Far Galaxies

the cover for far galaxies by jody wallace which is a science fiction romance spoof and completely ridiculousTitle: Far Galaxies
Series: The Adventures of Mari Shu #3
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: April 2015
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 370
ISBN13: 9781507074435
ASIN: B00O6FTRAY
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple
Genre: , , , , , ,

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Mari Shu, a factory drudge in the year 4000-something, must choose how to protect her sisters, her purity, and her own conscience in a bleak futuristic society that’s been polluted by smog, rampant commercialism, tacky jumpsuits, sexual perversions, unjust socioeconomics, interstellar travel, and inconsistent use of the Oxford comma.

In this second jubilant outing, Mari Shu decides to desert Olde Earth for the unfamiliar comforts and sexual practices of Mars...and possible elevation to the elite Martian rover class.

Warning: Book is a spoof and contains offensive material. Buttloads of boatloads of offensive, vulgar, disrespectful, and possibly triggering material. Sexual, political, economic, racial, physical, typographical, religious—really, trying to hit all the big ones. Please make sure to sign your correct name to the hate mail so we can give proper credit in the follow-up volume entitled, “The Hate Mails to Mari Shu”.

Warning 2: What that means is this entire book is a spoof. A joke. A hoot. It wasn’t born out of hatred of any aspect of genre fiction and culture or even hatred of human beings but instead out of love, true love. No, seriously, quit laughing. Oh, wait, you’re supposed to laugh, because it’s parody. You pick, okay?


Also in this series:

Earthbound Passion

cover for earthbound passion by jody wallace, a science fiction romance parodyTitle: Earthbound Passion
Series: The Adventures of Mari Shu #1
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: October 2014
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 140
ISBN13: 9781310717246
ASIN: B00O6FTUWE
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple
Genre: , , , , ,

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Mari Shu, a factory drudge in the year 4000-something, must choose how to protect her sisters, her purity, and her own conscience in a bleak futuristic society that’s been polluted by smog, rampant commercialism, tacky jumpsuits, sexual perversions, unjust socioeconomics, interstellar travel, and inconsistent use of the Oxford comma.

In this first of many planned interactive adventures, Mari Shu’s decision to stick to Olde Earth opportunities, such as professional sexxoring, has deeper consequences than she could ever have dreamed possible.

Warning: Book contains offensive material. Buttloads of boatloads of offensive, vulgar, disrespectful, and possibly triggering material. Sexual, political, economic, racial, physical, typographical, religious—really, trying to hit all the big ones. Please make sure to sign your correct name to the hate mail so we can give proper credit in the follow-up volume entitled, “The Hate Mails to Mari Shu”.

Warning 2: What that means is this entire book is a spoof. A joke. A hoot. It wasn’t born out of hatred of any aspect of genre fiction and culture or even hatred of human beings but instead out of love, true love. No, seriously, quit laughing. Oh, wait, you’re supposed to laugh, because it’s parody. I’M SO TORN!


Also in this series:

Martian Conquest

the cover for martian conquest by jody wallaceTitle: Martian Conquest
Series: The Adventures of Mari Shu #2
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: October 2014
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 165
ISBN13: 9781310436413
ASIN: B00O6FTRAY
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple
Genre: , , , , , ,

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Mari Shu, a factory drudge in the year 4000-something, must choose how to protect her sisters, her purity, and her own conscience in a bleak futuristic society that’s been polluted by smog, rampant commercialism, tacky jumpsuits, sexual perversions, unjust socioeconomics, interstellar travel, and inconsistent use of the Oxford comma.

In this second jubilant outing, Mari Shu decides to desert Olde Earth for the unfamiliar comforts and sexual practices of Mars...and possible elevation to the elite Martian rover class.

Warning: Book is a spoof and contains offensive material. Buttloads of boatloads of offensive, vulgar, disrespectful, and possibly triggering material. Sexual, political, economic, racial, physical, typographical, religious—really, trying to hit all the big ones. Please make sure to sign your correct name to the hate mail so we can give proper credit in the follow-up volume entitled, “The Hate Mails to Mari Shu”.

Warning 2: What that means is this entire book is a spoof. A joke. A hoot. It wasn’t born out of hatred of any aspect of genre fiction and culture or even hatred of human beings but instead out of love, true love. No, seriously, quit laughing. Oh, wait, you’re supposed to laugh, because it’s parody. You pick, okay?


Also in this series:

Defender

defender by jody wallace is an sf romance set on post apocalptic earthTitle: Defender
Series: Maelstrom Trilogy #1
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: November 2019
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 290
ISBN13: 9781393665076
ASIN: B081TPH5CZ
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple
Genre: , , ,

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Defiant savior…

Gregori’s final mission is to save Earth from the demons threatening to take control. He doesn’t care if he survives as long as he averts the impending apocalypse—until he meets Adelita, a human refugee, whose spirit and determination give him a renewed reason to fight. And live. He’s falling for her, despite the fact he’s told her nothing but lies and there can’t possibly be a future for them.

Adelita can hardly believe the archangel Gregori, sent to save humankind, has lost his faith and his edge. After he saves her from a demon attack, she vows to help him recover both by any means necessary. But can she keep her own faith when she learns the truth about who and what Gregori really is?

Tropes: This apocalypse themed romance novel contains a culture clash, enemies to lovers, an urgent rescue, an alpha male, and, to his delight, and alpha female.

(Note: this book was previously published by Entangled Publishing and titled Angeli. It has not been textually altered.)


Also in this series:

Chapter One

The Chosen One had failed. Utterly.

Was that what came from trusting a sentient spaceship to select the single Terran best suited to save an entire planet?

Gregori had never questioned Ship’s guidance before, but it had never been completely erroneous. A pretty but dim-witted actor, while known to more of his fellow Terrans than not, was simply not the best choice to perform a critical disruption of the alien entities’ invasion.

He blasted another black, nearly formless creature oozing out of the raw dimensional pinhole that the Chosen One hadn’t plugged. That rift between this dimension and the maelstrom dimension would be the downfall of this planet, a corridor for the endless horde of shades, daemons, and other entities that sought to devour all sentient life.

His life was devoted to stopping the horde, by any means possible.

Sometimes it wasn’t possible.

Low-grade temblors shook the area, a city the Terrans called San Francisco. Buildings toppled as entities, immune to Terran ordnance, poured through the pinhole. There was little Gregori could do now but run, save himself and his team, yet still he blasted abomination after abomination, the fury inside him as all-consuming as the maelstrom working to consume Terra.

This couldn’t be happening here. Not here.

The crash and tinkle of glass in nearby buildings was a sharp counterpoint to the groan of the earth and hiss of invading entities. Gregori and his team alone remained in this area to face the attack. They’d been masquerading as Terran “angeli” while training the Chosen One and prepping the planet to weather the apocalypse. Between the pressure of the entities and the dimensional rift, the pinhole might activate the San Andreas Fault.

California wouldn’t slide into the ocean, as many Terran pundits had predicted, but it wouldn’t be pretty, either.

Gregori’s headset crackled as the team received orders from Ship, the sentient spacefaring vessel that was their transportation, their employment—their home. Advanced sentients in this dimension who chose to join the crusade against the horde lived on Ships of various types, some mobile and some dirtside, as long as that planet had achieved certain technological and sociological levels.

Terra had not.

“Terran pinhole closure has failed,” Ship’s bland, AI voice announced. “Fall back. Detection by the enemy is imminent.”

How the hell had this happened? Though Terrans were inclined to skepticism, enough had believed that Gregori’s people were angels and protectors instead of invading aliens. Their faith had cleared his team’s path. It had allowed them to do their jobs without warping the overall culture of the native population too much.

The procedure for halting a pinhole by masquerading as divine beings was tested. Honed. Gregori hadn’t lost a planet since he’d become captain of his team.

So why had it failed this time?

