Landing Day – Chapter 3

The third installment in my Jak and Torrin happy little holiday story. This one is rather NSFW, so maybe wait until you get home to read it. 😀

The final chapter will be up on December 23rd. I can’t wait!


Chapter 3

Nadierzda’s hot dry air passed around Torrin, stealing the moisture from her skin. Even at higher altitudes, it was warm enough that she needed only the bare minimum of clothing against the cold. A light jacket and pants of the same wind-resistant material kept her plenty warm, and protected her from the ever-present sand. She wasn’t going higher than the rim of the crater, after all. Jak wasn’t too far from Landing. A quick call to Olesya had confirmed that Jak was out in her ultralight, so she wasn’t going as far as the cliffs. Those she could land on with a glider, then take off again. The ultralight was necessary when landing on the flats away from the crater walls.

It helped to have friends in higher places among Nadi’s armed forces. Usually, Jak’s location wasn’t noised about too much. She’d impressed upon the Ruling Council the need to be more circumspect about military communication. The most massive breech of Nadi’s secrets in all of her history had come from one of their own, one on the highest echelons of Nadi’s then-militia. Tanith’s betrayal and subsequent death had shaken everyone. Worst of all, with her demise there was no way of knowing how badly, if at all, they’d been compromised.

So yes, Torrin understood and even approved of the tightened security measures. She just didn’t understand why they were being applied to her. Fortunately, Olesya was willing to bend the rules and check up on Jak for her, but when the Banshees were out of town, Torrin had to rely upon other methods.

Her stomach churned on the edge of queasiness. If only they knew what Tanith had said and to whom. The changes being implemented for their security had caused more than one of the planet’s more isolationist factions to call foul. Surprisingly, her mother hadn’t been among them. Perhaps it was that Irenya had known Tanith. At times, Tanith had practically lived at their house when Torrin was a girl. Or maybe it was that Irenya liked Jak more than she’d anticipated. They were very similar in many ways, and Torrin’s mother had found out quickly how much they had in common. Torrin had never known two people who could be so happy sitting together quietly in a room without ever speaking, and yet those two did exactly that. Sometimes Jak went over to Irenya and Raisa’s house to not talk to them.

As if the thoughts had summoned her, Torrin spied the long wings of an ultralight against the long grass up ahead. She made note of the location and landed her glider a little way off, hoping Jak hadn’t noticed her. There was still the chance she might surprise her lover.

As she usually did, Jak had concealed herself among a stand of the scrubby and gnarled plants that passed for trees here. She might not say so, but Torrin suspected Jak missed the majestic forests of her home world. Nadierzda’s trees were poor examples of the species, twisted and scoured as they were by the constant dust-laden wind. One day in the not-too-distant future, they would finish terraforming this world. If Torrin had anything to say about it, she would make certain there were trees from Haefen among the new species introduced to the planet.

She kept her eyes on the ground, trying to avoid stepping on the branches and dead leaves that gathered in the underbrush. At the same time, she kept an eye out for Jak. She couldn’t be much further out now.

Torrin peered through the screen of branches ahead and took another stealthy step forward. So far she’d been almost soundless. This time she’d sneak up on Jak for sure.

Her foot came down on something hard and Torrin recoiled before the branch broke. She reached out to a nearby bush steady herself. A small blizzard of yellow leaves rained down around her as the limbs of the bush rustled violently.

A muffled snort from behind her made Torrin’s shoulders tense. “Damn,” she said quietly. She turned, a rueful smile plastered on her face. “Surprise!”

Jak grinned down at her from her perch halfway up a tree. Torrin’s heart felt like it expanded to twice its normal size, filling her with happiness and making it difficult to breathe for a moment. It had only been five days, yet Torrin drank in Jak’s features as if they hadn’t seen each other for months.

Jak’s blue eyes laughed at her from her tan face. She wasn’t outside as often as she used to be, but you couldn’t tell that from her skin tone. Her hair had grown out a bit, from the severe buzz cut she favored. It was barely long enough to show a little curl, which meant she’d likely be cutting it soon. The curls framed Jak’s face and softened the line of her jaw, but Jak only saw untidiness.

“Were you trying to sneak up on me again, my sweet?” Jak asked.

“Can a woman be blamed for wanting to surprise the love of her life?”

“Is that what that was?” Jak’s eyes rounded out in a look of shock. “You’re getting better, then. I only heard you from half a kilometer away this time.”

Torrin narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Jak’s faint praise. During the past six months, Jak had developed a sense of humor drier than Nadi’s air. Torrin couldn’t always tell when she was joking, and Jak was too high up the tree to see if there was a damning crinkle lurking at the corner of her left eye.

“Are you going to come down and give me a proper hello, or not?”

“Yes, dearest.” Jak swarmed down the tree in far less time than should have been possible. Her feet had barely touched the ground before she was throwing herself into Torrin’s open arms.

Torrin closed her arms around Jak, reveling in the way their bodies molded together. This was the best part of coming home. Hells, this was coming home. Jak’s arms around her would be home on any planet in the galaxy.

Jak nuzzled into her neck, kissing the exposed flesh above the neckline of Torrin’s light jacket. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too, Jak-baby.” Torrin leaned down and captured Jak’s lips. They moved with yielding softness against hers before growing rougher, demanding more from their kiss.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jak growled when their searing kiss finally ended. “I need you.”

“I’m not waiting that long.” Torrin pulled Jak’s shirt out of her pants, then slid one hand up the sides of Jak’s torso.

Jak tried to push her hands down, but Torrin was having none of it.

“We can’t do that out here,” Jak hissed while trying to corral Torrin’s roaming hands. “It’s indecent.”

Torrin couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped her. Jak could still be so delightfully stuffy. The sexual mores of Nadi’s women made Haefen look like they were stuck in Earth’s first Dark Ages. She’d come a long way, but there were times when Torrin was reminded of where Jak started out.

“Why not?” Torrin asked. “Who’s going to see us? An antelope? Do you care that much what antelopes think of you?”

“What if someone flies by?”

“They aren’t going to see anything through the canopy.” Torrin skimmed her hands along the undersides of Jak’s breasts.

Jak gasped and closed her eyes. “The ground is…messy.”

“We’ll brush ourselves off after.” Jak’s nipples pebbled instantly through the fabric of her bra when Torrin dragged her thumbs lightly over them.

Jak reached up and grabbed Torrin’s forearms. “We’ll get cold.” She made no attempt to move Torrin’s hands, rather she seemed determined to keep them right where they were.

“I’ll keep you warm.” Torrin continued her assault on Jak’s nipples. She lightly took Jak’s earlobe between her teeth and bit down gently. Jak arched against her, moaning deep in her throat. Her ears were wonderfully sensitive, and Torrin lavished attention on them, never tiring of the response she drew from Jak. Torrin would have laughed at the whimper of disappointment from Jak when Torrin withdrew one hand from her breast, except she had more important things to concern herself with.

She undid the fasteners on Jak’s pants with the deftness of much repetition. Jak thrust her hips against her hand, seeking more. Torrin moved her hand to rest on the outside of her pants and shifted with Jak’ motions, denying the friction she sought. Jak growled low in her chest and grabbed Torrin’s ass with both hands, holding her there while she ground herself against the hand trapped between them.

“Patience,” Torrin breathed.

“Screw patience,” Jak growled back.

Torrin thrilled at the words, the tone and the way Jak kept rubbing against her. Jak had totally abandoned herself to their lovemaking. She was so wet, and getting wetter with every move of Jak’s. The dampness that had been accumulating between Torrin’s thighs had long since soaked through her underwear. A part of her wondered if it had soaked through her shipsuit also.

