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
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple
Genre: , , ,



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.”


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
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple
Genre: , , , , , ,



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:

A Spell for Susannah

the cover for a spell for susannah by jody wallace, a fantasy romanceTitle: A Spell for Susannah
Series: Middle Kingdoms #2
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: November 2015
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 355
ISBN13: 9798201322144
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple; Barnes & Noble
Genre: , , ,



A not-so-Grimm tale about a not-so-obedient princess and the kingdom she’s determined to save

Twelve bored royal daughters in a kingdom where the nobility has been cursed to bear no male children. One sly detective who's been tasked to find out where the ladies disappear to at night. What's a princess to do?

If you're Princess Susannah, the eldest of the twelve princesses, you research inheritance laws and curse-breaking magic until you develop the ability to work fairy magic yourself—which is completely forbidden. You might use that magic to discover an enchanted land beneath your palace where hundreds of amnesiac princes dance and cavort all night long.

If you’re the King and Queen, you hire a professional to find out how your daughters are ruining their dancing shoes on a regular basis, despite all the measures you’ve taken to keep them secure. For that delicate job, you choose the handsome detective who instantly gets under your eldest daughter’s skin.

But enchantments and dancing won't modernize the patriarchal laws in time to prevent the Middle Kingdoms from falling into anarchy. Can Susannah outwit the detective, the patriarchy, the curse, and the fairies in time to save her kingdom—and herself?

Author’s Note to Readers: This 105,000 word novel was originally published by Samhain Publishing in 2008. This edition has been reedited, reformatted, and updated with a new cover but has not been substantially altered.

Also in this series:




The final sovereign of the Middle Kingdoms signed the petition with a flourish and then fanned the ink to dry it before handing it to the footman. The youngest of the thirteen kings, he was a handsome man with dark brown hair and a neat beard.

“Well done!” The Emperor accepted the completed document and unrolled it to its full length, nodding his head in approval. The charmed parchment, when signed by all thirteen human kings and their Emperor and witnessed by three representatives from the Fairy Alliance for Ethics, would bind the fairy Malady from the human lands, in particular from attending any more christenings with her nasty little gifts.

“It was your child upon whom Malady bestowed her final curse, so it is fitting you be the one to summon the Fairy Alliance to hear our judgment.” The Emperor handed the pearl and ruby conch shell to the youngest king.

“Thank you, Your Splendor.” The man raised the device to his lips and blew several short, eerie blasts. Almost immediately, three fairies materialized in the center of the golden throne room. The breeze of their arrival ruffled the heavy crimson hangings along the long walls and set the tiered chandelier tinkling.

“We’ve been expecting your summons,” Pleasentia said, swishing her gauze dress and smiling at the men gathered in the darkened room.

“Hurry and get this over with.” The fairy Budbud snapped her wizened fingers, and in them appeared a large gold seal. “Recite the document, sprinkle on the fairy dust and let us ratify it. We’ve better things to be doing during the blue moon’s night.”

The third fairy held a crumpet dripping with jam. “Is this about Mali?” Gary asked, licking his fingers. “You know, her gifts really don’t—”

“We don’t want to hear any more of your excuses!” thundered the Emperor. “We have the right to bar specific fairies from our midst if we so choose. In fact we have the right to bar all fairies from the human lands, and then where would you get your precious gold?”

“Oh, do shut up, Hubert, and get on with it,” Budbud said. “We all know you aren’t going to ban all the fairies. You want our spells as much as we want your gold.”

The Emperor flushed and cleared his throat. He began to recite the document, which cast the first threads of the spell that would prohibit Malady from entering human lands until the parchment was burned three times with the feather of a red gold phoenix.

“We the people…”

“They always start their documents that way. Why do they do that?” whispered Pleasentia.

“Hush, dear.” Gary patted her hand. “Let them have their fun.”

“We the people, in order to maintain a more solid union, to provide for the common defense of ourselves and our posterity, do hereby declare the fairy Malady banned and barred from the Middle Kingdoms forthwith. She is forbidden from attending the christenings of any human children, be they noble or common, even if those christenings take place outside the Middle Kingdoms, and should she seek to harm, injure or otherwise take revenge upon any human, let her—”

In a blast of light followed by a billow of reeking smoke, the fairy in question exploded into the vaulted throne room, her wiry hair standing on end. She stamped her feet upon the crimson carpet and the walls trembled.

“What charade is this?” she cried. “Banning me, the great Malady, from your puny human lands?”

The Emperor stared at the wicked sprite in dismay, his mouth hanging open, as the other occupants of the room coughed and waved tendrils of smoke from their faces.

“Keep reading, Your Splendor!” insisted the youngest king. “We shall not traffic with her. Let her see how she likes bargaining with the Sun Demons for her precious gold.” But the Emperor let the parchment droop in his grasp.

“Better not make that face, Hubert.” Malady cackled, raised a hand and an icy globule of magic appeared in it. She hurled it at the Emperor, striking him in the head and immobilizing him. “It might freeze that way!”

Budbud harrumphed. “Always butting in where you aren’t invited. You leave these humans be!”

“I will not!” screeched the black-haired fairy. “I curse these humans! I curse them and the horses they rode in on!”

“Can’t we leave the horses out of it?” asked Gary. “What did they ever do to you?”

“Okay, scratch the part about the horses.” Malady sketched some glowing runes in the air before she wiped them out with a quick hand. “But as for these foolish humans, these so-called nobles who reject my gifts, let them be forever cursed!”