Gregori wished the miracles the Terrans believed in were true, because they could use one right about now. Wasn’t there anything he and his people could do?

“I do not detect a retreat,” the unemotional voice in his ear prompted. “Update your status please. Is there a complication?”

“We aren’t falling back yet,” Gregori answered. “We can avoid detection for now. The entities don’t yet know we’re here. Hold position, team. Blasters hot.”

Feet spread, he remained atop the abandoned vehicle fifty yards from the pinhole, the temblor rumbling his perch, his frustration rumbling with it. His mind scrambled for solutions. He squinted, took aim, burned another globular shade with weaponry the Terrans weren’t even close to developing. Its eerie cry whined past the limits of his hearing, which was considerable due to the enhancements given to Shipborn soldiers. All around him his team followed suit until the shades’ cries became an almost mechanical buzz, filling his head like a needle to the brain.

The harsh scents of transference and ozone bled through his personal force field despite the purifiers. Hunk of junk generator hadn’t worked right since the day it had been allocated to him. Sometimes it felt as if they’d been set up to fail on this mission, right down to their equipment.

“Watch your six, Captain,” someone warned through the headset.

What was on his…? Ah. Contracting his wings against his back, he swiveled and aimed at a hulking begetter drone. The giant, ovoid monsters had no faces, no limbs, no purpose except to help create the millions of shades that would eventually devour the surface of the planet. A zing wouldn’t be enough to take out that beast.

Heat seared Gregori’s arms as both of his weapon bands powered up. A broad white beam streamed from his palms, caught the drone in the midsection, and surrounded it with a glow. It burst, keening so loud it put the shades’ cries to shame. Once enough begetters transferred over from the maelstrom dimension, the area became impossible for anyone Shipborn to enter without dire consequences.

He shot another shade. Another. His team fired and cursed. The hatred was instinctive, driven into them after decades of training. He couldn’t lay eyes on an entity without wanting to evaporate it. They didn’t belong in this universe.

“Fall back, Team Alpha,” repeated the bland voice of Ship’s AI. “The hatching is complete. Evasion is crucial. Regroup at base.”

Dammit! The hatching should never have taken place. They should have trained the Chosen One harder. Better. At some point in the process, things should have gone right.

When the maelstrom entities first located a planet that contained sentients, they sent a scouting party of daemons and entities through regular space to find a suitable location for their lethal back door. There they planted the egg that grew into a specialized explosive that tore through the dimensional fabric. The result was a pinhole—followed by a horde of deadly entities.

The easiest point at which to disrupt the enemy’s timeline was when the egg was in its most unstable phase, within forty-eight hours before detonation. The Chosen One, selected from all the humans on Terra by Ship as being the most believable and likely individual to conduct the operation, had been sent to the egg to destroy it. Gregori’s team couldn’t risk going themselves because they had Shipborn DNA.

But the destruction of the egg hadn’t happened, and the explosion had created the pinhole.

Gregori hadn’t worked this hard, this long, to see this planet, teeming with sentient life, devoured by the maelstrom. And Ship wanted them to desert the Terrans to the rusty skills of the retrievers? When were retrieval teams, tasked with preserving the native genome, ever needed on a Ship whose record contained so few failures?

“This is cowardice,” Gregori muttered, not quite under his breath.

“Wisdom,” contradicted Nikolas, his second-in-command. “All it takes is one of us shooting a moment too late. They can’t be allowed to identify us.”

A problem with a simple solution. “Don’t shoot too late.”

The wide, paved area that used to be a parking lot had buckled. Gray concrete collapsed and bowed. Buildings shuddered. Near the center, barely visible through the entities, lay the puncture between this dimension and the maelstrom, the horde’s path to the life essence they craved. Gelatinous shades crept from that gateway in an unending stream. Eventually there would be nowhere on the planet to hide.

This was the first wave of entities. Soon the vulnerable pinhole would firm into a permanent nexus, complete with a force field and a kill zone. The mobile, ferocious daemons would arrive from the other side. If he and his team were careful not to get caught, they could still help this planet.

“I know we can’t get in there to close it right now,” he said to everyone, “but we can give the Terrans a fighting chance. Give ourselves time to come up with a fix. We need to stay, and we need reinforcements.”

“Invalid,” Ship said. “That tactic was attempted in previous sectors. Leviathan woken. All Ships were lost. All citizens were lost.”

Gregori knew the history. Knew the reason his people cut and run once a pinhole hatched—any time the enemy identified a Shipborn, everyone wound up dead within hours instead of months. All it took was one shade’s consuming one Shipborn for the horde to realize a Ship was in the vicinity, which inevitably spawned a massive entity called a leviathan—a creature that couldn’t be battled. Couldn’t be escaped, even by Ship at top speed.

Gregori knew the facts; he just didn’t agree history would repeat itself on his watch.

“What about where we shut the pinhole down?” He scorched three more shades, the band of his primary blaster tight and hot around his wrist.

“We did not have to maintain a facade to protect the native culture. A demolition team was employed.”

“Then send a damn demolition squad.” He didn’t offer the recommendation lightly; post-pinhole demolition had unfortunate, and violent, complications. If the rest of the planet survived, wouldn’t the Terran volunteers who’d have to succeed where the Chosen One had failed feel it was worth it?

“Demolition is not approved,” Ship repeated. “Natives are pre-code.”

“Barely.” Terra had more technology and a denser population than any pre-code planet they’d ever encountered. It was unique in a number of ways.

“Negative. Our chance of detection if we continue to remain on Terra is 91.7 percent,” Ship said.

“We can beat those odds.” If they sent a native strike team to destroy the rift soon, the planet would have a shot. The sooner the demolition occurred, the less time the horde would have to carpet the area with shades, daemons, and drones. Unfortunately the drones, in addition to a steady flow of shades, also created a protective force field that required any attacks on the nexus to be manual.

As the Terrans would say, old-style.

It was much easier when the demolition took place before the hatching. Easy enough, in fact, that a single individual with a native genome could accomplish the task undetected. If that individual weren’t a moron.

“It’s too much of a gamble, Captain.” Niko’s voice over the comm line was harsh, understandably so. He was the one with the daemon claw in his skull. Daemons couldn’t identify DNA like shades could, so the Shipborn experienced much closer tangles with the red-skinned fiends. “If we fail, all our people will be lost, too.”

“Disagree,” Gregori said. “For this planet, it’s worth the risk.”

He could swear he heard gears turning as Ship processed. “A demolition squad is not currently available.”

“Why not? There should be one on standby.” Ship had the munitions, and his people could help the demolition squad prepare the natives. What was the problem?

“A team is not available.” Ship’s uninflected tones continued to do nothing to calm Gregori’s rising fury. “Return to base. If you remain, there is a 91.7 percent chance of leviathan awakening.”

When Ship started repeating statistics, it was time to stop arguing. Gregori knew it—and didn’t care. “We can’t leave them defenseless. We told them we were their saviors. Here, of all places, we should bend code.” Rarely had Gregori argued against the code, the Shipborn’s system of ethics and policies. Not that he was code-pure, but he agreed with so much of it.

Until now. Until the code demanded that a thriving, rich planet be left to die because it was pre-code and the pinhole closure maneuver had flopped.

Niko spoke over Ship’s response. “We should follow orders. There are procedures in place for this.”

“Procedures in place for our failure, you mean.” Gregori turned to the building where Nikolas was stationed. He couldn’t see the top, but he knew Niko could see him, alone in a tilted, fractured parking lot full of death. “If we don’t fix this, we can kiss lead team status in our unit good-bye.”

The Terrans could kiss everything good-bye, which meant a lot more to Gregori than plum assignments and a larger berth. But Niko did care about status; he had certain aspirations.

“We’ll take it back next time,” Niko replied.

“Won’t be that easy.”

“Why not? We did everything right. Followed the mythos structure. Even with you as Archangel.” Nikolas moved to the edge of the building, arguing with Gregori and killing shades at the same time. “You were…credible. No team could have done better.”