She reclaimed her hand and slid it down the front of Jak’s underwear. Jak groaned and angled her hips so Torrin’s fingers speared through the thatch of unruly hair and straight into her opening. She was so wet there was no resistance whatsoever and Torrin suddenly found her fingers encased in Jak’s damp heat. Jak cried out high and thin, the sound music to Torrin’s ears. Her knees buckled and so did Torrin’s.

Locked together, they swayed for a moment, Jak beyond caring, Torrin nearly so. With herculean effort, Torrin locked her knees and backed Jak up until she was supported from behind by a tree.

She slid another finger to join the other two. Her eyes rolled up at the powerful contractions squeezing her fingers. There wasn’t much room to thrust in the confines of Jak’s underwear, but that didn’t seem to matter. Jak cried out from even the tiniest movement, straining back against Torrin, her muscles tightening with each shout.

Torrin’s own excitement was reaching its pinnacle. Her center throbbed in response to each of Jak’s cries. With every squeeze around her fingers, she got closer to her own climax.

Unable to stand it any longer, but unwilling to come before Jak, Torrin did the only thing she could think of. She took the delicate skin of Jak’s neck and bit down, giving herself something other than the arousal screaming through her to concentrate on. Jak cried out at the pressure on her neck. She lifted her legs, wrapping them around Torrin’s waist and impaling herself deeply on Torrin’s hand.

She was almost there. Torrin only had to hold on for a little longer. Her jaw flexed at the impossibility of holding off her orgasm, when Jak stiffened around her, head thrown back and eyes staring blankly at the branches above their heads. She exhaled once, twice, then groaned long and loud, shaking with the strength of her release.

Torrin froze, her limbs shaking to match Jak’s. Her climax rolled over her, taking everything with it. She was falling, drifting outside of her body.

She came back to herself flat on her back, Jak lying on top of her and gazing down with a soft smile lighting up her face.

“You’re a little…messy,” Jak said. She plucked a small leaf out of Torrin’s hair.

“I had other things to worry about.” Torrin grinned up at Jak. She knew it was goofy, but couldn’t bring herself to care in the least.

“You’re going to get messier.” Jak’s smile was no longer soft.

“Oh dear, however will I cope?” Torrin laughed, then gasped. When had Jak opened the front of her shipsuit?

Some time later, Torrin lay on her back, looking up at the tops of the trees. Her head was nestled in the crook of Jak’s shoulder. Jak’s arms was wrapped around her, holding her loosely in place. Her arms and legs were heavy with complete relaxation, and she almost didn’t mind the tree root digging into the small of her back. Moving would mean leaving Jak’s arms, and she wasn’t prepared to do so quite yet.

“How was your trip?” Jak asked.

“Mixed,” Torrin said.

“That doesn’t sound good. What went wrong?”

“Nothing went wrong, exactly. I got the merchandise, but I also found out my particulars have been passed along to another non-League station. This one was a boil on the back end of beyond, and they still had it.”

“I’m sorry, baby-baren.” Jak ran her fingers through Torrin’s hair. “What does that mean for you?”

“If means more for us than it does for me.” Torrin grinned crookedly, trying to sound upbeat. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of me. I’d say I’m now officially grounded.”

“I won’t pretend I’m upset about that.” Jak’s voice was quiet. “But I wish you felt better about it.”

“I don’t feel bad about the idea of spending more time with you.” Torrin hastened to head off any misunderstanding on Jak’s part. “And I don’t feel bad about the rest of it, at least not precisely.” She trailed off as she examined her feelings. Jak said nothing. She merely waited for Torrin.

“I’m worried about being bored, I guess,” Torrin finally said. “My work with Troika is all well and good, but the aboveboard stuff won’t keep me occupied for long.”

“So find some more things to do.”

“I do have some ideas.” Torrin maneuvered herself around to get a better look at her lover’s face. “There’s you for one.”

Jak laughed, her teeth flashing white in the shadows under the trees. “We can’t spend all our time in bed. We’ll be horribly malnourished and at some point they’ll miss us at work.”

Torrin stuck out her bottom lip in a mock pout. “Well, if you’re going to be that way about it… I was thinking, maybe, eventually, I’d get into politics.”

Jak raised her eyebrows, though she didn’t seem overly surprised. She nodded slowly. “I can see that. You’d be good at it. People like you, and they respect you.”

“And I’ve seen enough out there in the galaxy. I know why what we do and are on Nadi is important, and why we need to keep doing it.”

“You don’t need to convince me.” Jak dropped a kiss on Torrin’s forehead. “I’m already in your corner.”

“Good.”

“So what are you going to do until then?”

Torrin looked at Jak inquiringly.

“You said eventually, remember?” Jak said.

“That’s up to you.” Torrin paused and licked her lips. “I thought maybe we could do more family stuff.”

“Do you mean that?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“You’ve been a little cagey about it when I tried bringing it up.”

“Not cagey,” Torrin said. “Careful. I wanted to make sure we’d be okay being us.”

“And did I pass your test?” Jak’s face was studiously neutral, but there was no disguising the edge to her question.

“I wasn’t testing you.” Torrin grabbed one of Jak’s hands between both of hers. “I was testing me.”

“That doesn’t sound much better.”

“What? Of course that’s better-“ Torrin sat halfway up when she realized what she’d unwittingly implied. “Oh.”

“Yeah. You have about three seconds to explain what that means, Torrin Ivanov.”

Jak had been spending far too much time with Torrin’s mother. The words and tone were classic Irenya.

“Jak, sweetie, I love you. You know I do. I would never cheat on you.” That out of the way, Torrin took a deep breath. “I knew after what Mori did that my world was going to get a lot smaller. I wanted to make sure I’d be all right, that I wouldn’t turn into a horrible person to be around.” She looked Jak square in the eyes. “I wanted to be worthy of you.”

“I see.” Jak seemed somewhat mollified. “And what did your test teach you?”

“That I’ll be fine. It’ll take some getting used to, but nothing could be better than being at your side. I want to share everything with you.” Torrin grinned. “I want to have your babies, or you to have mine, or whatever combination we come up with. We’ll make amazing daughters, and I can’t wait to meet them.”

“One of each, I think,” Jak said. At Torrin’s perplexed look, she elaborated. “I’ll have one of yours and you’ll have one of mine.”

“So you’re okay with it?”

“Of course I am. I do have one condition, however.”

“Anything.”

“I want us to get married.”

“If that’s what you want, then of course I’m up for it.” Marriage wasn’t practiced universally by the couples on Nadierzda. Maybe half of them got married, and for varying lengths of time. Torrin would have been fine either way, but if Jak wanted a wedding, Torrin would make sure she got one.

“Permanently married, though. I don’t want one of those five-year marriage contracts. I plan to be with you always.”

“And I do with you. It never occurred to me that you’d want anything less. I certainly don’t.”

“Good.” Jak withdrew her arm from around Torrin and stood. She offered Torrin a hand up, then started picking small twigs and leaves out of Torrin’s hair.

“What’s the rush?”

“I want to get you home where I can spend more time on you. I mean with you.”

She picked up her jacket. “And if we talk to Kiera soon, we can get in to see her before Landing Day. You know your moms will be happy to hear we’re thinking of giving them granddaughters.” Jak swung the jacket around her shoulders. Something fell out of one pocket, but she pounced on it and tucked it away before Torrin could see what it was.

“What was that?” Torrin pointed to the pocket where Jak had hidden the object.

“Never you mind,” Jak said, lightly slapping her hand away. “I didn’t pry into the mysterious cargo you had to get on this trip.”