Since the other kings were too intimidated to move, the young king beside the Emperor snatched the document from his limp hands. “We the people, yes, yes,” he said, racing through the text.

“Let them never bear another male child—” shrieked Malady.

“If she should seek revenge, blah blah, let her be banished by the representatives of the Fairy Alliance who stand here—” shouted the king.

“Let them bear only female children from this day forward—”

“Banished to east of the sun and west of the moon for a thousand years and a day!”

“Only girl babies for every king, every duke, every single noble in your stupid, pitiful lands!”

“So be it rote!” The young king snatched the philter of fairy dust from a gaping footman and doused the parchment.

“So be it rote,” echoed the twelve kings.

“Mmmfh!” rasped the Emperor.

“So be it rote,” agreed the three fairies, who’d observed the chant-off with great interest. Budbud hopped onto the Emperor’s dais and stamped the document with the golden seal. A ripple of pale light bloomed outward from the paper, dissipating as quickly as it appeared.

Upon the completion of the banishment, Malady doubled over with hateful laughter. Still chortling, she exploded out of the throne room in much the same way she entered, leaving a burned patch on the crimson rug.

With a gasp, the Emperor tore the icy skein from his face. “Surely that curse won’t stick,” he panted. “Will it?”


Chapter One


And so it came to pass that the noble inhabitants of the Middle Kingdoms bore no more male children. Ten, twenty, thirty years, and still no male children were delivered to swell their ranks and inherit their lands. The aristocracy tried, how they tried, but daughters alone did they have. Daughters who had fewer and fewer men to marry each year. Daughters trapped by the Kingdom Laws, which decreed women could hold no property nor titles independent of men. Daughters who must remain at home until married. Daughters who grew restless.

Susannah groaned when the Queen slammed open the closely guarded door to her bedchamber and punched the button that made the wrought-iron oil lamps pop on. Their penetrating light joined with the bang of the door and squeak of the hinges to wake her from some much-needed slumber.

“Mother,” Susannah said, “do you have to be so loud?” All twelve sisters, from oldest to youngest, shared a room so they could be guarded more efficiently.

The Queen clanged her toad-headed cane on the closest iron footboard in the two rows of beds. “Yes, I do.” The cane bounced off the footboard and into Susannah’s toes.

Susannah curled her legs up and sighed. Tendrils of a pleasant dream about waltzing with the enchanted princes in the secret land below the castle unraveled before her tightly closed eyes.

As usual on the mornings when the twelve princesses lay abed, Susannah’s mother was not pleased. “I don’t suppose any of you ladies will tell me why you’re so tired this morning?”

Several of her sisters stuck their pillows over their heads. Eyes gummy from lack of sleep, Susannah rolled out of bed, but none of the rest moved.

The Queen whacked her cane on the next footboard in the row. “Get your royal bottoms out of bed!” She rapped out their responsibilities for the day. “Calypso, Peter, Hortense—shopkeeper visits. Esme, Lilly—library. Annabelle, Nina, Temple—castle accounts. Fay, Ella, Rosa—herb gardens.”

No one budged.

The Queen stalked to the middle of the long room. The square stones and wooden beams of the ceiling echoed her words with chill precision. “If you persist with this disobedience, I’m going to start giving you away to the first men who ask for you, commoners or no.”

At that, Hortense sat up. “Kingdom Law Number 333 states that those of noble blood cannot be wedded to those of common blood unless that individual performs some quest or feat which earns him or her elevation to the ranks of nobility.”

“Besides, Papa won’t let you,” Susannah reminded her mother. “You’ve been trying that for years.”

“You devious girls haven’t been sneaking off in the middle of the night to exhaust yourselves into a stupor until recently. Your dear Papa is getting extremely frustrated.”

“It’s not our fault Malady cast the Female Curse,” Ella said. Susannah cast the teenage troublemaker a “shut up” glance behind her mother’s back, but Ella ignored her. “You and the other kings and queens brought it on yourselves when you banished her from attending any more christenings.”

While Susannah agreed with her sister, she did so in silence. Antagonizing their mother in the morning was unwise. Antagonizing her at other times was foolish, as well, but not so much as after one of their prolonged snoozes.

The Queen shook her cane at Ella. “Curse or no curse, you are going to put your lazy selves to work doing something constructive. Idleness will turn you even more wicked than you already are.”

Susannah took her corset off the hook on the tall cedar armoire beside her bed and began snapping it over her night rail that doubled as a chemise. The Queen hadn’t yet assigned her a task, which struck her as ominous. “Mother, what am I to do today?”

The Queen, ignoring her comment, bent down to the cool, gray floor and snatched up a pair of ruined silk slippers. “Look at this rag. Do you girls think shoes grow on trees?”

Susannah gave her mother a mild look. “We keep the shoemaking elves in business. Otherwise, they’d be haunting the unemployment office.”

“That doesn’t stop you from putting many guards out of a job. You know good and well your father fires everyone who lets you wicked girls keep doing…whatever it is you’re doing. I should have you all put in the stocks in the public square.”

Hortense, voice muffled through her workaday dress as she slid it over her head, cleared her throat. “Kingdom Law Number 432 states that no one of noble blood shall be stocked, hided, whipped, tortured or imprisoned in the lesser dungeons at any time. They also cannot be disowned, denounced or otherwise demoralized without indisputable proof of treason, immorality or misallocation of kingdom funds.”

