Here’s another sneak peak at my latest SciFi romance, Animosity.
“Hello, baby brother.” A woman’s image filled the screen. For a herit, the steaming video flickered. The picture narrowed to include only her face and shoulders. A fine layer of white powder dusted her brown hair and filled the laugh lines around her jade-green eyes
Brother. Brongill froze halfway across the command platform. Only one woman had the right to address him so. Loss tightened his gut. Terrill had destroyed his sister Penja and the ship upon which she was stationed three lunacs before he had departed on his last mission. His gaze flicked to the date encoded on the image. The message had been recorded six solar cycles after he had left. How could that be?
“What?” Confusion twisted Penja’s full lips. She fanned the cloud of white hovering near her face and focused somewhere to the right of the camera. “The signal is coded only to respond when the Tyche’s transponder signals from Neithian orbit.”
Brongill strode closer to the terveyza but couldn’t discern the other half of the conversation. His gaze returned to the woman. Despite the fatigue darkening the skin under her eyes, she looked well. Alive and his sister had finally added a few pounds to her rail thin frame. A faint rose color flooded her face. What had the invisible speaker said to her?
“Yes. Yes.” She rubbed the dried blood on her high cheekbones. “Do you want to talk to him? Then let me have my say before Terrill cuts off our power.”
“Brother?” Doe squawked, maneuvering in front of Brongill. “Your records stated your family died while vacationing nearCanPeak.”
Instead of shoving the man out of his line of sight, Brongill retreated to the command chair. Maybe the Blarzaj had already feasted on the politician’s brain. “My parents leapt off the Falls at Can Peak rather than be tortured any longer by their own government.”
Doe blinked and nodded once. “Then you won’t have any conflict with destroying Terrill.”
“None.” Leather creaked as Brongill leaned back in his chair. He had planned to destroy Terrill the moment his sister had revealed the truth behind his parents’ deaths and captivity.
Doe skittered out of the way. One of the few intelligent decisions he’d made since entering the command deck.
Penja focused on the camera again and flashed her even white teeth. “As you’ve probably guessed, I survived Terrill’s sabotage attempt. The fumbling of the assassin was insulting really. We found most of her bombs.” Penja frowned, pausing a moment. “Unfortunately, not all of them. I lost several good friends when the ship exploded.” She clamped her lips together and cleared her throat.
A low thud transmitted through the communication’s systems. Shortly thereafter, white pebbles and dust rained down around his sister. Brongill stroked the command orb embedded in the right arm of his chair. Data streamed down the terveyza next to her. Based on the sound waves and the composition of the surface of Neith, the cluster bomb had exploded six arcs from Penja’s bunker. Two arcs closer than the last attack.
Had his sister been on Neith when Terrill used the critical mass weapons?
“Yes, we know Terrill destroyed the Salvage.” Her smirk faded as quickly as it came. “Proving it is almost as difficult as getting someone to listen to the fact that our beloved protector isn’t as benevolent as everyone believes.” Another thud. She winced as more debris fell down on her head. “We don’t have such a hard time convincing anyone now.”
Brongill watched as the telemetry stream incorporated the latest strike. Five arcs. Terrill seemed to be triangulating on the signal. An easy task if the image was recorded and stored locally. Impossible, since his sister used their technology against them and uploaded the message directly into the angsnet.
“Thirty-seven jas after the Tyche sailed, word filtered through our network of informers that we were to be relocated. Oh, Terrill was quite clever in the beginning. The scourges that hit Neith were right out of Isa’s Time of Affliction-earthquakes, floods, droughts and diseases. Most of the population relocated.”
Another volley. Three scatter bombs. Three to four arcs away. Slightly more to the north. The camera lost focus and widened onto a large cavern that seemed to stretch beyond the range of the lens. Behind his sister, Brongill watched men and women wearing Terrillian military dress load crates of supplies and weapons onto rows of dilapidated shuttles. White flecks dulled the fresh black paint of the military insignia. He swallowed a laugh as he recognized the Tyche’s alphanumeric designation. With the help of a holonet and Isa’s blessing, the ragtag group of ships might be able to clear Terrillian defenses before anyone noticed.
“I, of course, am not most of the population.” As the camera shifted again, Penja gripped the table in front of her.
A brand new Terrillian holographic emitter lay in the dust. Beside it squatted almost fifty receivers, more than enough for all the shuttles he could see.
“There are about three thousand of us holdouts left and our intelligence informs us Terrill plans to use critical mass weapons.”
Another pounding of scatter bombs. Large boulders pummeled the shuttles. A few Terrillian screams tore through the Tyche’s communications system.
“The emitter is ready. Start dispersing the receivers,” Penja shouted. “Load the wounded onto the shuttles. Everyone to their assigned posts. Double count the crew. I want no one left behind.” She disappeared in a swarm of people.