“Fine,” Torrin grumbled. Her curiosity burned within her, and she grabbed Jak and tugged her in for a hug.

“Oh no you don’t!” Jak said when she realized Torrin was trying to feel the shape of object through her jacket. She pushed Torrin away.

It wasn’t like Torrin could make out what it was, since she hadn’t been able to get her hands near it. “I only wanted to give you a hug before we head home.”

“A likely story.” Jak pointed Torrin back toward her glider. “I’ll be right there to tow you into the air.”

Chapter 4

Back to Chapter 2

Start on Chapter 1

 


Jak, Torrin, and Nat are characters from my series On Deception’s Edge. The trilogy is complete and available from Amazon and/or Bella Books.

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Landing Day – Chapter 2

The second installment in my Jak and Torrin, happy holiday novelette. Things are starting to get interesting for Torrin, and you know how much she just loooves that!

I’ll be posting Chapter 3 on Friday, December 16th.


Chapter 2

Torrin pored over the list of figures on her screen, trying to force herself to concentrate. The cryostasis hangover was no worse than normal, but reading dry reports wasn’t helping.

The ride home had been uneventful. What took two days had passed in what seemed like mere hours to her and Nat. There had been no other cargo, so the final duties of their trip had been easy enough. Torrin had still insisted on putting Nat through the post-trip checklist. There was no sense in letting her slack off at this point, and besides Torrin was trying to deal with the blinding headache and mild shakes of her reaction to cryosleep. Nat handled it marginally better than she did, and besides, if she had an assistant she was bloody well going to take advantage of that. Beyond that, she needed to know, for her own peace of mind if nothing else, that Nat was ready for the responsibility. To her credit, Nat had complied without fussing, and had taken off as soon as it was obvious everything was in order.

They’d cut the trip close. Landing Day was only a few days away. For a while, Torrin had worried that her contacts wouldn’t come through in time, and that she would need to come up with another present for Jak. It was Jak’s very first Landing Day and their first as a couple. Torrin wanted to be an occasion neither of them would forget.

“Don’t forget about dinner at Irenya’s,” Torrin had called at Nat’s rapidly departing back in the space port. It was a yearly ordeal she’d done her best to avoid. Things were better between her and her mother since she’d brought Jak home. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but if it was, Torrin wanted as much distraction as possible.

She’d received a raised hand as her only acknowledgment. Torrin wasn’t about to face their mothers alone, and besides she had surprises for everyone. This was going to be the best Landing Day ever.

Nat’s route and aggressive flying style had shaved about half a day off the return trip. As soon as Torrin finished with this last bit of work at the office, she’d be able to surprise her sweetie. After a few days’ absence, there was always work that needed her attention, but she wanted to be focusing on something else right now.

Torrin stared at the columns of numbers on the report. This part had hard enough to concentrate on without the competing promise of being in Jak’s arms. The curl of arousal at her center was a powerful distraction. She rubbed her eyes in an attempt to force herself to focus, but the problem wasn’t in her eyes, it was between her legs.

A little bit to take the edge off, that was what the situation called for. She undid the top fasteners on her jumpsuit. The shipsuit didn’t allow for easy access. She keyed shut the lock on the door from her console. It wouldn’t be the first time one of her partners happened upon her in a state of undress in the office, but it would be the first time she’d be the office’s sole occupant.

Cool air caressed the center of her chest, tightening her nipples to nearly painful points against the stiff fabric of her suit. Torrin reached inside and pinched one nipple while freeing the remaining fasteners, the ones that covered her true destination.

“Oh, Jak,” Torrin whispered to the empty office. She kept her voice down. The walls back here weren’t nearly thick enough to cut down on noise between the partners’ offices. Nothing untoward ever happened in Mac’s office, but she’d had a front row seat for more than one of Audra’s assignations. One day Audra would slow down, but that day showed no sign of being imminent.

She pulled on her nipple, tugging hard. In her mind’s eye, Jak had her lips wrapped around the sensitive flesh and was biting down. Her eyes looked up into Torrin’s, carefully gauging how hard to bite. A flash of pleasure shivered through her belly into her groin.

“That’s it, baby,” Torrin breathed. “You know what I need.” She slid her hand down the front of her pants, letting her fingertips skate over flesh swollen and wet with need. From the copious amounts of wetness, it had been five months, not a mere five days since she’d last seen her lover.

“Show me what you got.” Jak’s voice rang out loud and clear.

Torrin had her legs open before she realized the directive hadn’t come from her dream lover.

“I think you’ll be pleased.” Audra’s voice filtered more softly through the wall. “She did her best for you.”

“I just hope her best was good enough,” Jak said. “I was clear in my instructions.”

What on Nadi is going on over there? Torrin got up and pressed her ear to the wall her office shared with Audra’s. Who the hell is doing their best for my woman? If Torrin found out who the mysterious woman was, she would break her thumbs, then she would stop being nice.

They must have moved away from the wall. Torrin couldn’t make out anything useful, only muffled murmurs. She debated fiercely with herself. She had to find out what was going on.

And yet… The conversation had been so vague as to be meaningless. If she burst in on them now, it would look as if she didn’t trust either woman. Neither Jak nor Audra would ever betray her, of that she was certain. So what was left? Curiosity, and the burning need to be certain she wasn’t about to be betrayed.

Stop that, she said sternly to herself. Someone who is about to leave you wouldn’t be planning their life with you. They wouldn’t be taking on even more responsibility. And you know how seriously Jak takes her obligations. It was true. The idea of a disloyal Jak was an oxymoron right up there with the League’s Office of Naval Intelligence. Though now that she thought about planning their life together, when Jak wanted to talk about their future, Torrin had been dodging the subject.

This wasn’t getting her anywhere. Torrin took a couple deep breaths to bring her blood pressure back down to something more reasonable. Her errant libido well and truly quelled, at least for the time being, she did up her jumpsuit.

The discussion between Audra and Jak continued a little longer.

“Thank your woman for me,” Jak finally said. “I think this is exactly what I need.”

“She’ll be pleased to hear that. What are you up to now?”

Exactly what she needs? Torrin wracked her brain for what that could mean. A sex toy, maybe? She already had a large collection, and surely Jak knew she could talk to her if she needed something else. Jak was rather hesitant when it came to discussing sex-related topics, though. She sometimes verged on prudish. Best to handle this carefully is that was the case.

“I’m going to head out on a quick hunt. It’ll give me something to do until Torrin gets home.”

“Should I send her after you if she gets in early?”

Audra knew very well Torrin was already back. She’d stopped by her partner’s office to say hello when she’d gotten in. She was up to something, as usual.

“That would be great.” The excitement in Jak’s voice was impossible to misunderstand.

Torrin couldn’t help the smile that stretched across her cheeks in response to the one she heard in Jak’s voice.

She could have stopped Jak when she left Audra’s office, but Torrin wasn’t about to admit to eavesdropping on their conversation. There was no reason to give Jak the wildly inaccurate impression that Torrin didn’t trust her.

So she waited. And waited. Jak might have left Audra’s office, but Torrin could hear her as she stopped and chatted with various women in the office. For all that Jak thought of herself as socially awkward and a loner, she’d made many friends since moving permanently to Nadierzda. Torrin wondered if Jak knew how charming she was. Probably not. If she did, she wouldn’t be so effortlessly endearing.

It had been a few minutes since Torrin had been able to make out Jak’s voice over the low hum of the office’s environmental systems. To be on the safe side, she stuck her head out the door and looked around. If Jak was still in the building, she was somewhere among the cubicles of Troika Corp.’s outer office.

Torrin knocked lightly on Audra’s door.