“Shut up, Hortense.” The Queen turned to Susannah. “Today, Miss, you’ll be helping me select the next batch of sentries. The guards shall know it is you personally, Susannah, who causes them to be thrown from the castle in disgrace. Your father has agreed when more guards lose their jobs, you’ll be responsible for apologizing to their families and finding them employment outside the castle.”

Temple, one of Susannah’s youngest sisters, lay down on the floor and scrabbled under her bed. A pair of tattered silk dancing slippers skidded into the middle of the room, then another, and then a red croquet ball. Her head under the dust ruffle, she asked, “Couldn’t Father just quit firing the guards? None of them succeed. It’s not fair to make them suffer.”

At Temple’s naive comment, Susannah froze in the middle of her hasty ablutions. So did her sisters. Their shoulders hunched as they prepared for an onslaught from their aggrieved mother.

Temple leapt up and knocked her shins into her bed frame. “I mean, there’s nothing for them to be guarding us from, after all, so how could they succeed?”

More frightening to Susannah than the harangues, more painful than the whacks and smacks, was the calculating expression that crossed the Queen’s face. Her bright blue eyes narrowed and her thin lips curled up in a sneer.

“I wasn’t going to tell you this, but your father has decided enough is enough.”

The Queen had such a look about her today that an ill-omened pressure built in Susannah’s stomach. She and her siblings had always thwarted their mother’s attempts to catch them when they crept off at night to dance with the enchanted princes. She knew how dreadful it would be if the King and Queen discovered what their daughters had been doing at night, and how they managed to get there. So far, they’d been lucky. But luck always ran out.

The Queen strode down the bed-lined, narrow chamber and tested the iron bars on the sunny windows at the end of the room. She stamped the iron heating vents, covered for the warm season the past fortnight, while Susannah and her sisters stood in silence. Despite the fact she never found anything, the Queen often turned the room upside down in a search for secret doors or magic items. She used her cane to flick aside the brightly colored velvet tapestries adorning the outer walls, sniffed and stalked back to the middle of the room. Her skirts brushed against the pale stones of the floor with a faint shushing.

“Too many pairs of ruined slippers. Too many torn chemises and spilled bottles of cosmetics.” She struck her cane against a footboard to emphasize each point, the sharp clang making Susannah flinch. “Too many guards dismissed for failure to perform and too many mornings twelve perfectly healthy young women slumber abed. Most especially, there have been too many episodes of disregard for the commands of your parents!”

Tendrils of the Queen’s smooth blonde hair escaped its careful twist as she paced. “Your father and I are not monsters, my dears. We realize your position entitles you to certain luxuries. We realize that, unwed as you are, cloistered as you are, as old as some of you are, it was inevitable you get up to mischief. In fact, we consider ourselves lucky we had thirty-five years of relative harmony, unlike some of our neighbors.

“But this ends now. Whatever it is you’re doing, we’re going to find out, put a stop to it and punish you accordingly.”

The Queen stopped pacing in front of her eldest daughter. “Susannah, be in my office in fifteen minutes. I have breakfast waiting, so no dawdling in the kitchen.” With that, the Queen swept majestically out of the room, reminding Susannah her mother was, indeed, a force to be reckoned with. She tended to forget that fact in her obsession with the enchanted princes.

Chapter Two


With more speed than finesse, Susannah shoved her mass of hair into a knot at the nape of her neck. From her carved wooden armoire, she grabbed a white blouse and a dark, sensible overdress in hope of convincing her mother that she could be a prudent woman. A quick trip to the nearby bathing chamber, where she splashed face and hands in cold water, and she raced to the Queen’s office.

She closed the door softly behind her. “Hello, Mother.”

The Queen grunted. She sat in a brown leather chair at the plain sturdy table she preferred to the massive desk shoved into a far corner of the room. To an outsider, the room was a cheerful, tapestried chamber with lush blue carpets and elegant shelves of books and curiosities, but Susannah knew it as the place she and her sisters were frequently brought to task. Susannah nibbled on ham, rolls and currant jelly, and sipped peach nectar and water. Her mother’s large quill pen scratched across a stack of parchment.

“Now, Susannah,” the Queen began, setting aside her quill, “you can put a stop to all this if you just speak with me, woman to woman, about what you do every night.”

Susannah swallowed a lump of bread. “You know what we do, Mother. You spent the night with us only a week ago.”

Susannah hated lying and wished she could confide in her parents. But she knew how much trouble she’d be in if the King and Queen discovered their precious daughters cavorting with ensorcelled men several nights of the week, entirely unchaperoned.

More importantly, she knew what kind of an uproar it would cause if anyone found out how she’d discovered the princes in the first place—she, mortal woman, had learned to use fairy magic. The fairies bequeathed christening gifts, warded the Middle Kingdoms’ borders and bespelled many devices for humans in return for the coveted gold they were unable to mine or work, but mortals weren’t capable of the magical arts. It was an unspoken law of nature nobody questioned. Yet Susannah had found a way to do it. That knowledge could destroy far more than her relationship with her parents.

The Queen sighed. “You sleep, indeed, but what else do you do? What wears out brand-new slippers in one night and sprinkles fairy dust all over your skin?” Susannah glanced at her chest, where her modest blouse revealed a few tiny glints on her neck from last night’s revelries. There was probably more on her bosom, for she’d worn a low-cut chemise. Her partner for the evening, one Prince Agravar, had been covered in the insidious stuff.

She tried for nonchalance. “Someone threw a powder puff at me.”