The yellow sun glinted on Niko’s armbands as he took out another entity. He’d campaigned hard for the front-runner position, but it had gone to Gregori. Again.

Before today, there had been good reason for that.

“Did we, Niko? Do everything right?”

Nikolas hesitated, and answered stiffly, choosing terms Ship wouldn’t understand but Gregori would. “If this is about the irregularities—”

“It’s not.” Though it could have been. The rest of the teams’ irregularities with the women had been a point of great contention, concealed from Ship but not from Gregori. “It’s about Alsing.”

Gregori had never liked Terra’s Chosen One. Never understood why Ship had selected him from a billion better choices. While he’d functioned as a figurehead and intermediary with the Terrans, his team had indulged the doomed hero—and themselves—because the assignment had been comparatively simple.

Now it was simply fucked.

“What do you want, Gregori, absolution?” Niko asked. “There’s always an element of chance on missions. We did the best we could with what we had. It’s over. Let it go.”

Despite his words, Niko hadn’t let it go, either, because he kept shooting, too.

Gregori fell silent except for the hum and sizzle of his blaster. Losing Terra rankled so deeply it was like hot lead in his bones. Terra’s many cultural variations screamed out for the band of fourteen instead of a single male—or just someone less stupid—but Ship had been adamant. Terrans would respond best to winged mentors and a native savior of masculine ilk, and Gregori’s team had been sent to enact Terra’s revelation.

No one argued with Ship. For long. And no one blamed Ship for anything. The responsibility for this fiasco would fall squarely on Gregori and his people.

His teammates blasted shades along with him and Nikolas. Background noise crackled over the comm for a minute before another voice cut through the headset. On Ship, but not Ship.

“Fall back, you fragging fragsters. That’s an order.”

“General,” Gregori said, not surprised Ship had alerted its ranking human to the team’s lack of compliance. “With all due respect—”

“We both know you got no respect in you, soldier,” the man barked. Gregori could practically feel the angry spittle against his cheek. “We’ve been here before. This is how we handle a botched mission.”

“I haven’t been here before.” Gregori’s team had the best stats of any handlers in the unit, maybe in the fleet, which is why their Ship had been sent to this gold mine of a planet.

“Then it’s time you were. As soon as there's a pinhole on a pre-code planet, it's a lost cause.”

“Doesn't have to be.”

“It does because Ship says it does and I say it does and code says it does and the fragging Mother says it does. Now get your pasty white spacer asses back to base in the next ten minutes or consider yourselves civilians.”

“Right away, ser,” Nikolas said. Of course he would—the general was his seed parent. Though many Shipborn spent their childhoods in crèches, Niko, whose egg parent had relinquished parental rights as was standard, had nevertheless been reared by his biological father to follow in his footsteps.

“I’ll be waiting.” General Vorn signed off.

With only Ship left on comm, Gregori switched his attention back to his lieutenant. He risked a lot pursuing this, but if he could convince Niko, the rest of the team would be a lock. “Niko, think. We can’t let the Terrans die. All these women and children. We have to do something.”

By the Mother, everyone had been stunned by Terran fertility when they’d discovered the planet months ago while tracking entity activity in this dimension. And now to lose that?

“They won’t all die. Retrievers are en route.”

“How do you know that? It’s news to me, and I’m in charge.” Ship was seriously jumping the gun if retrievers had already been sent.

“Ah.” Niko cleared his throat. “Standard procedure.”

“No, it’s not. We only confirmed failure a couple minutes ago. What’s going on, Ship?”

When Ship didn’t answer, Niko told him, “What difference does it make what procedure is used as long as we preserve the stock? We have to head for base, Gregori. We can’t let the entities catch us.”

“All of you?” Gregori asked the team. “All of you are giving up?”

Niko was the only one who answered. “Obeying orders isn’t giving up. It’s code.”

“Now you’re code-pure?” Gregori mocked. Terra’s abundance of females had been difficult for the team to resist, despite their mission and their facade as angeli. Yet it was this abundance that made Terra so important to preserve.

Human males, the fleet had in plenty. But there weren’t plenty of human females, not for several generations. How many innocent lives could the retrievers save?

Not enough. Whatever the retrievers did, it could never be enough.

“I’m staying.” Gregori refused to sacrifice Terra and everything it represented to his people so easily. “Gonna try a few things.”

“You’re going rogue? You?” Nikolas said. “You’d endanger your own people over this?”

“I didn’t say anything about going rogue. I said I was gonna try a few things. I’ll be careful.” Gregori had no intention of letting a shade absorb his energies and alert a leviathan that a Ship was within range.

The headset crackled. Gregori wasn’t sure if it was static or Nikolas cursing. “You have to come back with us, Gregori. It’s too dangerous.”

“Aw, Niko, I didn’t know you cared.”

The other man did curse this time, heartily. “Ship, request permission to relieve Gregori 1929 CallenMali-son of Team Alpha command.”

Gregori’s fists clenched. Would Ship grant Nikolas’s request? Handlers did go rogue on occasion, but not on planets destined to be swarmed. It put Ship at risk in a way standard defection didn’t. “I guess that’s one way to gain a captaincy, Niko.”

No one spoke for a long moment, at least not where Gregori was included in the transmission.

“We can force you to return to base,” Nikolas threatened.

“You’d fight me?” Gregori stopped firing at shades. It was one thing for his team to follow Ship’s orders or the general’s orders. It was another for them to take it upon themselves to force the decision on him. Disruption of free will was technically against code. “You can try.”

The hiss of entities grew louder and louder, and the white glow of Niko’s force field increased like a tiny nova. “If Ship commands it, we can find you anywhere you go.”

“If Ship won’t bend code to train a native strike force to save this planet, it’s not going to use planetwide sensors.” Terran science would be able to detect those, which would hardly jibe with the angeli mythos.

“You’re a traitor to your people.”

“What about the Terran people?”

Gregori noticed the others power up their force fields, too, preparing for something. He hoped it wasn’t mutiny.

“Preservation of Ship at all costs,” Niko said gruffly. “It’s the first of all codes. We’re out.”

“If I avoid getting eaten, what the frag does preservation of…,” Gregori began, but his teammates were already in the air. Their wing packs hummed as they jetted away like shooting stars, leaving him alone to face the maelstrom.

He could go. He wouldn’t have to watch this planet be consumed if he enrolled in counseling, pleading post-traumatic stress. He’d be demoted to a population Ship temporarily, but he wouldn’t have to watch Terra die, inch by inch and soul by soul.

Or he could stay. Go down, as the Terrans said, with the ship. Their Ship.

But fail? That he couldn’t do.

So he was staying. Because this time, this planet, was different. All these humans. All these children. Gregori’s future had been cinched the moment Adam Alsing hadn’t stopped the hatching. While he couldn’t imagine what had gone wrong with the Chosen One’s idiot-proof mission, the fact was, something had.

Anger infused Gregori with motivation. Too bad it couldn’t power his blaster. Whatever he did, he couldn’t remain here forever. Soon, enough begetter drones would arrive, with their force field and their kill zone. The entities would converge on him, drawn to the only sentient in the vicinity.

Presumably. Who knew if any Terrans with their videophones had remained behind to capture the apocalypse and post it on their Internet? Or, more likely, to prove the apocalypse was fake. Terra was worth preserving, by the Mother was it worth preserving, but that didn’t make some of the people less annoying.

And he’d thought the Glaviris had been foolhardy.

Well, they had, but unlike the Terrans, their Chosen One had come through.

The breeze shifted, and the shades scented him. A portion oozed in his direction across buckled pavement. Hundreds now, but thousands to come. Thousands upon thousands. From the nexus, from the begetters, from Terra’s hell. Slow-moving, implacable, and unstoppable without the proper technology.

Technology he had. For now.