“Come on in,” Audra said cheerily.

“What are you and Jak up to?” Torrin came right out and asked the question on the forefront of her mind. There was no point in beating around the bush with Audra.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Audra blinked innocently up at Torrin. She leaned back in her desk chair. “Just like I don’t know what you were up to on Chaurus Station the past few days.”

“Ugh, Chaurus.” Torrin pressed her lips together at the reminder.

“What’s wrong?” Audra sat straight up, the teasing twinkle gone from her eyes. She looked ready to take on the galaxy on Torrin’s behalf.

“They had my info on file.”

“Oh no! Any warrant info?”

“None, thankfully.” Torrin dropped onto the couch that took up one side of the office. “Looks like I’m well and truly grounded. If a place like Chaurus has my specs, then there likely isn’t anywhere else that doesn’t.”

“I’m sorry, Torrin. I really am.”

“It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it.” Torrin ran her hand through her hair, a habit she’d picked up from Jak. It worked better when she wasn’t wearing a ponytail. “Damn Mori. I didn’t think she’d move this quickly.”

“I don’t doubt that we scooped some inner world merchant clan who had their eyes on Haefen. It probably kicked up the chain when Jak’s home world was taken off the table.”

“Maybe.” It didn’t change much, whatever the reason.

“So now what?”

“I find other ways to keep myself occupied, I guess. It’s not all bad. Jak and I have all the time in the world now. We can settle in and play house.” Parts of that didn’t sound completely dull. Playing house had some intriguing connotations. They hadn’t talked much about their future since getting back from Haefen six months previous. The time had been mostly spent getting Jak into a regular groove, and helping Nat readjust. That and Torrin had changed the subject whenever Jak brought it up.

“I meant about the smuggling side of our business.”

Audra’s dry clarification pulled Torrin out of daydreams of Jak with a baby at her breast. She stopped herself from looking down to see if she had one there too.

“Oh.” Torrin blushed. Audra cocked her head and stared at her, both eyebrows raised. Her face got even hotter. There was no reason for her to be embarrassed, not that Audra knew. If Audra could read Torrin’s mind, she would be rolling on the floor. “Nat will take that on.” She waved a hand vaguely in Audra’s direction.

“I know you were thinking about her in that capacity. Is she up to it?”

“I think so. It’ll be good for her. I’m planning on telling her over the holiday.”

“So long as you think she can handle it.”

“She’s tougher now than she ever was.” Torrin smiled sadly. “No one should ever have to deal with what she did, but I think she’s over the worst of it.”

“If you say so.”

“So what were you and Jak up to?” Audra hadn’t been the one to change the subject, Torrin had done that, but that didn’t mean she would let it go.

Audra simply smiled.

“Never mind, I’ll find out myself.”

“Do you need me to tell you where Jak went.”

“I think I can find her myself. I do have ways of tracking down information, you know. I am a trained professional.” One who’d heard as much as she needed to through the walls of their offices.

“All right then.” Audra’s eyes were so crinkled from amusement at the corners that they’d almost disappeared.

“Have a good Landing Day if I don’t see you before then.”

“And a safe Landing to you too, Torrin.” Audra threw her arms around Torrin’s ribcage and squeezed mightily.

Torrin’s return hug was no less heartfelt, though not as bone-breaking.

She returned to her office and powered down the console without taking another look at the columns of numbers that still awaited her on the screen. They could wait. She had more important things to attend to.

Chapter 3

Back to Chapter 1


 

Jak, Torrin, and Nat are characters from my series On Deception’s Edge. The trilogy is complete and available from Amazon and/or Bella Books.

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Landing Day – Chapter 1

I wrote a short story about Jak and Torrin’s first major holiday together after the events in Vortex of Crimson. And of course, me being me, it didn’t stay a short story. I think it’s technically a novelette, as it clocks in around 11,000 words.

But! Since my wife is a genius, she suggested I release the story one chapter at a time over the month of December. You can thank her or curse her for the idea, as you see fit. Chapters 2 through 4 will be out on Friday of each week.


Chapter 1

She’d been gone for far too long. Torrin paced as best she could from one end of the Calamity Jane’s small bridge to the other. It wasn’t the first time she’d paced off the six-and-a-half steps today. In fact, since Nat had left the ship to make the rendezvous, Torrin had been pacing almost non-stop.

She glanced at the nearest readout. Station time made it 1930 hours. Nat had been gone all of twenty minutes.

Is that all? “Tien, re-sync the readout with station time, if you please.”

The AI’s hologram flickered to life on the center of the nearest console. As usual, she was clad in traditional Chinese robes. Her semi-transparent face was devoid of expression as she turned to bow slightly to Torrin.

“Torrin, I have re-synced the time as you asked.”

There was no more emotion in her voice than Torrin could see on her face, but still Torrin knew something lurked beneath the placid exterior. Was it exasperation? Maybe amusement. The readout flickered once, but the time refused to change.

With a sigh, Torrin forced herself to sit in the captain’s chair. This trip had been too important to leave to someone else, the cargo too precious for anyone but her, though Nat was the one making the actual pickup. Her sister needed to get more comfortable with this kind of work. It had made perfect sense when she was planning the trip. Torrin’s right knee jiggled in place. It should be her meeting up with the contact, not Nat. Granted, she’d made certain Nat was armed to the teeth. Anyone who tried to get the drop on her would be shocked. In addition to the bristling arsenal of visible weaponry, Nat also had some nasty surprises lurking out of sight. Plus, she’d completed the intensive self-defense course Torrin had developed for her employees with the help of the Banshees. Anyone ambushing her sister would have far more on their hands than they’d bargained for.

None of that would have kept her out of Crimson’s hands. Torrin was back on her feet. That little voice was as right as it was inconvenient. If something happened to Nat again, no one would forgive her, least of all herself.

“I’m going out,” Torrin announced to the empty air of the bridge.

“Torrin, I do not think that is a good idea,” Tien said.

“Nat’s been gone for…” Torrin leaned over to check the readout again, “…twenty-three minutes.” She flopped back down in the chair.

The front viewscreen shimmered, distorting the view of hangars and docking bays around them.

“Frozen hells,” Torrin whispered, leaning forward for a better view.

“Torrin, this was in the data dump we received from Station Central when we docked. I am surprised you missed it.”

“I had other things on my mind.” Things like making sure Nat was set to meet one of her contacts and to take on all comers if something went pear-shaped. “I thought I had a little more time. At least it’s a flattering picture.” She watched glumly as her holopic rotated on the screen. It was an old one. Her hair still hadn’t grown out to its former glorious length. It had only recently gotten long enough to stay in the ponytail when she pulled it back.

Thanks to the vindictive Captain Mori and her overreaction to their communication troubles on Haefen, Torrin’s likeness and a list of her supposed crimes against the League of Solaran Planets had been circulated among all League-affiliated worlds and stations. That was bad enough, but there had been no call to put a warrant out on her. Outing her as a smuggler had made it all but impossible to move unnoticed. That alone was a huge blow to her career. Knowing that she could be arrested simply for daring to enter League space was part of why the pickup had been arranged in this backwater.

Chaurus Station had very little to recommend it. A refueling and resupply station for the transports out of the mining colonies ubiquitous in this corner of the galaxy, it didn’t get much more remote. It was small potatoes, which was perfect for a training run with Nat, and picking up her cargo.

“There’s no mention of Nat, is there?”

“No, Torrin.”

That was a relief. There had also been no mention of the warrant. Chaurus was quite emphatically not a League station, not with the haphazard way it had been built and was currently being maintained. When Torrin had piloted their way into the hangar, she had very carefully not looked too closely at the walls of the station. There had been enough station debris floating around it to let her know what she would find.

