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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Endings

No_Outlet_Sign_1Endings are hard. Really hard. Life doesn’t have them. Sure, there are mile markers along the way, things we can point to that delineate one part of our life from another, but for most of us, there’s only on actual ending.

I recently left the life I’d known for the past fourteen years when I moved from Wisconsin to North Carolina. It wasn’t my first move, it probably won’t be my last, but nothing marks a shift like a few hundred miles. In a lot of ways I’m starting over, which is scary, but also very exciting. The formlessness of the upcoming days is both uncomfortable and intriguing. There’s a new beginning here somewhere, but I’m still not sure when that will get here.

As a writer, I find it incredibly difficult to write the ending to my stories. I’m not talking about the climactic scene of the story, but rather wrapping it up after that. Maybe it’s the formlessness around the characters’ futures that gives me such pause. Or perhaps it’s not wanting to say goodbye. In any case, there has to be an ending of some kind. Things can’t just dribble on forever.

In October, the conclusion to my On Deception’s Edge series is finally coming out. The final chapter of Vortex of Crimson is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to write so far. It is very definitely an ending, and one unlike the final chapters of Depths of Blue and Heights of Green. Each of those books had more to come, so it wasn’t “goodbye” to the characters and the story, instead it was “see you soon.”

We’ll have to see if Vortex ends in goodbye, or see you later. One thing for sure is that it’s a goodbye to Torrin and Jak. I’ve loved working with the characters and seeing them each grow and change, but their story is over. However, I don’t feel like I’m ready to be done with the universe they inhabit. I’d really like to explore in greater depth some of the worlds I’ve introduced. Castor-III, with its industrial landscape is particularly exciting. There are also some peripheral characters I’d like to revisit and build out.

And this is why I’m so bad at ending things. There’s always more to learn, more to find out and experience. I re-wrote the final scene in Vortex at least three times, and it’s been tweaked many more times than that. The initial ending was much too reminiscent of Star Wars, and I hated it until I realized that’s what was going on. Once I knew why the ending was so odious, I was able to tear it down and start over again.

It’s funny, I spent all that time working toward the final moment and when I finally got there, I had no idea what to say. Two years before I started writing the first words for Depths of Blue, I knew how the series’ action would end, but not how the story would. The last thing I wanted to do was to screw it up. It needed to have closure, not only for the characters, but also for the readers who’d been good enough to stick around for three novels.

I think I did it justice. All that needs to happen now is see what the readers say. Only two more months to go…

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Mid-year update

It’s almost the end of July, so this is a little late for a mid-year update, but given that my plan for 2016 wasn’t revealed until this past March, I figure it’s not too bad.

I’ve had an interesting year so far. I went to my first GCLS conference (that’s Golden Crown Literary Society), which was awesome! I came away with some new tools for my mental writing kit, and got to meet a whole bunch of fabulous authors and readers. The stack of TBR books next to my bed has swelled to epic proportions, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s con in Chicago!

The other big news is that I’m moving. I’m also going to be without a full-time job for the first time in more than 15 years, which is terrifying. On the one hand, I’ll be able to devote a whole ton of time to writing until I can line up a new gig. On the other hand, no job!? Help!!!

To recap, my plan for 2016 was:

  • Polish Five Moons Rising for delivery
  • Write a romantic short story for Bella
  • Write a freebie short to be posted here
  • Get Vortex of Crimson into shape for publication in October
  • Start a big new project for the second half of the year

So far I’m mostly on schedule. Five Moons Rising has been delivered and is in the publication queue this spring, possibly around April, though that’s not set in stone just yet. I’ve been asked for my ideas for the cover and the synopsis, so it’s definitely coming! I’m very excited for readers to check out this one, as it’s very different from the On Deception’s Edge series.

I did complete that romantic short for Bella. It went through a few title changes, starting with “More Than Rubies”, and finally settling on “The Getaway”. It’s in an anthology called Happily Ever After, and if you weren’t at the GCLS con in DC to pick up your copy, you’re going to have to wait until August to get one. You should definitely pick it up if you haven’t already. It’s chock-full of great stories from Bella authors, each guaranteed to have a happy ending.

The freebie short “Touched” is currently undergoing polishing and my fumbling attempts to learn self-publishing. It will be posted before the end of the summer. I realized when I was reading over my plan for the year, that I’d promised to talk about that one a little more, and I definitely will, but I want to get it out there for people to read first. The subject matter is delicate, so I’m curious to hear what reactions are to the story.

Finally, Vortex of Crimson is well on its way to publication in October, which is only a few months away! I spent a very productive few weeks working on edits with my editor, the incomparable Medora MacDougall. As usual, her attentions have made it a much tighter story, and I think all you Jak and Torrin fans out there will love what’s in store for our duo. I know I’m stoked beyond belief to have it coming out, so stoked that I’ve started plotting a follow-up series that takes place about 10 years after the events in Vortex. Jak and Torrin won’t feature heavily in that story, but we will get to peek in on them and find out what they’ve been up to.

In other news, I’ve settled on my big project for the second half of the year, and I’ve already started the research on it. It’s a steampunk set in Victorian England, with a half-demon archivist, and very human cat-burglar by night/debutante by day, and lots and lots of demons. This one is a lot different than anything I’ve done up to now, in that it’s pretty far outside my comfort zone as far as the setting goes. I’ve been doing lots of research, and even wrote out the fist 1700 words, which told me that I need to go back and do some more research. The silver lining of my upcoming unemployment is that I’ll have lots of time to get steeped in Victorian England and the steampunk genre.

The only other little ting I’ve been up to is writing the occasional review for The Lesbian Review. I’m managing to contribute about one a month to the site. It’s been a lot of fun. I didn’t think I’d like reviewing as much as I do. Usually, I’m all about needing to know what comes next, and what’s the next book I’ll be reading. Reviewing gives me the chance to consider the book I’m reading in a different way, and one I’m enjoying immensely. Most of what I review is spec-fic, in some way or another. I’ve made a couple of exceptions, but I don’t usually stray too far. Anyway, check it out if you want to know what I’m reading and my opinions on the books. Also, make sure to check out the whole site, as it’s full of lesfic goodness. The other reviewers are fantastic.

That’s all for now. I’m off to pack a bunch more boxes.

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