The Queen raised an eyebrow. “I’ve heard that one before. Do you know what I think? I think there are men involved.”

“You must be joking. How could there possibly be men involved? No way in and no way out? All locked up from dusk till dawn in the most secure room in the castle?”

“Hardly dawn,” the Queen said with a snort. “I can smell men on you. I can see certain looks growing in your eyes, looks no unpromised maid should have.”

Susannah rolled her eyes. “I’m hardly a maid. I’m thirty-five, even if I’ve never been anywhere or done anything my whole life. What man would you promise me to in this accursed land? The butler? The baker?”

“It doesn’t take a titled male to spark a gleam in a lady’s eye. What do you do, seduce the guards? Do they all deserve to be turned out?”

If only her mother knew! “No, Mama, of course not. We know our place.”

“Then what do you do?” The Queen picked up her pen and stabbed it into the inkwell. “Susannah, I’m your mother. You can tell me anything and I’ll still love you, you know that.”

The Queen helped their father run a tidy little kingdom. Susannah figured her mother could forgive their dancing with hundreds of adoring men, but if she knew Susannah had learned to defy nature’s laws, how far would that love extend?

She never wanted to find out. “We sleep. We stay up late talking, but eventually we sleep. We discuss how unfair it is there are no men for us to marry. We talk of how we think the Middle Kingdoms should solve their inheritance troubles. I’m of the opinion the Kingdom Laws—”

The Queen laughed, breaking the tension. “I’m aware of your opinions. Don’t get sidetracked bashing all the hidebound old men in charge of things.”

“I should think you would be able to influence Papa,” Susannah began, but her mother interrupted her again.

“It won’t do, Susannah.” The Queen tapped a tapered finger against her chin. “I’ve switched your bedchamber, I’ve separated you, I’ve spied on you through the night. I’ve stationed a maid on a cot in the center of your room. I don’t suppose an appeal to your love for your distraught parents would do the trick?”

“Mama, there’s no cause for distress. I promise you, your concerns are groundless.” Susannah stared at her mother’s finger as it tapped against that elegant, determined chin. She sincerely hoped her mother didn’t separate them again. That had certainly been a challenge.

“But you’re doing something, aren’t you?”

Sometimes Susannah opted for a half-truth when the lump in her deceitful craw grew too large. “We aren’t doing anything to disgrace you or ourselves.”

In truth, the princes were no threat to the princesses’ chastity, considering the effects of the enchantment—or curse, as it were. Something kept the princes impotent as well as amnesiac. Despite the best efforts of certain siblings, not much was even possible. Perhaps that was a kindness to the men. They were trapped in a timeless place with nothing to do but dance and play games. No women, except the princesses, and no telling how long their curse would last.

Unless Susannah could break it.

“One might actually believe you were telling the truth, for you’ve never been able to keep secrets from me. There is always someone willing to tattle on the others.”

“There’s nothing to tattle.” A trickle of sweat slid between Susannah’s breasts. “We practice our dance steps quite a bit, and the flagstones in this palace are not exactly smooth. Not to mention you have us running enough errands to spoil hundreds of slippers.”

“Susannah, Susannah.” The Queen shook her head. “I don’t believe that for a minute. You don’t wear dancing slippers for everyday errands. If I forbid the elves to deliver any more, no doubt you’d ruin your everyday slippers instead.” She picked up an uneaten roll from the serving plate and eyed it as if it contained answers. Susannah held her breath.

The Queen replaced the roll and dusted her fingers. “I don’t know how you’ve managed to cow all the other girls, but I’m going to find out, starting today. Half a year of this nonsense is more than enough.”

“Whatever you say, Mama. Now let’s choose some guards.” Susannah always cramped with guilt when their guards were fired. Finding them new jobs was hardly a punishment, even if most of them would have preferred to remain employed by her father.

The Queen signaled a maid to clear the breakfast remains from the table. Sunlight filtered through the clear glass windows, and the office hummed with authority and power. While the King spent his days settling his subjects’ disputes in the Justice Chambers or traveling to other kingdoms on missions of diplomacy, the Queen ran the kingdom from her office. She functioned as a chatelaine for the entire land. Her room wasn’t positioned behind the throne, but it might as well have been.

“Today we’ll interview guard applicants from outside the castle.” The Queen eyed Susannah as she waited for a footman to place her chair beside her mother’s. “Your father employed a talent scout to find these candidates. I plan to hire as many as I deem necessary.”

“You mean a headhunter?” Susannah’s eyes widened as she settled into her seat. “Mama, royals don’t use headhunters.”

“They do now.” The triumphant grin on her mother’s face unsettled her.

The first man to interview was a bearded giant. “Aye, I’ll see to it the little missies don’t go scampering out of their room at night.” The giant grinned, showing several gaps between his large teeth. He crouched on the ground in front of the table instead of sitting on, and crushing, the chair positioned for the candidates’ use.

“How tall are you, sir?” Susannah asked. Giants rarely came to the Middle Kingdoms, and even crouched upon the rug he was as tall as she or her mother.

“Tall enough to see whatever it is you’re up to.” The giant let out an unmanly titter. He dug his fingers into his wiry beard and scraped his chin with a sound like a carpenter’s sander.

“Where have you worked before?” The Queen scratched down notes with her pen, the feather dancing this way and that.

“I did siege work with the late King Nobbyknees, more siege work with King Torrance and some gate bashing with King Phillip, who hired me right out from under King Torrance’s nose during the siege, he did.”