Brongill caught sight of her handing the cylindrical emitter to an older man dressed in the blue unitard of the Neithian Assembly. Her movements were slowed, awkward. Had she been injured? He lost sight of her as the camera bounced from face-to-face, unsure of its target.
Penja sidled up the now empty table and pushed at the tendrils of her hair escaping the restraining clip. The camera focused on her face again. “Where was I? Oh, yes. We didn’t believe it at first. Honestly, we thought CMW’s were tales people told to scare us. The first wave hit half an axis spin ago. Terrill kindly gave us the rest of the AS to surrender. Needless to say we’re relocating to Terrill, the Can-Peak region, but we’re not accepting a lift from a prison freighter.”
Bile roared at the back of Brongill’s throat. He had lost his sister twice and found her as many times. Now, she’d calmly told him she was returning knowing she would be hunted like an animal in theCadianMountains. Death would be the most merciful fate.
If Terrill captured her…
“I know what you’re thinking.” Penja grimaced. A low garble sounded to the right before she nodded. “Mother and Father perished atCanPeakwhen Terrillian soldiers forced them off the bridge above the falls. But really, little brother, it is the best place for us. TheCadianMountainsare riddled with warrens from before the signing of the Peace Accords, and Father had me memorize the maps and taught me how to avoid the ancient traps.”
Brongill winced. The passageways were at least two millnacs old, crumbling and deadly. They wouldn’t withstand one scatter bomb assault. Yet, his sister planned a campaign from within the abandoned cities and towns. And he had arrived over a thousand solar cycles too late to help her. His hand stilled on the control orb. Perhaps he should cut the transmission. The message didn’t matter. His sister was dead.
“We will wage our war from behind enemy lines. And if the treatment of Neithians is true, we’ll add considerably to our numbers. Of course, it will help if we have the flagship of the Terrillian fleet on our side.” Penja winked at him. “When you get this message, I hope you will decide to fight for our cause. Either way, I pray that Isa’s eyes shine upon you with benevolence.” As she reached for the camera, the lens widened its focus.
Doe gasped, pressing his manicured hands to his mouth.
Brongill railed against his own stupidity. How could he have been so ignorant? The extra pounds, the flushed cheeks and the awkward movements added up to one conclusion.
“Hmm. Oh, yes, this.” Penja placed her hands on her round belly. “Nelin wishes me to let you know he admires you greatly and does not wish to die at your hands.” His sister latched onto a black-haired man in an authentic black Terrillian unitard and pulled him with the toddler in his hands into the picture. The babe had the same jade green eyes and infectious smile as Brongill’s sister.
Doe leaned closer to the screen. “No wonder Terrill wants her so badly. Your sister had two children when most women couldn’t even have one.”
“We were planning to hold the bonding ceremony upon your return but some things couldn’t be put off. I am near to term with my second child and haven’t the slightest complications. I am my mother’s daughter.” She laughed before swiping at the tears streaking down her cheeks. “But I won’t meet her fate. Until we meet again, brother.” Penja turned and with her bond-mate and child hurried to the closest waiting shuttle.
The ship lifted off from the floor before the screen faded to black. A herit later, telemetry relayed the successful landing of twenty-nine shuttles in theCadianMountains. His sister’s numbered among them.
Doe paced in front of the information. “Perhaps we should reconsider destroying Terrill.”
Brongill rose from his seat. If his sister’s descendants were still alive, there would be a message awaiting him on Terrill as well as a means to track down the remaining inhabitants of Neith. He needed time to find them. Slud. “I need to stop Ally.”
“I said perhaps.” Doe blocked Brongill’s path to the door.
Brongill grabbed the man by his shirtfront and tossed him out of the way. “The CMWs need to be deployed in less than twenty jas.”
Which, by his calculations, was exactly when they would reach Terrillian orbit.
Entering the third armory in as many decks, Brongill scanned as much of the cramped room as he could. Crates of munitions, cartridges for the batteries hidden underneath the Tyche’s plating, missiles, and other projectiles were neatly organized in easily accessible stacks. The pungent aroma of lubricant combined with the sharp scent of the solid fuel to add a pallor to the brightly lit interior. The room contained everything necessary for a short, devastating and lethal campaign. And this was only one room among many on his ship. Yet he needed to avert a war, not start one. His gut tightened with awareness just before he caught the faintest whiff of blarcus. Ally. about time you showed up.” Ally’s growl rumbled down the aisles between the assembled munitions.
Brongill peered down the nearby row. Nothing. Did she know it was him? Had the three lunacs of communing in their Ahln phase created a bond that transcended that space between this plane of existence and the next? Or was she expecting someone else? Turning right, he walked to the next aisle. A feminine shadow flickered across the opening at the far end.
“Stop hiding and come apologize.” The clatter of metal punctuated her last word.