Gregori expanded his wings to relocate to a stronger tactical position. Every shade he picked off was one that couldn’t drain a Terran. Or him. With skillful flaps, he rose swiftly to the tower where Niko had been stationed. Wind buffeted his force field.

He backstroked, hovering, before landing on the building with a thunk. His knees bent to absorb the shock.

The tableau before him was almost overwhelming. The pinhole area roiled with shades pouring through. Black, black, and more black. The begetters that had arrived were giant, red-gashed ovoids. Not enough to form the defensive force field yet, but it wouldn’t be long. The entities parted, and Gregori glimpsed the pinhole, gleaming with dark energy.

Antimatter. Staring at it too long was like staring at a sun in reverse. No tears, because it sucked the moisture from his eyes and disrupted his ability to focus.

As the Chosen One had too frequently said…fuck this shit.

He checked the levels on his blaster band. Nine-tenths. No daemons yet, just drones and shades. Soul eaters. He could hear their death squalls, and that pleased him. He deserved some small reward for the sacrifice he might eventually make.

Mother knew he’d had little enough pleasure in his life.

He just had to be careful not to let any of his comrades stop him. He just had to be careful not to get himself eaten until his people and his Ship were far, far away.

 

Traitor

Traitor by Jody Wallace is an SF romance set in post-apocalyptic earthTitle: Traitor
Series: Maelstrom Trilogy #2
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: November 2019
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 400
ISBN13: 9781393310037
ASIN: B081W97QYQ
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple
Genre: , , ,

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

He was branded a traitor. And he may be humankind’s salvation…

Captain Nikolas EstherVorn is a traitor. Or so it was decreed after Niko disobeyed protocol while trying to save Earth from other-dimensional creatures. Stuck in a prison cell, the last thing he needs is to be in close proximity to sexy-as-sin Dr. Sarah CallenJoseph. Not with him damn near ready to break out just to get to her.

Niko’s desire isn’t quite his own…and Sarah can prove it. He—along with the other soldiers on the disastrous mission—were drugged with some kind of toxin. Niko has no clue how the drug got into his body or why, but Sarah suspects there’s a link between the toxin and the fertility crisis of Shipborn humans.

To investigate is forbidden. But as lust becomes something deeper, binding them together in a way neither expected, Niko and Sarah must battle time—and their superiors—to uncover the secret that could save humanity…or destroy it.

Tropes: This apocalypse set romance novel features a redemption arc, coworkers in space, the military, an alpha male, and a marriage of convenience. There’s also a matchmaker, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

Note: This book was previously published by Entangled Publishing, It has not been textually altered.


Also in this series:

Chapter One

Nikolas wadded the thin paper communiqué from Ship’s medtech into a ball and pitched it into the waste slot in his quarters. If he hadn’t responded to Dr. Sarah CallenJoseph-daughter’s six electronic summonses, the squandered paper wasn’t going to prompt him to endure the post-mission checkup, either.

He’d avoided it for weeks. He had his reasons. Until he could address them, he’d continue to avoid it.

Along with the persistent doctor.

“Dr. Sarah requires your presence in the main medlab for your routine examination,” Ship informed him in its flat tones.

“Is there another medtech available?” Niko asked, like he always did.

“Negative. Dr. Sarah has been assigned to handler reintegration.” After a dirtside op, the handlers, who were sent to work with a native population, sometimes experienced post-mission issues that could be physical or mental.

“Then override the request, on my authority.” As a captain, he outranked doctors and most other crew on Ship 1001, the AI sentient spacecraft that currently orbited the planet Terra.

 “Override number seven recorded and transmitted.” Niko had lived on Ship 1001 almost his whole life. As such, he could detect the condemnation in the way it emphasized “seven.” No one who interacted with Ships for any length of time labored under the misapprehension that the massive techno-organic beings were anything but sentient—possessed of their own opinions, thoughts, and personalities.

The personality of Ship 1001 was that of an extroverted, somewhat uptight, and insistently nosy next bunk neighbor. If Ship had had a throat, the electronic crackle before it spoke again would have been a harrumph. “Complete examinations are required after Shipborn return from any non-Shipborn planet surface. Your continued noncompliance is not recommended.”

“I’m fine. The humans on Terra have similar germs to us.” Cross-species ailments, such as the Haetherian flu, were of greater concern than anything they might encounter on a human-evolved planet.

Either way, cross-species ailments had nothing to do with Niko’s reluctance to report to Dr. Sarah CallenJoseph.

“Invalid. Terra’s biological neutrality is not yet confirmed.”

“Nobody’s sick, and it’s been nearly a year since we arrived. I think that’s confirmation.” For the first time in fleet history, a pre-code planet was being sponsored like a post-code planet, and the eyes of the entire fleet were on them, inasmuch as interstellar communications would allow.

How much longer they would stay in orbit was uncertain—though Niko suspected General Vorn and Ship were closer to a decision than most of the Shipborn and Terrans realized. Niko only knew because of his relationship to the general.

And to Ship, who considered Niko family. A dubious honor at best, since the result was a nearly omniscient AI constantly up in his business.

“You are not a medtech,” Ship informed him.

“You’re not a medtech, either.” Granted, Ship’s vast knowledge probably included everything it needed to train or advise a medtech, but that didn’t make it one. Mostly just a know-it-all pain in the ass.

“Sarah is a medtech, and she requires you to report to your checkup.” Ship was fond of Sarah, too, hence the first name basis, an honor it didn’t bestow on just any sentient.

“I outrank the doctor. She can’t require me to do anything.”

The last person in the universe he wanted to deal with right then was Sarah. He’d rather juggle histrionic Ships, deadly flying daemons, and pissed off Terran cats than allow Sarah to get within ten feet of him.

If she hadn’t been the one in charge of handler reintegration, maybe he’d be through with that exam.

“Sarah is permitted to submit a grievance to Vorn if you cannot prove your noncompliance is due to scheduling issues. You do not outrank General Vorn.”

“I have an actual scheduling issue—I’m busy.” Eventually she’d give up and assign him to another medtech. She wouldn’t bother Ship’s ranking sentients with something this minor.

“Sarah is permitted to escalate public health concerns to the trine advisors as well.”

“This isn’t a public health concern.”

But Sarah would become extremely concerned about her own health if she had to be around Niko for any length of time. He had no idea why she was being so stubborn about conducting the exam herself. Practical and shrewd, she wasn’t one to fritter her time on lost causes. “Let me know if she goes running to my father.”

“Agreed.”

With Ship no longer nagging him, Niko was able to return his attention to the data table and pore over the reports.

Opting to bend code, Ship had supported the human population’s war against the invading entities that had swarmed out of the now-sealed rift to their dimension. But the Terrans weren’t making saving their asses any easier, and they had no idea how close they were to being abandoned.

Ship had sent emissaries and technology to the natives but wouldn’t risk its soldiers in battle. One single Shipborn misstep against the soul-sucking entities, and everyone on the planet and Ship alike would die.

Many segments of the human population assumed the aliens were lying about that, like they’d lied about so much already. Niko, restricted from the Terran surface after his illicit mission, was doing whatever he could to persuade Ship and Vorn that the planet was worth helping.

When the planet was initially considered a lost cause, a number of Terrans had been white-lighted—involuntarily—to preserve the natives’ invaluable genome. Nearly all of those Terrans had opted to remain at Ship’s safe and hidden dirtside base in Yellowstone National Park once the mission shifted into a global rescue op.

Or until Ship and Vorn decided they were done with the aggravating Terrans.

Niko had never had to strategize on a pre-code planet whose religions, superstitions, technologies, and cultures hadn’t achieved the level of enlightenment that code required for open communications. Territory ten wouldn’t allow any refugees from North America, twenty-one required larger concessions, five wanted more technology to fight the entities, four wanted permission to scavenge in three, thirty was trying to get its hands on nukes to shoot Ship down, sixteen had taken advantage of the chaos to go to war with fifteen, and so on and so forth.