“Are you an employee who cares most about gold?” the Queen asked. “If, say, my daughters offered you a great deal of money to look the other way, would you take it?”

The giant again scratched his chin. “It would depend on if His Highness offered me more.”

“He’ll do quite well,” Susannah whispered to the Queen. “Considering we have never bribed anyone, his loyalty will never be tested.”

The Queen pursed her lips. “You might not be the right giant for this assignment, but you may talk to the steward to see what other positions are open.”

The giant rose to his full height and nearly crashed into the ceiling. His huge navel, eye level with the seated ladies, looked exactly like a bathtub drain. “Thank ye, Your Highness.” A footman flung open both doors so they were wide enough for him to exit.

The second man was a tiny brownie whose head was level with the top of the table. If brownies weren’t reputed to be so sharp-witted, Susannah would have welcomed the chipper man onto the castle staff. They hadn’t employed a brownie in years.

In a surprisingly deep voice for such a small fellow, the brownie said, “Greetings, Your Highness! Greetings, Princess!” He hopped into the chair and swung his legs. “I’ve come about the job. The princesses can’t possibly pull one over on me.”

The Queen inclined her head. “That’s what we hope. You do realize the punishment for failure is dismissal from castle service with no letter of recommendation?”

“Aye, everyone knows that. The guards hoodwinked by the princesses are talking about forming a union. But I shall not fail.”

“There has been no hood to wink.” Susannah sniffed. “What jobs have you held?”

“I guarded a sheep farm for many a year before setting off to seek my fortune. Besides, I was tired of the smell of sheep.”

This wasn’t going to be as bad as she thought. Susannah whispered to her mother, “If I’m the ringleader and the other girls my flock, you should indeed hire him.”

The Queen sighed. “Guarding sheep isn’t like guarding twelve girls too clever for their pantaloons. If you’d like to visit our steward, he may have other positions open.”

The next to interview was a haughty young man with golden hair. He reminded Susannah of Agravar from the enchanted palace.

“Mr. Finder,” the Queen said. “What skills can you offer for our special project?”

“I always choose the correct door,” the man claimed. “It’s my christening gift. If the princesses evade my watch I’ll always know what door they hide behind.”

Susannah wondered if the man could detect what magical door they hid behind, but the door didn’t exist. She used her powers to create it each time. In fact, she could do it from anywhere in the castle, though it was easiest through Calypso’s armoire. Hers had the fewest clothes in it.

“Where have you worked before?” Susannah asked him.

“I worked with Pete & Benjamin’s Animal Circus in the funhouse,” he admitted, shamefaced. “I helped children find their way out of the mirror maze. But I did a little sideshow work—lady and tiger stuff.”

With a spare quill, Susannah scribbled her mother a message.

Choose him! He will know at all times we’re behind the door of our bedchamber.

The Queen drew an “X” through Susannah’s note. “Mr. Finder, your skill might be better put to use in our Lost and Found department. If you will go into the hall and turn to the left…well, I’m sure you’ll know what door to open.”

As the day progressed, Susannah and her mother interviewed a seamstress with a directional needle, a cook who never burned the broth, a soldier who could talk to fish, a man with seven-league boots and a minstrel whose lute playing would soothe the princesses into deep slumber. They interviewed a centaur, a giant badger and a coachman who was down on his luck and just looking for a job. Susannah grew more light of heart and the Queen more surly.

“Come, Mother,” she said during their teatime break. “I have never known a talking badger before.”

“I’m leaning toward the minstrel. He can sleep all day and play his lute all night.”

“Shall I call him back?” Susannah suspected she could dig up a counterspell to lute-induced slumber in one of the tomes in the castle library’s archives. She could create the door to the enchanted land, see and hear through walls, cast illusions, light candles, defeat truth spells, inspire slumber, make beds and heal aches and pains, and her powers were expanding daily.

She wished she could also read minds, although she doubted that would be on the safe list of ethical uses for magic Hortense and several of her sisters had worked out with her when her powers first surfaced. The Queen shook her head. “The headhunter inventory says we have one more candidate. I’ll interview him and then make my decision.”

Susannah straightened the skirt of her somber brocade overdress and brushed a few crumbs onto the carpet. Her hair tickled her neck and face, escaping from her hasty knot, and she shoved it behind her ears. “What is his name?” she asked her mother.

“Jon Tom.”

“Jon Tom what?”

The Queen frowned. “It just says Jon Tom.”

“But that is two first names and no last. What does he do?”

“It says he is a…detective.”

Clapping her hands, Susannah laughed. “A detective! What does he detect, stolen sheep? Burning broth? Anyone who needed something detected would come to the King’s Lost and Found department.”

The Queen shot her a sour look and rang the silver bell. The tall double doors swung open and Jon Tom the detective walked through. Susannah examined him, as she had the other applicants, for potential threats. He had a swarthy face, dark hair and white teeth, which gleamed brightly in the afternoon sun streaming through the tall, thin windows.

“My Queen, my Princess,” he said, executing a low and graceful bow.

“Greetings, Jon Tom,” the Queen said. “Please, make yourself comfortable. I understand you’re a detective?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“What exactly is a detective? What is it you detect?”

“I detect solutions, Your Highness. Solutions, answers, reasons and culprits.”

“Solutions to what?” Susannah wanted to know. The man had a wily look she didn’t like. His dark eyes glanced about the room, assessed everything and everyone in it.