Still, Torrin hadn’t built up the success she had without gleefully treading on a few toes. She wouldn’t put it past some of the smugglers she’d out-maneuvered to snatch her up and deliver her to the League. They might not get a bounty for her, but she would be out of the way. And who knew, if they were enterprising enough, they might find some League cop looking to make their way up the chain of command. Selling her to an ambitious member of the authorities would sweeten the deal even more. It’s what she would have done, but only for the worst of the dirt-bags who did business on the Fringes.

Okay, so I won’t go into the station except as a last resort. Torrin reached behind her ear and activated her subdermal transmitter.

“Everything as it should be?”

“It’s fine.” If Nat had been in front of her, Torrin would have been hard-pressed not to smack her arm over her tone. She knew her baby sister was rolling her eyes.

“Be sure to keep an eye out.” It took almost inhuman effort to keep her own irritation out of her voice, but somehow Torrin managed it. “My likeness has made it into station files here.”

“I know, it came up when I checked the station dump before I headed out. There’s no need to come over all snippy. I don’t know how you missed that.”

Snippy? She’d been anything but. “I was a little occupied.” Okay, that’s snippy. Torrin gritted her teeth into a smile before asking sweetly: “Any sign of the contact?” This was why she worked alone.

“None yet, but I’m early.” Nat swallowed something.

“Are you having a drink? This is a training run, not some port of call for a cruise.”

“I’m in a bar, Torrin. It would look strange if I didn’t have a drink.” Nat’s voice was overly reasonable.

“Don’t go overboard. Bars are dangerous places if you’re not paying attention, especially in a place like this.”

There was a short pause while Nat took a breath as if she’d been about to say something. She blew it out and started again. “I’ll be fine, Torrin. Really.”

She wasn’t really talking about the meeting. “I know,” Torrin said softly. “I worry.”

“Well, stop it.” Nat’s tone softened the words somewhat, but there was no mistaking the message.

“Got it. Let me know if you need me. Torrin out.” She terminated the connection and tried to relax into the chair. There was nothing to do except wait for Nat’s return or her call.

The distress call never came, but Nat showed up about an hour later.

“What took so long?” Torrin had been waiting by the access hatch since Tien notified her that Nat was cycling the airlock. “Did you get it?”

“Your contact was late so I started a conversation with a lovely woman at the bar. I had to break it off to take care of your business, but it would have been rude to leave without saying goodbye.” Nat smirked. “Goodbye took a while.”

“Mm hmm.” Torrin shook her head. “You could have called.”

“I said I’d let you know if I got in any trouble. I already have two moms, I don’t need another.”

Just like that, Nat flipped from affable to angry. Her moods had stabilized somewhat since her ordeal on Haefen, but she was still prone to sudden shifts. Torrin held up her hands in an attempt to mollify.

“I got it.” She brought her hands down slowly as if in doing so she could also sweeten Nat’s suddenly sour mood. “Did you get it?”

“Yeah.” Nat passed the long metal case over to Torrin. If she shoved it into Torrin’s hands a little harder than necessary, Torrin pretended not to notice.

“Great!” Her face lit up with glee. She propped it on some exposed conduit and opened the case. Everything was in order as best she could tell. To be on the safe side, she’d have Olesya look it over when they got back to Nadierzda.

“That’s the big secret?” Nat peered over her shoulder at the contents of the case.

“Yes.” Torrin snapped it closed before Nat could look too closely. “Not a word to anyone.”

“Fine.”

“I mean it, Nat. I know how you get when you know a secret. No hints, no oblique asides. If you blow this, I’m going to be really upset. Besides, secrecy is something you’ll need to get down if you’re going to take over this part of my work.”

“I’ll be good, I promise.” Nat grinned, little trace left of her earlier anger. Tightness still lingered at the corners of her eyes and mouth, but that never completely went away these days. Her eyes were far more relaxed than they’d been six months ago, and Torrin hadn’t given up hope that Nat would eventually get back to her old self. Therapy had been good for her.

“Thank you. Now let’s get out of here.” Torrin stopped to stow the case carefully in her quarters, then joined Nat on the bridge.

Nat had taken her usual spot in the jump chair. It was shoved to one side of the bridge, affording a place someone aside from the pilot could observe what was going on, but with access to none of the ship’s controls.

“Move over,” Torrin said, flipping her hand at Nat.

“What do you mean?” Nat stared at her.

“You can’t very well take the ship out from here, can you?” There were a couple screens nearby and a small console, but they were useful for little else than observation.

“Do you mean it?” Nat’s eyes shone as she processed what Torrin was saying. “You’re going to let me pilot us out?”

“I told you you’re going to take over this arm of the business, didn’t I?” Torrin’s grousing was an act. Mostly. Finding her holopic in that station’s data dump effectively completed her grounding. She could wish she’d had more time, but that wouldn’t change things. It was almost worth it to see Nat’s face light up, and to see the old Nat shining through. “Prove to me you can finish up the job. It’s not over-”

“Until we’re home, docked and the cargo has been stowed.” Nat finished the sentence without the eye roll she usually provided when finishing one of Torrin’s stock phrases. “Aye, aye, ma’am!” She really was excited, if she was willing to call Torrin “ma’am.”

Torrin stood to one side while Nat disengaged her safety harness. She tried not to cringe when Nat plopped herself into the captain’s chair. Instead, Torrin focused on engaging the harness and biting her tongue while Nat worked her way through safety checks and the navigation plan with Tien.

Nat’s plan was good, though not the one Torrin would have used, but she kept her mouth shut. The path wouldn’t expose Nadierzda to discovery which was all that mattered.

There was little to complain about when they uncoupled from the station and Nat took them out. She was an excellent flyer, even if she did lack Torrin’s flair. Her flying style was more aggressive than Torrin’s. Nat had a tendency to rely on the power of the engines and dispensed with much of Torrin’s finesse. The ride was certainly fast, if not as smooth, but that was what inertial dampers were for. And anything that got them back to Nadi faster also got her back into Jak’s arms faster, so Torrin wasn’t about to complain.

Chapter 2


Jak, Torrin, and Nat are characters from my series On Deception’s Edge. The trilogy is complete and available from Amazon and/or Bella Books.

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Writing lesbian SF in the aftermath of the election

I had a post planned for earlier in November, but things happened. Horrible, election-type things that I’m pretty sure I don’t have to go into here. Needless to say, I was blind-sided and I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened and what it means for people like me and all the other groups of people who are suddenly feeling very exposed.

So… yeah. I’ve dealt with it so far by retreating to my writing world and having my characters kick some major demon ass. A little vicarious conquering of evil, as it were, and it’s done my heart some good. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the most productive way to deal with the election and the potential loss of rights people have worked toward for decades, but it’s something.

It also got me thinking.

Why do I write lesbian science fiction? I assure you, it’s not for the glamour and/or the paycheque. It’s something I love doing. These are the stories inside me that I want to tell, and there are a few people out there who want to read them. So fine, that’s all well and good on the surface. But what is it about these types of stories that I keep coming back to? Sure, there’s adventure and conflict, romance and relationships. These are all good things, but I’ve been thinking about why they resonate with me the way they do.

Then the election happened.

A lot of people I follow on the various forms of social media talked about the importance of telling the stories of those on the outside, those who will be especially vulnerable over the coming four or more years. That made a great deal of sense to me! Suddenly, doing the thing I love seemed subversive in a way I’d never considered before. All I’d wanted to do was tell some good stories and entertain people who don’t normally see themselves represented in SF, and now it even has a greater purpose. I don’t write great literature, after all. I write fun adventure stories that are pretty much what you see on the surface, so yay me, right?