He wanted to shake them all and tell them if they couldn’t cooperate, they were going to die. Be mauled or carried off by daemons. Eaten by shades.

But maybe intentionally destroying the planet was the ultimate plan. Who’d believe him? It wasn’t something any Ship would do. It wasn’t code. Wasn’t ethical.

But Vorn?

His father, General Vorn, the most powerful individual on Ship. The head of the military unit. The sole Shiplink, connected to the AI. As the Terrans would say, Ship’s BFF.

The crew assumed that Ship was the deciding vote on important issues.

Niko knew better. It was Vorn.

His father’s BFF, aka Ship, interrupted Niko’s reading. “Sarah requested that, should you override her latest summons, she be notified immediately.”

“So?” He hadn’t instructed Ship to withhold information from the doctor. Since he wasn’t Vorn, it was debatable whether Ship would follow an order like that from Niko anyway.

After the original Terran mission devised by his father and Ship had flopped—although it should have been a cinch—Niko couldn’t, didn’t, trust Ship any more than he did his father.

Or much of anyone.

He wasn’t even sure he trusted himself.

“Sarah is currently outside your quarters and has employed a medical override on your security,” Ship informed him, far too blandly.

“What the hell? Belay that,” Niko exclaimed, but even as he said it, he heard the hiss of the retracting door.

His enhanced senses immediately detected the near-silent tread of Sarah’s feet, the scent of her soap, and the swish of her medical bag against her pants leg.

Fucking Sarah and her perseverance. If it weren’t for the fact she was discreet and possessed of some very kissable lips, she’d be Ship 1001 in human form.

Niko didn’t turn from the data table.

“At last, we meet again,” she quipped. Her voice was nowhere near as expressionless as Ship’s, and her amusement was evident.

He tried not to tense up. If she noticed, she might suspect his avoidance was due to more than his duties. “You can’t employ a medical override without cause. I’m not lying in here passed out. Dismissed, doctor.”

“Hm. No. Your post-mission examination is weeks overdue.”

“That’s an order.” If she hadn’t contacted Vorn to complain about him yet, would she do it now?

“I’m going to ask you to reconsider that.” Sarah, unsurprisingly, didn’t sound the least intimidated by his pulling rank. “It’s just a checkup.”

“A checkup I don’t have time for. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re trying to save a planet. Reschedule for next week.” At which point, if he couldn’t figure out his little problem or get a different doctor, he’d cancel the appointment again.

She crossed the small living area to stand behind him.

Niko braced himself. And still, his body responded to her proximity. He was as well-trained, disciplined, and enhanced as any Shipborn human could be, yet he couldn’t control his body’s response.

His libido. His lust. His desire to procreate.

He hadn’t been able to control his lust around women since arriving on Terra, and he had no idea why. He should stay as far from her as possible, which meant a physical exam was out of the question.

“I’m here now.” Sarah’s medical kit thunked when it hit the floor. “As are you. We may as well get this over with.”

He didn’t have to see her to imagine how she looked standing behind him. Her thick blond hair would be smoothed carefully back from her face. Her golden skin would be flushed with health, and perhaps success, at having waylaid him. Her crystalline blue eyes—when the fuck had he turned poet?—were probably regarding the back of his head with a clinical detachment that should cool anyone’s ardor.

It wouldn’t cool his.

Fucking hell.

He would not stand. He would not turn around. He would not let her see him like this.

“Not now.” He gestured over the complex spread of data on his table. “I’ll come in when I’m done. If it’s after your shift…” And it would be. “…Keltin can perform the exam.”

“I’m in charge of handler reintegration, not Keltin.” Plastic snapped as she donned medical gloves. “You’re the final patient on my list, and I’d like to complete this duty so I can turn my attention to more important things.” Her tone sharpened. “Such as obstetrics. Terran mothers often prefer a female physician. You may have heard that I’ve been assigned that role as well. In fact, I’m returning to the dirtside base tomorrow, where I’ve been for most of the past three months. I’ve met so many interesting people. There’s a woman pregnant with twins, if you can believe it.”

Niko hid a flinch. Celibacy had been part of his team’s original mission parameters. Except for Gregori, none of the handlers had behaved according to code while masquerading as Terra’s saviors. The handlers had posed as angels, wearing white tunics with gold combat armor over their torsos and hips. Endo-organic wing packs created the illusion they were avian deities.

They’d tried to conceal their lust. Tried their best to control it. Niko had restrained himself better than the others, but opportunity and need had defeated them time and again.

It wasn’t that they’d forced themselves on anybody, thank the Mother. But enough women had approached the angeli, curious and persistent, that they’d all succumbed to multiple encounters. Oddly, now that he and his men were aboard Ship again, the team’s urges seemed to have ebbed, as far as he could ascertain. Their shit-ass, code-breaking, bed-hopping behavior was definitely on the “do not share” list of the nondisclosure agreement they’d signed post-mission.

Niko’s urges, unfortunately, hadn’t abated. The only way he’d found to curb them was to avoid human females of childbearing age.

Especially ones he’d desired even before his Terran mission.

Sarah’s portable scanner beeped to life. Her medical kit snicked.

He would not look at her. No matter how much he enjoyed looking at her, he would not do it.

“I would appreciate it if you would disrobe now,” she said.

She wouldn’t suggest that if she knew what he was thinking. The idea of disrobing the coolly professional doctor seized him. Licking his way down her supple body. Tasting her intimately. Mounting her, filling her. Hearing her cry his name.

“Nikolas,” Sarah said, as if echoing his fantasy. “Did you hear me?”

The way she said his name, the ‘l’ tripping off her tongue like a kiss on his cock, hardened him all the way.

“I don’t want an exam right now,” he snarled. Combat adrenaline hummed through his veins, which her scanner would detect. It bleeped accordingly. “I refuse your services. Interference with free will is against code. Leave before I report you.”

Sarah’s clothing rustled, and she sighed. “Nikolas. Niko. How long have we known each other? Can’t you trust me when I tell you this is crucial? I’ve conducted some preliminary calculations that indicate… I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to complete the first round of exams.”

“Is this about our enhancements?”

She was their resident enhancements and augmentation expert, and they’d collaborated on his tech projects. Somewhat amicably. He wouldn’t normally hinder her work, but she was hindering his grip on civility.

“I’m not ready to share my information. It’s too inconclusive.” He could hear her tinker with the medical bag. “This exam will only take thirty minutes of your time, Nikolas, and then you can return to whatever it is you do now.”

He tilted his head until he could see her faint shadow on the floor to his right. “That’s Captain Nikolas.”

“I keep forgetting. I’m stunned greater sanctions weren’t instated after you…” Sarah expelled a small, disgusted breath. “I’m sorry. I’m not part of the trine. I’m your doctor. It’s not my place to judge. But I need to finish what I came here to do.”

Due to her role in the childbirths, she’d been drawn into the truth about the team’s indiscretions. Including his.

General Vorn and Ship had restricted the information as need-to-know. It wouldn’t do to have the heterosexual men on Ship ignoring the dangers and demanding shore leave while the planet teemed with various types of entities. Red, bat-like daemons with talons nearly as strong as tactanium that scouted new territories and food sources. Hordes of black, soul-sucking shades whose very touch meant death. Twenty-feet tall ovoid drones that linked up to create force fields and crank out shades.

And the grandfather of them all, the Ship-sized leviathan that appeared when a shade detected Shipborn DNA. Any time a leviathan had formed, all sentient beings—including all Ships in the vicinity—had been consumed within hours.

That was pretty much all they knew about leviathans, but it was enough.

“If you’ve come to tell me I’m a screw-up, consider yourself heard,” Niko said. Her unhappiness about his actions, an unhappiness that seemed based on personal acquaintance and not code, cut him more sharply than he’d expected. He reacted poorly. “Never mind that my Terran friends and I were part of the op that sealed the Terran nexus and saved billions of lives.”