Her sharp tone confirmed that she had sensed his presence. Brongill expected her displeasure. After all, he’d planned mass murder. Yet she’d offered to help. The facts bit like barbs under his skin. Hadn’t he promised to protect her, even from himself? Especially from himself. Clasping his trembling hands behind his back, he strode between the crates toward her and squeezed into the open preparation area.
“Well?” Ally glared at him from behind a perimeter of missiles hovering at waist level. The humming cylinders circled her in a clockwise motion until she set her hand on the fattest one. Her knuckles whitened when she latched onto the warhead by hooking her fingers around the open panel in the casing.
The exposed network of blue cables reassured Brongill. If she had finished changing the missiles into critical mass weapons, the conduits would have changed to red. Brongill leaned against the shoulder-high tower of artillery cartridges on his right and crossed his arms. “What do you wish me to apologize for?”
“For making me believe I was to be part of genocide.” The nantool in Ally’s hand lengthened and then split in two. As she lowered the tool toward the open access panel, the pieces of nantool solidified into shears
Despite the upheaval threatening to knot his insides, Brongill remained still. Could she really believe he would involve her in genocide? The moment she agreed to modify the weapons, he’d changed his mind. True, he still planned to bomb the Terrillian Council Chambers, but the strike would be a warning not to follow the Tyche. “Why did you volunteer to change the weapons?”
“I would volunteer to a picnic in Hell to get away from your and John’s pissing contest.” Ally shook her head, yanked a length of wire through the opening and snipped it in half. The blue light dulled to black. “The future of your species is at stake and both of you were fixated on control of the telemetry module and who gets to address the crew.”
Brongill arched an eyebrow. He would endure her wrath against his own actions but not hers. “I did not wish to address the crew. That was your order.”
“So what’s the plan?” As the nantool returned to a rectangular shape, Ally tucked it into her hip pocket. She jerked on the black ends of conduit. With a pop, the rest of the length came free. She tossed it into the pile at his feet. “I know you didn’t come all the way down here to make certain I refitted the missiles correctly.”
Brongill pushed away from the stack and prowled the room. She had left the command platform while he and Doe had been united in their intent to destroy Terrill. Yet she had known before he had that he wouldn’t go through with it. He glanced at the weapons. Had she even altered them? He had Ty’s word that she could, but Ty had orders to prevent their use at all costs.
“I mean it isn’t rocket science. Well, it is but…” Ally set her hands on her hips and tapped her left shoe against the metal floor. “Where are we going to live now?”
“How did you know how to alter them?”
Ally jerked the nantool free. “My ancestor was on the team that invented them. Of course, they were to be used to Terraform planets, making them habitable for future Terrillian settlement. But then the military got their mitts on them and turned them into something nasty, just like they did with the Angsnet.” She shook the unlit laser torch at him. “Do you know of any species in the galaxy that doesn’t make advances on the blood of its citizens?”
None that survived an encounter with those that did. But from the darkening of her blue eyes she’d already deduced that. Brongill stopped circling her. “The military serves a purpose.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it. I know the value of what you do, what you’ve done. But destroying a planet? I know how these things work.” Ally slapped the largest projectile.
Brongill winced as the nose dipped toward the floor. He could almost hear the clusters of atomic bombs rattle around the casing.
“Those people will die a horrible death as the planet turns itself inside out.”
“They would not care what you suffered.” Reaching across the ring, Brongill stroked her silky hair before cupping her cheek.
Ally sighed, closed her eyes and set her hand over his. “And I won’t let hatred for them destroy us.”
“You can stop working on the critical mass weapons.”
A grin spread across Ally’s lips as she opened her eyes. She turned her head and placed a quick kiss in his palm. “Ty wouldn’t let me hear the message. What did it say? Will Terril let us go in exchange for the cure? Have they…”
Brongill set a finger over her lips. “My sister and some Neithian rebels invaded Terrill, planning to overthrow the Council from the surface. We’re on another rescue mission.”
“Your sister? I thought…” Ally pushed through the missiles and laid her hands on his shoulder before pressing against him. “Are you okay?”
Folding her in his embrace, Brongill reveled in the feel of her. The softness of her breasts and the cradling of her hips. He hadn’t quite grasped the rules of Earth courtship but something was abundantly clear. She made him a far better man than he’d have ever become without her. He only hoped he gave her the courage to be everything she ever dreamed of being.
Ally pulled back to look at him. “What if they don’t want to be rescued?”
“We’ll leave.” Brongill watched Ally’s eyes widen. So, he finally managed to surprise her. Good. He wanted her off-balance before he told her of his revised plans. “I concealed enough provisions around Terrillian-controlled space to fill our needs until we find a home.”
