outside the wooden shack the group of exiles had been assigned.

Before everyone bedded down, Singe, Rune, Vidar and Zara all agreed with Maj to take shifts overnight. Everyone selected had an appropriate mod for tracking the time and seeing well in the dark.

Maj trusted their sister that an impossible task would be coming in the morning, but it never hurt to be careful.

Maj scurried out of the shack, shaking Vidar awake on the way, and burst through the door on all fours, teeth bared and eyes wide as the mod adjusted to starlight without a moon.

Singe was grappling with Owen, one of Hudson’s goons, and Nancy had been on her way to the shack, a knife in one hand.

Nancy froze at Maj’s exit.

Then Vidar ghosted into the doorway behind them and Nancy abruptly changed her mind.

But no one on two legs was faster than Maj on four. They scrambled forward, dodging Singe and Owen and using a stacked pile of supplies as a launching point. Maj tackled Nancy from above and behind, bringing her to ground like a panther on prey. Maj bit her wrist so she would drop the knife, sinking every pointed tooth into tendons and muscle.

Nancy screamed.

Maj grabbed the knife and shoved it into Nancy’s throat with augmented strength, ripping it back out at an angle.

The woman jerked as her blood choked her.

Maj scrambled back to Singe, but Vidar had already intervened. Owen lay dead with one shoulder clearly dislocated and his head facing the wrong direction.

The rest of the exiled group assembled groggily at the doorway.

Singe straightened her formicida uniform and assessed the group. Then, unexpectedly, deferred to Maj. “What’s our next step?”

Maj blinked. They licked blood off their teeth and straightened up on feet only. “Hudson still needs to be eliminated,” they said. “Better now while we’re unexpected.”

“That scream will have drawn attention,” Vidar said.

Rune and Tone joined them while Zara guided Harlow away from Owen’s body. Tone hissed at Singe, “Did you kill him?”

“Him or me,” Singe said. “How do we find Hudson inside the village?”

“I can track him,” said Vidar.

“Then Vidar and I will take Hudson,” said Maj.

Rune put his hand on Maj’s shoulder. “The rest of us will ask for help at the front gate, tell them we were attacked and need help. Make a fuss. That should draw some of the scouts away.

Maj nodded. The group split up without further discussion. Maj and Vidar slid out of the makeshift camp in a heartbeat, but didn’t go far before Vidar turned and crouched in the darkness. “Give me the knife.”

Maj handed it over. Knives weren’t their preferred weapon anyway.

“Does this need to be messy?”

“No. We’ll need to show the body to security, though.”

“Good. Cleaner is easier. Keep up.”

Vidar tucked the knife away and prowled into the edge of the forest. Maj activated their skin mod and between the gloomy green darkness and their unusual gait on all fours, they all but vanished. They couldn’t even see their own hands unless they moved too quickly.

They took a position against the rock face that bordered the village, where the upright logs of the front gate met the stone.

Vidar looked back at Maj, did a minor double-take when he couldn’t find them, then something shifted in his eyes and he focused. “Effective,” he grunted.

“No thermal control, though. Was going to upgrade when…” Maj gestured vaguely at the planet around them.

Vidar made a sound of agreement in his throat.

They only had to wait another moment or two when Tone came stumbling up to the front gate screaming for help. They sounded quite hysterical. It got everyone’s attention very quickly.

Vidar shoved his fingers into the gap between stone and log and scaled the wall with expert motions. Maj scurried up right behind him. They both slid down the rock on the other side and moved quickly along the edge of it, away from the gate and toward the darker shapes of buildings.

There were two street lights dimly lit in the middle of town, one along the cobble street toward the gate and the other at the central square. Vidar lead Maj well clear of both, slinking on the far side of buildings and around trees until they came to the curved end of a natural turn in the rock. Set all the way in the back was the only two story building in town, this one lit with dim porch lights and well-groomed bushes bordering the steps.

Vidar pointed up to the second floor balcony.

Maj scaled a tree and threw themself across the gap without hesitation. Vidar climbed the building directly. They gathered themselves outside the balcony door.

Wavy glass panes had been set in a grid of six on two French doors, allowing Maj to see clearly inside. A wide bed piled with pillows and sheets held two figures. Hudson and Penelope.

Vidar tested the door. It opened silently, unlocked.

Vidar crept across the room to Hudson’s side of the bed. Maj staged herself at the foot, ready to yank Penelope off and cause confusion.

On a count of three, they pounced.

Vidar sat on Hudson’s chest and sliced his throat, holding the man down by the mouth with his other hand.

Maj grabbed Penelope by the ankle and hauled her onto the floor. She yelped, but didn’t even kick at Maj, just thumped to the ground and blinked up in confusion. Maj slapped their hand on Penelope’s mouth before she could remember to scream, and watched Vidar on the bed. After a moment he stood.

Hudson didn’t.

Maj looked down at Penelope who was still more confused than alarmed. Not a good survival instinct in this one. “Hudson is dead,” Maj said.

To their surprise, Penelope sagged with relief.

Maj carefully removed their hand.

Penelope glanced up at the bed but couldn’t see anything from her position. “You’re sure? He’s gone for good?” she whispered.

Vidar wiped his knife on the sheets. “I’m sure.”

Penelope closed her eyes. “Thank god. Doing what he said was easier than fighting him but then I became his favorite.”

And Maj remembered what Oyana had said yesterday. You do not want Hudson’s attention.

Maj stood up and offered Penelope a hand.

She took it, glancing away and back at Hudson’s body on the bed. “What about his goon squad? Nancy and Owen?”

“Also dead,” Maj said.

Penelope grabbed their arm suddenly. “You didn’t kill Oyana did you? She’s not part of this.”

“No, but will you come with us to the front gate to help us explain? Oyana said you used to have a council.”

“Yes, yes,” Penelope made for the bedroom door. “We should wake everyone up—“ she paused at the door and turned to look at them both. “Thank you. None of us are innocent here but Hudson was…” she pursed her lips. “Lets get Oyana.”

“Vidar will go with you.” Maj looked at him. “I’ll catch up.”

He didn’t ask why, simply ushered Penelope from the room and closed the door behind him.

Maj approached the bed. Hudson lay on his back, red blood black in the green dawn. They carefully avoided touching the sheets and pressed their thumb against Hudson’s temple.

Data streamed across Maj’s vision. They shunted it to the side, watching only for the download to complete before replacing that data in Hudson’s mods with static and junk.

Then Maj took a moment to scan through the files. History and video footage, a diary of notes, his contact list—ah here it was. The contract to find and deliver one Veres Anita—Oyana’s legal name—back to her father for a boatload of money.

Maj wasn’t sure how Hudson planned on getting her back off this exile planet, but that was one fewer loose end. Maybe he couldn’t seeing as he’d been in charge for a year before Vidar ruined his day.

It was too bad their father wasn’t alive anymore to learn Maj had found and kept Oyana out of his hands once again.

The very best way to stop an assassin—or a kidnapper—was to kill their client. Maj had taken care of their father first, knowing the problem would never end otherwise. Getting back off Ivis and dodging the GSA? Minor concerns compared to keeping Oyana safe.

And who knew, maybe life here on the exile planet wouldn’t be so bad? Especially with Hudson gone. It would certainly keep them both under the radar.

Maj stuck their tongue out at Hudson and skipped out of the room.

It was going to be a beautiful day.


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