“Many of your Terran friends are my friends now, too,” Sarah said, still in that disappointed voice. “I’m not so sure they should call you friend, considering your mission could have killed them.”

Niko lowered his chin. If he pissed Sarah off enough, would she leave? “They knew the risks. I didn’t involve anyone who didn’t volunteer.”

“They were pregnant. Pregnant because of you. And you endangered them.”

“Technically, only Claire Lawson is pregnant because of me,” he corrected, not allowing the shame coursing through him to bleed into his words.

Their mission had been worth the potential cost. He’d been desperate to protect the fertile blue planet and had basically committed treason despite a lifetime of trying to please his father. A planet like Terra should never be lost to the entities’ never ending quest to consume sentient life. No matter what.

“I guess that makes it a little better,” Sarah mused. “I do understand precautions were taken and accidents happened. However, many of the Terrans feel completely betrayed. They were innocent. They didn’t even know who you really were.”

“Claire isn’t one of them. She knows everything now and, to be frank, she suspected at the time as well.” Niko swiped his data table, as if he were ignoring Sarah. The truth was, he could barely focus on the charts in front of him because all his nerves were attuned to the woman behind him. “Besides, I wouldn’t describe her as innocent. Would you?”

Plastic snapped. A soft, blue glove bounced off the back of Niko’s head. He blinked, surprised.

“Would you at least turn around and face me when I’m talking to you?” Sarah demanded.

“No,” he said mildly.

“You’re displaying signs of mental duress. I’ll add that to your chart to support my claim of medical necessity.” Her shoe scraped the floor. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled, but from the position of her shadow, she’d only shifted her weight.

He didn’t want to seduce Sarah; he couldn’t imagine the havoc it would create. Better that he insult her than subject her to the things he wanted to do to her. None of the Terran women had been unwilling, but Sarah wasn’t interested in him sexually.

“We aren’t supposed to talk about this.”

“I’m your doctor. And Claire’s. We’re talking about this.”

“Is Claire all right?” he asked.

“She’s fine, but—”

“Then we’re done here. Get out.”

“Is this because of Gregori?” she asked. “You’re angry with my brother for telling us about the pregnant women. You can’t get at Gregori through me.”

As his doctor, she’d seen him in every condition—healthy, naked, nearly dead, bleeding. She’d taken away his pain, healed him, advised him, researched with him, occasionally kidded him, and always, always been untouchable.

He longed to touch her, and he couldn’t. Why did he find her so much more irresistible than the women on Terra who’d actually propositioned him? She had no idea what he was imagining right now—what he was struggling to keep himself from doing.

“I’m not angry at Gregori.” The man had been his friend, one whose skill and level-headedness Niko respected, but he didn’t know where they stood after that mission. “I was going to tell the trine about the women.”

After you used them as daemon bait.”

“The women agreed of their own free will to lure the shades and daemons away from the nexus so Adelita Martinez could get close enough to shut it—and so your brother could rescue her. Technically, I’m not supposed to talk about it, because of my nondisclosure agreement.” He wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t know, but he felt compelled to defend his actions. To recapture her respect. “The women have certainly talked about it,” she said. “They didn’t sign agreements.”

He needed to chase her out of his room before her frustration with him turned into something a lot worse. He couldn’t let himself harm her.

“Look, doctor, the truth is, I just prefer Dr. Keltin to you.” His fingertips practically dented the data table as he struggled against his compulsion. His response to her, even stronger than he’d feared it might be, frightened the hell out of him. What would she do if he leapt up and grabbed her like some kind of primitive? “Your bedside manner is annoying. I just never wanted to say anything. Switch me to Keltin’s roster. He can handle endo-organics.”

 “Give me a break,” she retorted. “Get off your surly butt and submit to this exam before I tranq you.”

Mild-mannered, good-natured, code-pure Sarah CallenJoseph, the perfect doctor and perfect sister of Gregori the Also Perfect, threatening to tranq him?

Niko couldn’t help it. He laughed.

“You don’t believe me,” she observed. “You’re making a mistake.”

As threats went, “you’re making a mistake” didn’t register on his hazard scale. He’d survived a ten-daemon attack on Raelta and had a daemon claw embedded in his skull to show for it. Sarah could probably have removed it, but he’d opted to keep it.

She was the one in danger—entering his quarters alone.

“I’ll ask you one final time,” he said. “Leave my room before I file a report that you’ve invaded my privacy.” The coolness of metal brushed the side of his neck.

“This is too important, Niko,” she whispered. “I did warn you.”

His vision blurred. Holy Mother, she’d actually tranqed him! He slumped sideways in his chair, the doctor’s capable hands catching him before he hit the floor.

His last sight was of Sarah’s blue eyes, beautiful face—and her damned dimples.

 

Prodigal

prodigal by jody wallace is an sf romance set on post apocalyptic earthTitle: Prodigal
Series: Maelstrom Trilogy #3
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: Sometime in 2019
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 400
ISBN13: 9781393783633
ASIN: B081VX52VW
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple
Genre: , , ,

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

He nearly destroyed the world, but with her help, he can save it.

Adam Alsing—at least that’s what they tell him his name is—has no idea who he is or why he’s huddled naked in the snow next to a mysterious silver pod. When a gorgeous, no-nonsense sheriff by the name of Claire Lawson rescues him, she explains the planet’s under attack—and he’s been missing for over two years. The problem is, what he doesn’t remember can kill them.

Keeping the peace in her post-apocalyptic town is all the trouble Sheriff Claire Lawson can handle. Until the MIA Chosen One—the guy who could have prevented the apocalypse—interrupts her supply run. The Shipborn aliens want to study him, and what’s left of the Terran government wants to lock him up. But his charming demeanor and his desire to help, along with his sexy smile, has Claire fighting her better judgment to keep Adam around. For now.

Tropes: This “amnesia during the apocalypse” romance includes a hard-ass alpha female, some law enforcement, and a redemption arc.


Also in this series:

Chapter One

Claire flipped down the visor of the Humvee when the late afternoon sun nearly blinded her, reflecting off the white of the latest snowfall. She and two other loads of able bodies out of Camp Chanute were returning from a hardware- and tech-foraging mission to the mostly deserted city of Bloomington, Illinois. The long, straight roads, free of debris and stalled cars, didn’t lend themselves to ambushes—humans or monsters. Detritus littered the highways to the north, thicker as the roads approached Chicago.

She didn’t make foraging trips toward Chicago if it could be helped.

But the visor didn’t cancel out the glare. She blinked and squinted. Her eyesight had been enhanced by her Shipborn associates, enough to ascertain the flash of light wasn’t reflecting off the snow. For that kind of glint, it had to be a metallic object.

An object that hadn’t been there when they’d driven this road this morning. She knew this highway well, and that huge field had dead corn in it. Nothing else.

“Slow down,” she told the driver. “You see that?”

Will shook his head. “I just see snow. Snow and old, dead corn. Maybe it’s one of the Children of the Corn.”

“Shut up.” Not visible to the human eye, then. Claire flicked on the radio to talk to the supply truck. Dixie had the best binoculars. “Dix, what do you make on the right side of the road? Far midfield.”

Static crackled through the speaker before Dixie’s response. “I don’t see any…wait. Huh. There’s a big silver thingamabob, but sugar, I don’t know what it is. Weather blimp or something? Could be Shipborn.”

“That doesn’t make sense. Will, get us closer.”

Will stepped on the accelerator, increasing speed until the object came into focus—sleek and silver, possibly some kind of vessel. No landing marks around it, but no snow built up on it, either. Didn’t look like Ship 1001 or its shuttles, which tended to be roughly triangular. More like a giant pill, so brightly silver it was almost white. Hard to see against the patchy snow. Was that a window? A door?

The sun emerged from behind a cloud and sparkled on the metal again, obscuring the details.

“I’m going to check it out. Hold position,” she advised Dixie before directing Will off road.