And then I read the article: Do Better: Sexual Violence in SFF. It’s a call to arms to imagine different futures for the female characters in science fiction and fantasy, away from sexual violence. As I read through the article, I found myself agreeing with what the author had to say. That women in fiction are exposed to much of the sexual violence and degradation as they are in real life is puzzling. Surely the women from those imagined futures should no longer have to deal with such things. That would be great and lovely. And so I read this paragraph:

I get a little mad, because we can imagine horrors beyond human comprehension, and yet still we insist that rape is the worst thing that can happen to our female protagonists. We can open a rift between universes and allow a tentacle to herniate through a void in the sky, but we can’t suspend our disbelief enough to erase casual misogyny from the worlds we build. We can give a wizard access to a centuries-old volcano-powered spaceship, but we balk at the notion of a woman who has never been made to feel small and afraid. (http://www.tor.com/2016/08/22/do-better-sexual-violence-in-sff/, paragraph 10.)

For the record, I’m not disagreeing with any of this, but it made me think more closely about my work. Themes of sexual violence do surface in my stories. My first trilogy, On Deception’s Edge, is mostly set on a planet where the women of one of two warring nations are bound in sexual slavery. Why? Because it was one of the most horrible things I could think of. Apparently, my powers of imagination aren’t strong enough to develop a world where sexual violence toward women isn’t a thing, which is certainly only one of my many failings as an author. I’m working on it. However, in this story, I wanted to give my female main characters the most evil of situations I could think of to fight against.

Neither character is herself enslaved, one is a disguised as a man and is a member of the all-male army of the other nation, the one that doesn’t treat its women quite so badly. The other is a smuggler from off world, who makes the mistake of coming to this world looking for a big score. Each of them has to deal with an environment of far more than “casual misogyny.” This world seems not nearly so far-fetched today as it did when I started write it five years ago.

The article and examination of my fiction crystallized things for me. The adventures are fun, the romance is great, but what really attracts me to this kind of writing is giving my fictional women the ability to kick some ass against some of the very same crap they’re exposed to today. Literature is a mirror. As much as I would like to be able to create worlds where women are never exposed to sexual assault, violence, or degradation, it is more important to me to give them the agency to fight back. That’s what I want to see, a fist in the eye of the patriarchy. I’m sure it’s more subversive to create worlds where this isn’t an issue, but I’m not the subtle type. My fiction is my line in the sand. With it I will fight the battles I see around me every day, to the best of my abilities.

I’m not glorifying sexual violence against women. I don’t wish to see any woman abused, assaulted, raped, or any other form of violence for my entertainment or for that of others. I do want to see women fighting back against their oppressors and succeeding. That’s what keeps me writing.

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Vortex of Crimson Goodreads giveaway

Vortex of Crimson, the final installment of the On Deception’s Edge trilogy is finally out! It’s been a long time coming. When I think about it, it’s hard to believe I first started the trilogy in 2011. I’m happy the day is finally here, but sad to say goodbye to Jak and Torrin. They were remarkably forgiving characters, which is a good thing for a debut effort!

To celebrate, I’ll be doing all sorts of things, the first of which is a Goodreads giveaway! There are two copies of Vortex up for grabs, so click below to enter if you have a Goodreads account.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Vortex of Crimon by Lise MacTague

Vortex of Crimon

by Lise MacTague

Giveaway ends October 25, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

As for the rest of it, stay tuned over the next week or so for more opportunities to win, including at least one signed set of the entire trilogy.

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The deal with Smurfette

I’m going to do something a little different today. I’m going to go on a bit of a rant. Why? Because it’s my page, I can, plus I can’t stand Smurfette!

“But Lise, surely there are better things to aim my rage at,” you say. That’s as may be, but the mind doesn’t choose what to be irked by, and beside that, I think it’s a worthwhile target for rage.

Bear with me…

smurfette_ogDid you know that this is the original Smurfette? (The one on the left, bestowing an obviously unwelcome smooch to a bemused generic Smurf.)

Surprised, aren’t you? You were probably imagining the blonde, pretty, fashionable Smurfette. If you look up her origin story, you’ll discover that she was originally created by Gargamel as a way to mess with the Smurfs. (I’m referring to her origin in the comics, since that’s how I was introduced to the Smurfs. We had no television when I was growing up, so I’m happily unaware of the Smurfs cartoon from Hanna-Barbera.) He basically created her out of clay as a version of the all-male Smurfs, but gave her long hair.

The idea was that she would so distract the Smurfs that Gargamel would be able to get up to whatever shenanigans he had planned for them. The only problem was, Smurfette was really annoying to them. She couldn’t cook, or sew, which was pretty much wasted no a village full of specialists in various areas. Beyond that, she wasn’t interesting to kiss, probably because she didn’t look feminine enough. All the Smurfs find her irritating and without redeeming value, so Papa Smurf takes her to his mushroom house, does himself some smurfy-type smurfettemagic, and suddenly Smurfette is gorgeous. She has long blonde hair, and cute shoes and a pretty little dress. Add to that a cute button nose, and a coquettish act, and suddenly the Smurfs can’t control themselves around her.

She’s gorgeous and distracting, and everything Gargamel hoped she would be to them. They’re getting into fights over who gets to spend time with her and generally acting like idiots. But here’s what gets me… Nothing else has changed! She still can’t do anything. She still burns the cooking, but now the Smurfs think that’s cute. The only thing that’s different about her is now she looks feminine and girly.

What the hell? Even at the age of nine, I knew this was a steaming load of excrement. Way to bring it home to little boys and girls that the only value a woman can hope to have in the world is based upon her looks. Never mind that her only perceived value is that of a possession, an ornament upon the arm of some man, but that doesn’t matter as long as you look good. Not only that, little girl, you should want that! You should want some boy to twist himself into pretzels over your looks and get into fights with other boys. Not only should you be okay with this, but it’s something you should actively pursue. Sure, there are no other women for you to talk to in this village, only boy Smurfs being complete idiots, but that’s what you want!

And there’s my other problem. The Smurfs are all portrayed as male. Until the introduction of Smurfette, I viewed them as pretty much sexless blue beings. They had no gender, they didn’t need a gender, which also means they didn’t need Smurfette. That’s when I realized that male is viewed as the default setting, even though men are in the minority.

So nine-year-old me said screw that, and went outside to grub around in the dirt with my brothers and their friends.

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Five Moons Rising – preview

bel-fivemoonsrisingMy newest book, Five Moons Rising will be out April 2017. To celebrate its brand new cover, I’m sharing the first chapter with everyone. Meet Malice, a genetically-engineered supersoldier who is tasked with hunting down the things that go bump in the night.

Keep in mind, this is my final draft. The published copy may be different, but you won’t know unless you pick it up in April.

Chapter 1

She barely kept her feet, hunched over as she was, trying to desperately to pull in a full lungful. The large pillar kept her hidden well enough for now, but it wouldn’t be adequate concealment for long. The stitch in her side was nothing compared to the knot of fire higher up along her ribcage. The bastard was damn fast. If she’d been almost any other human, she would be lying dead on the floor, a crater bashed into her ribcage. As it was, her torso bled slowly from half a dozen shallow puncture wounds. Whatever he was, he was covered in spikes. That had been a surprise. She was lucky it hadn’t been worse.

Sucking in a slow deep breath, she tried to focus on her surroundings through her agony. There was none of the grinding that would have accompanied broken ribs. Beyond herself, she listened as hard as she could for the slightest whisper out of place.