Stepping back, Ally tilted her head as if waiting for him to elaborate. When he didn’t, she ran her thumb along the skinny edge of the nantool. Nanites closed the covering on the weapons. The missiles lined up as if ready for deployment. “When I first heard that I possessed the memories of my ancestors I thought I might finally get to know the woman who gave birth to me. I wanted to know why she would have a child at the cost of her life. I wanted to know why she picked my parents to raise me.”
Despite knowing the answer, Brongill asked. “And did you get your answers?”
Shaking her head, Ally sniffed. “No. The majority of memories embedded in my twenty-forth and twenty-fifth chromosomes are about great achievements like the CMWs, the Angsnet and the signing of the Accords. Not a single one is about the birth of a child, a bonding ceremony or a graduation.”
“The memories are encoded to give a child an advantage so they could bring greater glory to the family name.”
“There’s nothing personal anywhere. I would love to have passed along some of the best times George and I shared to my children.”
“Perhaps you did.” Brongill ignored the pounding of jealousy inside his skull at the mention of her late bondmate. Maybe she was not ready to tie herself to him. Placing Ally’s needs above his own was not as easy as he thought it would be.
Ally shrugged. “Which memory would you pass on to our child? One of your great military victories or an impossible assassination?”
The point was moot as men could not pass on memories but her question had meaning that caused his palms to sweat. During the three lunacs her body remained in stasis, she would have been taught Terrillian courtship rituals. She must know that by speaking of children, she agreed to be his bondmate. Still, he must make his intentions clear. “Our child would remember the first time I saw you. She would see your tousled hair and the fear and determination in your eyes. She would also know that you were disappointed because I lacked antennae.”
“I don’t think I want our son to know that.”
Our son. She had accepted. Brongill’s pulse raced. Tonight they would celebrate and tomorrow he would stand before her and her children and pledge his life to hers.
“If the message from your sister hadn’t arrived, how would you have explained to Doe about the refusal to strike Terrill?”
Brongill smiled. “It would be with deep regret that I informed Doe that you don’t know how to correctly rewire a CMW. In fact, if Ty hadn’t caught the error of your efforts, we’d all have been incinerated.”
“Hey!” Ally shoved his shoulder. “I’ll have you know I converted all four of them in under five jas.” Ally aimed the nantool at each missile. After the tiny red light on the nose cone turned on, the weapons drifted toward the launch tubes. “I’ve spent the rest of my time waiting for you to show up and watching the kids rock climbing in the medical bay.”
Brongill’s smile faded. None could be that fast. The quickest technician could rewire the missiles in eighteen jas. She had to be joking but red lights indicated they were ready to fire. He checked his clarn and calculated the time to detonation.
“Five jas? Pray Isa, we’ll have to deploy them now before they explode.” Live CMWs. He changed screens and scrolled through the nearby solar system. Where could he send them? Neith was too far away.
Ally set her hand on his clarn, blocking out the readings. “What are you talking about?”
“The time limit.” Brongill shook her off. He needed a planet or a moon. The missiles needed a target or they would seek out the nearest one. And Terrill was the largest around. “The core is unstable and will spontaneously explode in ten jas.”
“Who told you that?”
“I don’t think it is the time.” Brongill scrolled backward through the listing on his clarn. The third moon on the tenth planet. Isa, what if the gas giant turned into another sun? Terrill wouldn’t survive.
“Maybe the way they are made now but mine are perfectly stable.” Ally tapped on the last missile as it entered the launch tube. “They won’t detonate until I give the code.”
“How is this possible? Do you have any idea…”
“I have a very good idea what you’re feeling. Frustration. Anger. Relief. I feel the same way every time you test my love for you. I’m warning you, Brongill. This had better be the last time.”
“Understood.” Brongill felt his racing heart slow. “Are the missiles really stable?”
“Alderina is correct.” Ty’s reassurance drifted through the communication’s system. “Although not made according to current specifications, the weapons will only explode upon her command.”
Ally grinned and tucked her hands in his. “Now we can kiss and make-up.” She sat on a high crate and tugged him closer. “The kids are busy. You proposed. I accepted. And amidst all the memories of Terrillian glory, I stumbled upon an interesting tidbit from an ancestor of mine. She was a favorite of the Bistal, the leader of the Military Dynasty during the Era of Day.”
Brongill smiled. He had heard of ‘kiss and make-up’. As for Bistal, his sexual appetites and women were legendary. “Are you interested in sharing this information?”
“I could be persuaded.” She pressed her lips directly on his.
Brongill opened his mouth. Although they had kissed many times while in the Alhn state, the physical experience exceeded even that pleasurable interlude. The sensations peaked and made his knees buckle. As he broke off the kiss, both gasped for breath.
“I felt the ground shift under my feet.” Ally smiled, playing with the hair bound tightly at his nape. She nudged her nose against his before moving in for another kiss.
Brongill met her half-way, controlling his need to rush the make-up part.
“Commander.” Ty’s voice wavered as it rattled through the communications system. “We are under attack.”