When the Humvee thumped through the corn stubble that rose above the snow, she pressed a hand against the ceiling to keep from bouncing into it. A gentle rise ahead took them out of sight of the object.

“Be careful,” Dixie chided over the radio. “Last time you went to check something out, that group of survivalist dregs from Chicago ambushed you.”

Soul-sucking black shades and vicious flying red daemons, the most common varieties of the interdimensional entities currently attempting to destroy their planet, weren’t the only dangers on post-apocalypse Earth. The Shipborn had helped quell the worst of the human-against-human atrocities, but their code wouldn’t allow them to lord over the planet the way Claire sometimes wished she could.

Her fellow Terrans could be a bunch of fucking idiots when they half tried. The planet was in shambles after the entity invasion that had begun in California over two years ago, making it increasingly impossible for the natives to police the masses and maintain any semblance of justice. That was why she and her team had set up a civilian settlement in Illinois instead of seeking the dubious safety of the Eastern states in the so-called safe zone.

Claire shoved her coat sleeve off the blaster band around her wrist and opened the window. “Come on, Dix. Bygones. Respect the badge.”

“Sure, sheriff.” She could practically see the other woman’s dimples. “But I’m still telling Tracy and Mayor Newcome on you for not calling this in first.”

“If I reported it,” Claire answered reasonably, “I’d just browbeat everyone into agreeing that I should check out…whatever it is. This saves time.”

Both men in the Humvee with her chuckled. Claire might run Camp Chanute with military precision, but she didn’t insist on mealy-mouthed respect from her people.

She sure as hell didn’t give any mealy-mouthed respect to anybody, so it would be hypocritical of her to demand it. She was a stubborn asshole according to her sister, and a foul-mouthed sourpuss according to Dixie, but she wasn’t hypocritical.

They crested the rise almost on top of the silver object. About forty feet long, and narrow, with rounded ends. Couldn’t tell heads or tails on it. This close she didn’t see any doors or windows. The whole thing looked like a single piece of metal—no joints.

“What the hell is it?” Will said. “Some kind of rocket?”

“I don’t know.” Tactanium, the non-Terran metal favored by the Shipborn, was pale silver like this thing, but not as glossy. The surface of the object was practically mirrored, and the bullet shape was completely unfamiliar. “Shit. Guess I need to check it out with a sensor array.”

“You should have worn it in the first place.”

“I hate the way it feels.”

“I’ll wear it,” he offered. “I like talking to Ship.”

“Nah, I got this.” The creepy little piece of advanced tech gave Ship 1001, the nosy sentient AI spacecraft that the Shipborn called home, access to her brain, and that didn’t always mesh with her plans.

Will brought the Humvee to a stop a decent distance from the object. Claire and her deputies—really, most Terrans in general—relied on native tech for communications, transportation, and daily activities. Though she was favored by the Shipborn, having given birth to the current general’s daughter a year and a half ago, Shipborn tech wasn’t infinite. The Shipborn were cut off from their people now and trapped in the Terran system with limited supplies. That was what happened when you violated your society’s laws just to save some measly primitive planet.

With a grimace, Claire plucked the translucent jumble of wires from an inside coat pocket and flipped down the visor mirror. Aligning the endo-organic end with the neural implant in her temple, she allowed it to squiggle beneath her dark skin. It sank into place inaudibly, but she felt the vibration of it in her skull. She nestled the rest of the wire around her short, tightly curled black hair like a crown.

The crown that made her the Queen of Assholes, but hey, she got shit done.

She focused the array’s nano-computer on the object, activating the scanning feature.

It didn’t register. At all. No power source, no metal, no nothing. It was as if the object wasn’t there.

“That is not good,” she said to her men. “Sensor’s not picking it up.”

“A mirage?” Will suggested, staring through the windshield. “Light rays could refract off the snow.”

“That is one solid-ass mirage.” Claire swung open the door of the Humvee, and the other three did the same. She hadn’t needed to give the order to free their tactanium blaster bands from their parka sleeves.

A warning pinged on the sensor as the scan completed, presenting her with some information that was almost as worrisome as a vessel her sensor array couldn’t detect. “Folks, I’m picking up signs of entity activity. Past few hours.”

“Shouldn’t be any shades here.” Will scruffed a hand over his chin. “Do you think this is one of those invisible shade hits?”

“We’ll look for bodies,” Claire said grimly. A whiff of rotten garbage reached her, confirming what her sensor had already warned her about the shades.

In the past six months, there had been a huge uptick of human bodies drained of life by shades in areas where no shades had been reported by Shipborn or Terran inspections. That shouldn’t be the case in the buffer zone. Daemon attacks, sure—those bastards could fly anywhere. But shade hordes crept along at barely a mile an hour on a good day, and remained in contact with larger bodies of shades. The primary shade hordes were tracked by both Terran military on the planet and the Shipborn from space, and there were no hordes close to Illinois.

It was a mystery. Camp Chanute and other settlements had lost people—good people. Scouts, foragers, farmers. No scans, no searches, and no flyovers had been able to locate the shades responsible. It couldn’t be daemons or really perverse humans depositing the bodies from elsewhere, because the surroundings always evidenced molecular shade residue. Had to be shades, leaving traces on that spot, doing the killing.

It was like the entities were picking off stragglers, people who ventured too far away from protected compounds. The problem was, once they ate all the loners, they’d go for the towns.

“Will, warn Dix about the shade traces. Tell her she and the supply truck should head back to Chanute and raise a level two alert.” The laser rifle Jeep would be enough cover. Once they were inside the walls of Chanute, they’d be better equipped to deal with attacks from entities or more mundane raiders.

The other deputy in the Humvee, Randall Barber, craned his neck, checking the sky for daemons. Will didn’t immediately obey. “Mayor Newcome won’t like you raising an alert without consulting her.”

“Don’t care.” Claire scanned the skies, too, her enhanced eyes picking up nothing unusual. Clouds, birds, incipient snow—that was all. “My job is security. Her job is paperwork. Your job is to do what I say. Now go.”

Will jogged back to the Humvee.

“Greetings, Claire.” Ship spoke through the sensor array. “You’re using your array. Do you require assistance?”

“Hold up,” she told Ship, trying not to be irritable. Unlike the Shipborn, who’d used their communications and sensor arrays their whole lives, she always had to adjust to Ship’s voice in her head. “We’re investigating shade traces in a place they shouldn’t be and a possibly alien object of some sort I’ve never seen before. I’m calling it a UO.”

“I will scan the larger area,” Ship volunteered. “You must be protected from danger. You should value yourself more, Claire. You’re a mother.”

Ship wasn’t the kind of sentient machine that waited to be told what to do. It wasn’t the kind that refrained from butting in, either. Or eavesdropping. Or nagging.

“I’m doing exactly what Frances needs her mama to be doing,” she responded. “Protecting our people. This isn’t a high threat situation. The UO is just sitting here. But we do have shade residue.” She sent visuals of the object to Ship, orbiting the planet far above.

“I will run it through my databanks. Do you want me to send aid?”

“Hell, no, don’t send any Shipborn here. We picked up shade traces.” The risk was too great for the Shipborn themselves to venture away from the safe areas of the planet—or the sky—and lately the buffer zone no longer qualified. “We got this.”

“As you wish.” The AI had taken a liking to Claire. She wasn’t sure if it was because she was Frannie’s mom and Niko’s ex, or because Ship was Ship.

She didn’t return the liking, but she tried to hide it. Ship definitely had feelings, and Claire had hurt them more than once. Since Frannie lived on Ship with Niko and his wife Sarah part time, it wouldn’t do to have Ship get pissy with Claire.

Scuffing her feet through the icy snow, Claire kicked around until she found what she wanted. She picked up a small rock and weighed it in her hand. It would do. With careful aim, she lobbed the stone at the silver vessel.

It pinged off the metal with a high-pitched noise like a tuning fork. Claire gritted her teeth as the sound scraped across her nerves.