The darkness of the loft pressed in on her and seemed to swallow all sound. All she could hear was her strained inhalations and she struggled to get them under control. If she could hear it, chances were the thing hunting her could as well.

Where is he? He’d gotten the drop on her, moving faster than she’d believed possible. According to her intel, he was little more than a run-of-the-mill demon, though of a type they’d never seen before. It hadn’t stopped him from clawing out his own little corner of the shadow-world.

Why did it have to be a demon? She hated demons the most out of the creatures she was set to take down. Demons came in so many horrible flavors, not like the rest of the supranormals. Werewolves and vampires started out human, at least. Demons were so different they might have been from an alien planet, not that her superiors would confirm or deny that. Human values meant nothing to them, they simply didn’t operate on anything near the same set of morals. Her theory, not shared by her employer, was that they came from another dimension. Such ideas bordered on the mystical and were not acceptable to the United States government, but their theories had so many holes and required such mental gyrations that they weren’t any more reasonable. She’d never met a demon she could stand to share a room with. Her current quarry was no exception.

A puff of air across her cheek was her only warning and she dropped to her knees, one hand on the floor, the other slicing through the air, the katana an unthinking extension of her body. His hand thudded into the pillar where her head had been less than half a breath before. Masonry exploded and small bits showered down on her head. The katana bit, blade sliding deep into his thigh. A hiss that turned into a wordless shriek was her satisfaction.

Determined not to lose her advantage, she surged to her feet, turning the sword in both hands and lining up for another strike. As fast as she was, the demon was faster. He blurred away from her and disappeared back into the darkness, leaving her fencing with shadows.

There was no time to consider her next move. He was on the run and she had to track him down before he made it out of the building. Now that he knew she’d been set upon him, he could easily disappear and that could not happen. He couldn’t be allowed to prey upon the unwary any longer. Countless scores of young runaways had already been sacrificed to his appetite.

Stalking through the empty loft after him, she was glad she’d at least marked him. Droplets of bright blue blood glowed and smoked on the concrete floor, corroding it, leading her onward. She peered deep into the gloom. Even enhanced as it was, her night vision was barely enough to keep her from running into the debris that littered the ground. He had a decided advantage in the dark and she pulled a compact cylinder from her pocket, holding it in her right hand as she stalked the darkness.

The droplets stopped and she looked ahead into the dark. There was no sign of him, but from behind her came the barest the rustle of spine upon spine. She grinned tightly and squeezed her eyes shut tight. The cylinder in her right hand went off with a blinding flash as soon as she pressed the button. Even with her eyes clamped shut and facing the other direction, light still exploded across her corneas.

Another scream met her efforts and she dropped the cylinder, bringing her right hand to grasp the end of the handle. In one smooth motion, she turned and raised the sword. The demon cowered in front of her, hands over too-wide eyes that oozed thick blue blood, giving Malice her first good look at the thing. A spiny crest jutted aggressively from the top of his head. He was covered everywhere in spikes of varying lengths, even on the backs of his fingers. Her blood still stained the protrusions on one hand. His movements were jerky and quick, almost impossible to track.

“Don’t,” he choked, voice thick with pain. “For the love of God, Malice, please don’t.”

Malice gazed down at him. How many of his victims had pleaded with him in just the same way? They hadn’t deserved their fate but he certainly did. She brought the sword down in a smooth arc, cleaving through his neck and both up-raised hands. They hit the floor in a series of small thuds as his body slumped over.

Already, the acrid stench of his death threatened to overwhelm her. Another reason to hate demons, Malice thought. They can’t even die cleanly. Not for the first time, she wished supranormal corpses would simply disintegrate into ash, the way vampire ones did on human television shows. This wasn’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for better or worse. She had no sidekicks to rely upon, no snappy banter; it was just her and her prey. Reality, as was so often the case, was much messier than fantasy. His body should corrode away to nothing over the next twenty-four hours, if her previous experience was anything to go by. At least he’d had the sense to make his lair in an abandoned factory building. She could leave his corpse and be relatively certain nobody would blunder across it. It wouldn’t do for some luckless human to stumble across the body. They weren’t supposed to know about the nightmares that congregate in the underbelly of society. The government made very certain to keep knowledge of the beasts from their constituents. Their presence was an inconvenient truth, which was where Malice came in.

Impassively, Malice stared at the blackening corpse for another moment before turning. She pulled a cloth from her pocket and drew it along the blade of her katana. Demon blood was so corrosive it would pit the metal given more than a few minutes. Satisfied the blade was clean, she dropped the cloth. Already, holes were being eaten through the fabric. It would dissolve completely long before his now-inanimate corpse would.

Through the abandoned loft and down four flights of deserted stairs, Malice kept the katana ready in her hand. Demons sometimes ran in packs. She wasn’t sure about this one. His spiky exterior and impossible speed were brand spanking new. He could have had a dozen brothers and sisters with him, or he could have been the last of his kind. If there were others, they wouldn’t catch her unaware. Malice hadn’t survived as long as she had without keeping her head on a swivel.

Nothing moved in the shadows and she emerged into a dark courtyard. Light poles dotted the perimeter, and broken glass glittered in the light of the moon below each one. Folded in a neat pile in one corner was a black trench coat. Malice picked it up and slipped it over her shoulders. The katana slid back into its sheath on her back and she pulled up her hood to disguise the sword’s handle. With easy strides, she left the courtyard, never looking back at empty windows that seemed to follow her every move.

The area was mostly industrial and deserted at that time of night. Malice walked swiftly down silent blocks, past shuttered factories and storage facilities. Her truck was a few blocks away from her target’s nest. She’d been trained never to get too close in a vehicle, and years of experience had only reinforced that training. Most supranormals had excellent hearing. She smiled slightly as she contemplated the other reason. If she didn’t survive the mission, her superiors didn’t want anything to connect her to them. She would be simply one more dead Jane Doe in a city full of them.

There were many reasons why she and her remaining cohorts were stationed in major cities. The beings they hunted were drawn to large urban centers, full of humans who wouldn’t be missed, full of easy meat. In the wash of humanity, another dead body wouldn’t be a big deal. Malice knew that when she died, her body would spend its last days in a drawer in the morgue before being interred with the other John and Jane Does beneath the tall trees of Homewood Memorial Gardens. It was only a matter of time. Of her original platoon, six were already gone and that was of the sixteen who had survived their training and… enhancements. It had only been what, five years since she completed her training?

Malice grimaced slightly and twitched her mind away from the scant memories she still retained of that time. Even what little she remembered was more than she cared to. They said that memories of physical trauma were never as sharp as the actual pain, but that didn’t seem to apply to what had been done to her. Her bones ached, cold and sharp, and Malice brought her sister’s face to mind. Cassidy’s smile chased away the last vestiges of remembered agony.

Her truck was where she’d left it. The black Mitsubishi pick-up truck gleamed under a lone street lamp. She extended her senses but nothing seemed out of place. She emptied her pockets, pulling out more light grenades, a couple knives, a taser, and placed them in the tool box in the truck’s bed. Her katana had its place in a specialized holder in the box’s lid. Satisfied that everything was secure, Malice headed home.

It was a long drive home, over forty-five minutes. At least with as late as it was, Chicago traffic wouldn’t be the headache it usually was. She flipped on the radio and relaxed as pounding drums and heavy guitar riffs seemed to absorb the adrenaline that still coursed through her veins. It would be a while before she would relax completely after the night’s takedown. This one had been closer than most. Still, not as close as some.