The man regarded her coolly, almost insolently, as if he knew her secrets. “Solutions to who killed Cock Robin. Solutions to what happened to the Queen’s tarts. Solutions to where twelve naughty ladies go every night when the sun is down and the night is full.”

The Queen stopped scratching her quill on her notepaper and leaned back in her chair. “Do you indeed?” A smile spread across her face.

“Not every city has a Lost and Found department as assiduous as yours,” Jon Tom complimented the Queen. “Not every kingdom has a king who puts his own daughters to work solving the citizens’ problems and caring for the community.”

“Have you been detecting solutions for long?” the Queen asked.

“Many years, Your Highness. I hail from Pavilion, where the late ruler’s failure to produce a male heir has resulted in near anarchy. The kingship has gone to a baronial cousin who isn’t bearing the burden particularly well.”

“We would like to avoid Pavilion’s troubles, but first we must control our daughters.”

Susannah pressed her lips together. As if she wanted this strange man thinking of her as out of control!

“You seem to know quite a bit about our situation already.” The Queen steepled her fingertips near her chin. “Perhaps you would like to share your theories at this point?”

“Oh, no doubt there is a man involved.” Jon Tom winked at Susannah.

Had her mother noticed this bourgeois man, this detective, wink at a royal princess? Susannah turned to her mother to protest.

But the Queen’s face was lit with pleasure. “That’s exactly what I said.”

“And I told you, Mother, there isn’t a man involved,” Susannah snapped.

Jon Tom smiled, seemingly pleased by the outburst. Her eyes drifted away from that face, from that hawk-like nose and strong chin, to his broad chest, two strong arms crossed over it as he lounged in his chair. Down to tan trousers encasing a fine pair of legs. The man was as attractive as any of the enchanted princes in the land beneath, but he had such an air about him, such a dangerous air, as if he’d sooner snatch her up and eat her than dance a reel.

“So tell me, Your Highness, about your daughters. The more information I have, the more easily I can solve the case.”

“Well, you have met Susannah. At five and thirty, she is the eldest and I fully believe she is the ringleader of whatever is going on.”

“I make no mistake about that,” the man agreed. “Princess Susannah.” He rolled her name around in his mouth like a toffee. “I am charmed to make your acquaintance.”

Susannah sniffed and turned her head to one side. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man smiling a strange, slow smile.

“My second eldest is Calypso,” continued the Queen. “She is a tomboyish gel who loves horses and polo. She hasn’t the sort of trickery about her to instigate this matter, but she’s game for any adventure. My third daughter is Peter.”

“Peter? That’s an odd name for a princess.”

The Queen inclined her head regally. “His Highness was convinced an amulet he acquired on the black market could defeat the Female Curse and named her Peter before the doctor could say, ‘It’s a girl.’ It wouldn’t do to tease Peter about her name, though. She’s very sensitive about certain things.”

“She’s as sensitive as your wooden cane,” Susannah muttered.

“Hortense is next. She’s a law-abiding woman who isn’t the type to go along with escapades.”

“Never be surprised the lengths to which a lady will go when there is a man involved,” the detective assured the Queen. “Even a proper girl can have her head turned by a handsome man…or a very determined sister.”

Susannah focused an intent glare upon Jon Tom. It would be nice if she could use that pincher spell and needle him in the…but she didn’t dare. Her hostile regard didn’t discomfit him. He gazed back at her knowingly until she looked away first.

Why did her mother not notice the things this man was saying to her with his eyes? “Mother,” she whispered, “I don’t think this man will suit. He’s disrespectful.”

The Queen ignored her and continued to catalog her daughters.

“Do you mind if I write this down?” The detective took some tiny paper and a black crow’s feather out of a small pocket on his tunic.

“Do you need ink for your quill?” The Queen gestured to her inkpot.

“Oh, this is an enchanted quill—never runs out of ink. A fairy gave it to me when I aided her on a confidential matter. Please continue. I’m learning a great deal.”

Susannah rested her chin on her hands as her mother described Susannah’s sister Lilly. “She would make a lovely bride,” the Queen said. “Not that there are any men for her to meet and marry.”

“No men you know of,” Jon Tom commented. “I’m willing to bet Princess Susannah knows differently.” He wrote another note in his book and tapped his mouth with the dark quill.

Susannah twisted about in her chair. “Mother, do we have to hear any more? This man is clearly a fraud.”

“You seem anxious to get me out of here, Princess.”

“I’m anxious that my father not waste his gold hiring a charlatan. Who has ever heard of a detective, anyway?”

“Susannah!” exclaimed the Queen. “That was very rag-mannered.”

The strength of her annoyance surprised Susannah, but she didn’t back down or apologize. There was something about this man that activated her hackles.

Jon Tom held up a strong brown hand. “Don’t worry about my feelings, Your Highness. The Princess’s discomfort is natural when the end of her clandestine revelry is so near.”

“You don’t know anything about it. Or about me.” Susannah crossed her arms over her chest, echoing his posture. “Mother, you shouldn’t allow a commoner to speak to one of royal blood in such a way. Father would be most displeased.”

“I think your father will be delighted.”

“What do you mean, ‘Father will be delighted’?”

The Queen twitched a single finger in a silencing gesture but didn’t otherwise acknowledge Susannah’s interruption. First her mother said she was out of control. Now she shushed her like a child. When Susannah peeked at the detective, he twitched his own finger in a similar fashion, and it was all she could do not to jump up from the table and pull his stupid, shining hair out by the roots.