“Well, that’s unusual,” Randall observed laconically.

The noise swelled instead of faded. Soon it became so intense that she and Randall were stuffing their fingers in their ears.

“To hell with this.” She raised her blaster band and let it heat up to a good level. The UO’s whine sang in her eardrum like the teakettle from Hell. She blasted the object with a white-hot bar of Shipborn’s finest laser weaponry.

The beam pierced the silver tube, and the surface shimmered. Shivered. But it didn’t explode.

It should explode. She liked it when things exploded.

She shut off her laser and protected her ears. This damned silver object definitely counted as a thing that needed to be destroyed.

“Ship, gimme another reading,” she shouted over the din.

“I detect life signs approximately fifty paces in front of you,” Ship responded promptly. Even though the AI was in her head, she could barely hear it over the high-pitched resonance. “I do not detect any human bodies.”

“Recalibrate your sensors on my exact location,” she yelled back. “You’ve got interference or something. Didn’t you see the pictures? There’s a forty by ten foot silver metallic object in the spot where you think you see life signs, and it’s hitting us with some kind of noise weapon.”

They were forty minutes out of Camp Chanute. She didn’t need this kind of mystery so close to her home base.

“The photograph showed a barren field, not an object. A forty by ten foot metallic noise weapon is not a device I have in my databanks.”

Claire reviewed the images. Blank. “Why doesn’t it photograph?”

She wasn’t sure it was a good idea to get any closer if the thing wasn’t showing up on sensors.

Then again, she and her people were the ones on the scene, and it was their duty to investigate.

Finally the deafening chime faded.

“There is a life sign in the location of the object you think you see,” Ship insisted, more urgently. “It is a human life sign. It is fluctuating. The individual may require assistance.”

“I don’t see anybody.” She gestured to Randall, sending him around one side. Could this be the answer to the shade hits in the buffer zone? Were they in time to save today’s victim? “Don’t touch anything.”

Slowly she advanced. Her nose wrinkled involuntarily at the continued whiff of carrion and ozone. Her heart pulsed. “You smell the shades, right?”

Was her sensor broken? Or her senses?

Randall nodded. “Roadkill.”

“There are no current entities in your area,” Ship assured her. “I have a tight focus on your proximity. You are twenty-five feet from the life sign, at a south-south-west diagonal.”

That would take her to one end of the UO. Randall had reached one tip and peeked behind it. Wariness tightened her skin, and the chilly breeze on her cheeks faded to nothing. “Anything back there?”

“Nothin’.” He waved toward the horizon. “Your shot passed through the vessel.”

“If it’s a vessel.” Just because it had an aerodynamic bullet shape didn’t make it a ship. It could be—hell, she didn’t know. A Terran military gadget. A weather balloon. A time capsule. Most likely, though, it was an alien device, and that didn’t bode well. “Ship, are you sure the UO I described isn’t something your people’s enforcers might have? Like a bomb to blow us all up? If they’re supposed to make sure the Shipborn obey the rules, I can see why they’d come after you. You guys sure as hell aren’t sticking to code.”

“As far as I can ascertain, the enforcers have made no move to investigate my crew’s code breaking. The beacons that mark this system as off-limits would have notified the enforcers of our continued violation,” Ship said.

“Why would you know if they were coming after us?” She inched toward the UO, blaster revved and ready. “You talk about the enforcers like they’re so much more advanced than you that you wouldn’t stand a chance against them.”

“I do not know,” Ship answered. “But it has been eighteen months and we are surviving unmolested.”

“Unmolested by your homeland security guys… Wait a minute.”

A crack appeared near one end of the ship, slowly expanding. Behind the crack was a blackness that churned like shades but…

A large, pale human stumbled out of the craft. Naked. He landed on his hands and knees in the corn stubble and snow, gasping for breath.

Blaster hot, she aimed at the figure, but no shades oozed out after him. The crack in the UO remained quiescent. The roiling of the blackness must have been her imagination. Now it just looked dark inside.

“Hold it right there,” Claire demanded unnecessarily. The man didn’t stand up. He didn’t even lift his head. She scanned him with the sensor array, picking up elevated levels of testosterone and adrenaline—he was afraid.

But he wasn’t dead. Was this going to be their first save from one of the mysterious shade hits?

Randall jogged back from the other side of the capsule, instantly on guard against the stranger. He’d been an experienced hunter before the apocalypse, so he was good with guns, but he wasn’t exactly military.

“Are you hurt?” she asked the stranger warily; he wasn’t the only one on edge. “Were you attacked by shades? Can you tell me what this silver craft is and how you got here?”

The man didn’t respond. His shaggy blond hair clumped like it hadn’t been washed in ages. Muscles bunched and twitched in a body that seemed to be well honed, not malnourished.

“I found your life sign,” she told Ship, transmitting the readings via her array. “It’s a naked ass white boy, and I think he’s deaf. Please tell me you’re getting these images, at least.”

“Not deaf,” the man croaked. So he could talk. “Water. Please.”

“I’ve got some in the Humvee.” Her sensors continued their probe, assessing the man’s physical condition. Ship would ID the fellow soon enough, but at least he spoke English. She didn’t have many translators at Chanute besides Ship, and using Ship to translate was a pain in everyone’s ass. Ship…paraphrased a lot. “Can you walk or do you need help?”

“I don’t know.” He rose, shaky and shivering. He stood over six feet, and every inch of him was lean, molded perfection. His cock nested in hair a couple shades darker than the clumps on his head, and not a single blemish marred the surface of his pale skin. In contrast to his impressive physique, he swayed like he was coming off a three-day bender.

Claire found herself rushing forward to support him and barely stopped herself from grabbing his arms. He could have interpreted that as aggressive. She would have decked any stranger who tried to touch her, especially if she was naked.

“Did you fly here? Is this some kind of escape pod?” she asked more politely now that she could be pretty sure he wasn’t about to attack. She’d grown more apt to help people since becoming sheriff. All that responsibility changed a woman. Arguably so did becoming a mother, but it wasn’t until she’d founded Camp Chanute along with the rest of her team that her obligations really sank in. “What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Where’d he come from?” Randall advanced from behind, closing in. If this guy was military, he was bound to react to that.

He didn’t. He didn’t answer their questions, either. He stood there like an ashen pillar of flesh, shivering. His vitals read as stable on her sensor array, but his core temperature was lower than it should be. For obvious reasons.

“Check out the inside of the UO, Randall. Carefully. See if he left his clothes in there.”

Blaster hand aimed in front of him, her less than stealthy deputy tromped through the wide opening of the otherwise nondescript silver object.

She was curious and worried about the UO, but she was more curious about the stranger. Where had he come from? Why was he naked? He didn’t seem shy about his body—and who would be, with a body like his? But he had to be miserable. “You realize it’s below freezing out here, right?” She shrugged out of her coat and thrust it at him. Winter air cut through her protective tactanium vest and fatigues, but she wasn’t the one who was naked and trembling. “Put this on.”

Voice still rough and dry, he answered. “Thank you.”

This close, she could assess him more carefully without getting disrespectful. He was definitely in good shape. His body looked like a fitness photo shoot waiting to happen, minus the oil, but this wasn’t the time and place to ogle. They both held onto the coat a minute—she was a little worried the weight of the parka would pitch him over on his face. “What’s your name?”

At last he raised his head to look at her.

Sea-green eyes in a perfectly chiseled face pierced her like the laser beam had pierced the silver UO. Through and through. She felt that gaze in her brain, her gut, and her knees. It zinged with energy. Heat flushed her skin but then dribbled away as recognition struck her.

She knew that face.

Everybody on the planet knew that face.

“I don’t know how I got here,” he said. “I don’t know what my name is.”

Claire swallowed the hard knot of anger that had risen at the very sight of him.

“I know what it is.” She released the coat and took a hasty step away from this man, this man everyone knew was dead. “Your name is Adam Alsing, and you’re a fucking idiot.”