Malice pulled off the side street and onto the tri-state. Prudently, she kept her speed down. Traffic blew by her on the left as she made sure not to be the fastest one out there. If she was pulled over for speeding, she would have a hard time explaining the contents of her tool box.

The wind whistled through her window, stripping the last bits of acridness from the inside of her nose. She breathed deeply, tucking a stray lock of hair behind one ear. Regs demanded that an operative with long hair club it back into a tight bun, but she preferred the ponytail. At just above her shoulders, her hair didn’t always cooperate with a bun and the pony was easier. It wasn’t like she had some sergeant waiting at home to get on her back about it, only her handler and he certainly didn’t go out on missions.

Slowly, the Chicago skyline passed by on her left, lights twinkling merrily at her through the stillness of the evening. It was a gorgeous autumn night, but late enough that traffic on the tri-state was almost non-existent and she made it home five minutes earlier than she’d anticipated.

Her neighborhood wasn’t that different from the one she’d just left. It was mostly warehouses and as quiet at night. She pulled up in front of one of the older buildings, three stories of weathered brick and frosted glass windows. It took up half the city block. Bending over, she felt around for the small button hidden under her dash. It was little more than a depression in the molded plastic, but clicked loudly when she pressed down.

The large metal door a few yards away raised, metal creaking slightly in protest. As soon as the door was barely high enough to drive under it, she roared in, pressing the button again. The tortured squeal of the door reversing in its track echoed throughout the cavernous first floor. It reminded her uncomfortably of the demon whose existence she’d terminated scarcely an hour before.

The entire area was open and mostly empty. Large pillars marched along the interior and did much to break up the emptiness. Malice could have parked anywhere but she pulled up next to a small area enclosed with chain link fence. She opened the door and vaulted from the truck’s running board onto the edge of the bed. Bending her knees, she picked up the toolbox in both hands. It was heavy, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Since no one was around, she made no effort to hide her strength. The weight would have been too much for most men, never mind most women, but she handled it with little more than a grunt.

She knew she was on the short side. Statistics might say the average height of a woman in the US might be 5’3”, but she always felt short when around other humans. Even her baby sister was taller at 5’6”, and that rankled. The day Cassidy had discovered Mary Alice was no longer the taller one still burned in her memory. As a moody teenager, that had done nothing to improve her attitude. That had been the day she’d joined the US Army.

At least her strength was a hell of an equalizer. Some people thought they could mess with her, normal humans who didn’t know any better. Little did they know that even the fastest and most ripped man had little chance against her, all thanks to Uncle Sam.

With another grunt, she stepped up on the side of the bed and dropped to the ground, bending her knees again to absorb the extra weight. Malice gasped aloud at the pain in her ribs. She’d forgotten about her injury. Adrenaline and a boosted metabolism had driven it from her mind. She set the box on the ground and took a deep breath. It didn’t feel like she’d damaged herself any further, but she needed to be more cautious.

Against the chain fence was another tool box, identical in appearance to the one she’d just removed. This one actually carried tools, and not ones meant for dispatching supranormals. Carefully, she lugged it to the end of the truck and balanced it against the bumper as she pulled down the tailgate. Placing the box on the bed, she gave it a good shove. It slid the length of the bed before coming to a rest against the cab with a muffled thump.

Satisfied, Malice headed over to the freight elevator just on the other side of the enclosure. Wooden gates stood open, and the elevator car waited for her. Weariness dragged at her. It was all physical, the adrenaline finally waning. She knew from experience that her mind would continue to churn for hours yet. It was good to be home where she didn’t have to worry about anything else.

Inside the elevator, she pulled the wooden gates closed before pressing the button for the top floor. A reluctant rumble accompanied the car as it moved between the floors before coming to a stop on the third floor. She opened the doors and stepped into the echoing loft. Almost home, she thought. Her quarters were all the way across the large empty space. If anyone ever tracked her to her home, she wanted as much warning as possible. Her distance from the elevator gave her some peace of mind, but she really wanted to unwind. A hot bath sounded divine, and was still too far away.

Privacy screens created the illusion of walls, turning the cavernous space into something cozy and comfortable. Malice dropped her trench coat on the floor by the door. It wasn’t really a door, more like a gap between the screens, but she couldn’t help but think of it as such.

I should really pick that up. She hesitated for a moment. Nah. There was no one to nag her. That was a good thing. Why does that always sound like I’m trying to convince myself?

A blinking light in the kitchen caught her eye. Her cell phone lay on the island, blinking mindlessly, the light gleaming off the stainless steel countertop. She had a message.

She had seven messages, as it turned out. Malice eyed the screen before sighing. That didn’t bode well. Only a couple of people had the number and a reason to leave her a voicemail. Even if they all called at once, there wouldn’t be seven messages. Malice left a very light impression on the human world. Tapping in her password, she brought up her voicemail and set it to speaker.

“Hi, Mary Alice.” Her sister’s voice filtered tinnily through the speaker. Malice smiled and pulled her shirt over her head, ignoring the slight twinge that went through her ribs. “Don’t forget, we’re on for lunch with Mom before she heads home. You can’t get out of seeing her for much longer. I can’t wait to introduce you guys to the new place I went with my classmates.”

Cassidy’s voice did more to relax her than even veterinary-grade sedatives could. These days her metabolism was too high for most drugs to have more than a fleeting effect upon her anyway. She smiled as her sister prattled on for another minute or so while she prodded her side with cautious fingertips. Satisfied that the worst she had to deal with were a few bruises and shallow cuts, Malice advanced to the next message.

“Mary Alice, it’s Uncle Ralph. I miss you kiddo, call me.” Despite the words, the voice was brusque, almost impersonal and Malice rolled her eyes. Her handler wanted to know how the night’s activities had gone. He was always impatient. After five years of working together, he still thought he could rush her into debriefing. She needed to come down before she’d talk about it. He knew that, but it didn’t stop him from trying to prod her into talking it out sooner than later. He would simply have to wait. Daylight would be more than soon enough to touch base.

“Hi, Mary.” Her head snapped up at the voice that filtered through the phone’s speaker. Her voice light and slightly breathless, the woman sounded nervous. “I had a great time the other night, and you said you’d call, but you haven’t. I hope you don’t mind the call, but I got your number from your gallery.”

Oh no, she didn’t! Disbelieving, Malice slumped into one of the high chairs at the island. She stared at the phone. It had been a mistake to go on that second date, she’d known it when she agreed to it with Ann. The girl was nice and they’d had a lot of fun at her apartment. So much fun, in fact, that Ann’s downstairs neighbor had pounded on the floor to get them to tone it down. But all it had been for her, was an opportunity for some fabulous sex and to blow off some much-needed steam. Apparently, Ann hadn’t taken the hint.

She picked up the phone and scanned through the other messages. They were all from that Ann chick. With a groan, Malice deleted them without bothering to listen further. She was going to need to change her phone number. That was no big thing, she did it periodically as a security precaution, but Ann had said she’d gotten her number from the gallery. Her hand tightened around the phone and she quickly relaxed her grip when the phone flexed slightly. It wouldn’t do to crack another screen.

The morning was the earliest she’d be able to track down the gallery owner and find out what the hell had happened. If the answer wasn’t satisfactory, she would have to take her sculptures elsewhere, somewhere that understood the value of discretion.

She glanced around the darkened kitchen then heaved out a sigh of irritation. There was no point trying to unwind for bed. Her heart rate was back up and thudding in her chest. She was keyed up for more action, almost tingling with the need to hit something. If she wasn’t going to be able to sleep tonight, then she might as well do something useful. It was time for a little workout. Maybe if she worked her body past the point of exhaustion, she’d be able to grab a couple hours of sleep before the sun came up.

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