“My twelfth child,” the Queen said, finishing her litany, “is Rosa, my baby. She was twelve this past Snow Faire.”

“I’ll enjoy meeting all your children, Your Highness.”

His assumption he’d meet all her sisters was overconfident. Susannah’s ire rose. “This man shouldn’t be introduced to my sisters, much less Papa.”

“Your father is going to enjoy meeting Mr. Tom and discussing possible theories with him. Tonight.”

“Tonight? You’re hiring this man?”

“I am.”

“Mother, please. I don’t like the look of him. He will probably be gone in the morning with half the crown jewels.”

“I’m wealthy already, Princess. I have the luxury to choose my cases based on which ones interest me. This one interests me very much.”

Susannah clutched her mother’s arm and lowered her voice. “He winked at me. He keeps intimating things that aren’t proper.”

“Don’t be silly, Susannah. I intended to hire the candidate to whom you most objected. By the strength of your objection, Jon Tom will do a wonderful job. You have outsmarted yourself, my darling.”

Susannah’s mouth opened and closed like a fish, and at that moment a flicker of fear scampered across her skin. Could Jon Tom truly use these detective skills to discover her use of fairy magic and the enchanted realm beneath? Just what were these skills? Had he some magic mirror which answered questions? Had he some djinn in a bottle bound to obey its master’s commands?

“Your Highness,” Jon Tom said, “I’m flattered by your quick decision, but you’ve yet to hear my terms.”

That seized the Queen’s attention. “You would barter with the Queen?” The regal lady’s eyebrows flew up toward her hairline.

“I would, Your Highness. I have certain requirements for proper detective work. One, that I not be dismissed until the princesses evade me at least three times, as according to the common rule of three. Two, that royal chaperonage customs be relaxed so I can spend time with the ladies alone. And three, when I succeed, I wish a house and fertile lands instead of gold.”

It was the Queen’s turn to gape like a landed fish. “We’ll talk to the King,” she finally said. “You may discuss your terms with him. And you, Susannah, may repair to the library for the rest of the day.”

Susannah rose and stalked as far away from Jon Tom’s chair as she could get without being too obvious. Not that obvious mattered at this point, for she’d expressed her disapproval of the man clearly enough.

“Princess Susannah,” Jon Tom said, just as she gained the safety of the door. Reluctantly she turned. Jon Tom had risen from his chair and stood facing her, a glint in his coal-dark eyes.

“It was a pleasure to meet you,” he said. “I look forward to discovering your secrets, no matter how you hide them.”

“My only secret is I wish the headhunter had never found you.”

“The headhunter didn’t find me, Princess, I found him. I found him, and soon I’ll find out about you.”



the cover for tangible by jody wallace, urban fantasy romanceTitle: Tangible
Series: Somnium Duology #1
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: July 2017
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 130
ISBN13: 9798201517984
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple; Barnes & Noble
Genre: , , ,



Dreams don’t come true, but nightmares do.

Zeke’s poor judgment with his last dream student resulted in a fatal catastrophe his secret organization is still struggling to conceal. When his employers order him to mentor the potential dreamer who just showed up on scans, neither Zeke nor his team is sure that’s the right move.

They’re even less sure when they meet the woman whose supernatural nightmares created a swarm of murder-thirsty vampires. Maggie is terrified—and crazy powerful–and has the potential to be deadly if not controlled. What’s worse, she’s got an accidental bond with Zeke, and when students bond intimately with their mentors, it can have disastrous consequences, as Zeke has already experienced firsthand.

A student like Maggie requires careful handling if she, her mentor, and lots and lots of oblivious civilians are going to survive. But first Zeke and his team have to convince her she’s no longer dreaming.

Warning: Title contains lots of cussing, pop culture references, and monsters with nasty, big, pointy teeth.

Also in this series:


the cover for disciple by jody wallace, urban fantasy romanceTitle: Disciple
Series: Somnium Duology #2
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: August 2017
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 340
ISBN13: 9798201735272
ASIN: B075B15LD3
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple; Barnes & Noble
Genre: , , ,



Conquer your inner demons...before they break free.

Dreamwalkers protect the unknowing populace from what their powerful imaginations create: monsters. When student dreamwalker Maggie Mackey was discovered by Zeke Garrett, now her mentor, their sexual attraction blazed off the charts, as did their tangible dreamspace bond. Three months later, their relationship is as stalled out as Maggie's training. Irregularities in dreamspace combine with Zeke's less-than-charming manners to create an atmosphere that isn't conducive to learning. Or to friendship--of any sort. Zeke isn't sure if his clumsy mentoring, Maggie's stubbornness, or something more sinister is to blame.

When Zeke and Maggie are summoned to a restricted outpost for troubled and sick dreamwalkers to investigate the deaths of several patients, a nightmare from Zeke's past resurfaces to complicate Maggie's training further. In fact, Maggie's lack of progress has become so significant, there's a good chance she'll be reassigned to a curator. Disciples sent to curators are rarely heard from again. To survive the secretive inner workings of their organization and the deadly new force emerging inside the sphere, Maggie and Zeke must confront their inner demons as well as their feelings for each other.
Because in the world of the dreamwalkers, inner demons never remain politely inside one’s tortured soul. They prefer to manifest...and eat people.

Warning: Book contains sex, cursing, more cursing, T-Rexes, dire peril, and explosives.

Note: Book was previously released from a small publisher. Re-release does not contain substantial changes.

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Cover of Catagenesis by Jody Wallace is a blond Caucasian lady in black clothes and a no nonsense attitude and a siamese cat, both on a a space shipTitle: Catagenesis
Series: Cat Ship #3
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: 12/31/2022
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Pages: 400
ISBN13: 9798215753163
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple; Barnes & Noble; Paperback at Amazon
Genre: , , , , ,


A 2023 MUSE MEDALLION WINNER in the fiction category!


Two humans, a bunch of cats, a space ship...and murder.

Han-Ja Gee has made a fine living on Trash Planet trading information and secrets with those who are willing to pay, either in money or in more secrets. He thought he knew everything...until a talking cat interrupted a business meeting. But cats can't talk. Cats are so rare that only very wealthy people own them. If he can discover the truth about the cats, he can pay off the life-debt he owes and leave Trash Planet forever.

Farah Shine Collins is a passenger on an ancient generation ship who wakes up two thousand years late in a galaxy that barely survived a catastrophic war...and the cats on her ship have become sentient. Her struggle to adjust becomes infinitely worse when she's asked to partner with an information broker named Han-Ja, who is clearly trouble, to solve a murder on board the ship. 

A murder for which the primary suspect is Farah's mother. A murder that not even mind-reading cats seem to know anything about. A murder that is only the first in a string of deadly attacks that threatens to tear the whole ship apart.

Han-Ja just wanted to escape a brutal racketeer. Farah just wanted a place that she and her mother could call home. Neither expected to fall in love while locked on a murder ship with three thousand terrified colonists and almost as many angry cats. But if they cannot stop the killer, the collateral damage will be a lot more than their hopes and dreams. It will be their lives.


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Farah Shine Collins sat up with a strangled gasp, certain that the weight on her chest was about to crush her. Needles of pain stabbed the skin near her collarbone before the weight vanished.

She inhaled, gasping some more. Adrenaline surged through her veins. Intense whiteness blinded her, and a roar of sound that rose and rose until her ears hurt did not help her adjustment to wakefulness.

Or whatever was happening.

Warm hands on her arms. Someone sobbing, a person. A tickle of sensation in her nose right before…

Farah sneezed so hard that she almost peed. Dang.

“The final sleeper has awoken!” a magnified voice announced, and she realized the roar of sound was cheers. A multitude of people applauded, whistled, and whooped, their excitement echoing off a distant ceiling.

Farah turned her head and squinted toward the location of whoever was sobbing. She presumed it was the person who’d placed warm hands on her arm. A familiar outline swam into view, a rounded female figure with her head distorted by wild, upswept hair.

“Mom?” she croaked, surprised how dry and rough her throat was. When the colonists on the Catamaran had settled into cryosleep, the techs hadn’t mentioned that they’d feel like death warmed over when they woke. Perhaps they’d assumed it was common knowledge. “Did we reach the homestead planet?”

“Baby, you’re awake. Oh, honey, I’ve missed you so much.”

How had Mom missed her when they were scheduled to be woken at the same time? Farah sat up slowly, puzzled by the dizziness. This wasn’t right. “I feel pretty rough.”

“It’ll be better soon.” Her mother stroked her arm, patting her as if she couldn’t believe Farah was real.

Well, of course she was real. Real uncomfortable in the barely cushioned casket of the cryopod. Not to mention, the pinpricks on her chest stung like fire, and there was something else. Something ticklish.

She sneezed again, which sent jabs of pain throughout her body. Her mother choked out a laugh. “Still got those allergies, I see. No, no, don’t try to get up yet. Take a minute. Javier’s on the way. He ran late because of a problem at the factory.”

“Cryosleep wasn’t going to cure a cat allergy. Who’s Javier? What factory? I don’t remember anyone named Javier.” Slowly the room in which Farah had awoken—one of the huge cryopod bays—swam into focus. Hundreds of colonists dressed in an assortment of clothing milled around, cheering and hugging. None were in their cryopod suits, which was strange. Neither was Mom, for that matter.

Someone raced past her pod, blowing on a party horn and throwing confetti. It sprinkled all over the cryopod and Mom’s hair.

“Congratulations, sleepyhead!” the person shouted, tossing more flakes.

It wasn’t the only confetti. Ugh, Farah knew who’d be stuck cleaning that up. Her. They couldn’t confirm they’d need her skills as a civilian advocate on the new planet, so she was being shipped in as labor.

Many cats bounded this way and that, winding around legs, perched all over the stacks of pods. Her vision continued to sharpen, and she realized the other cryopods were inactive. Off. Covered in cats, but off.

She was…the last? The final sleeper. Why? Newhome, the company in charge of their gen ship, had her scheduled for the second round. They needed her awake before disembarkment on Tiongos do things like clean up confetti.

“I know you’re confused,” her mother said, “but there have been some changes.”

Farah stretched her face as if yawning, trying to relieve the stiffness she felt everywhere. “Okay?”

“You were not easy to bring back to us,” said a high-pitched voice in front of her.

Farah turned her head and spotted a white and black feline sitting on the foot of the pod. Mom’s cat Xerxes. His comfortably plump black and white body had always reminded her of a Holstein cow. Xerxes stared straight into her eyes in that way he had, as if challenging her for her mom’s attention.

Stupid cat.

Beside him were a couple of other cats, but they were less interested in Farah and leapt off the pod moments later.

“I see Xerxes made it,” Farah observed, twisting her spine. It crackled all the way down. The advice for recovering from cryosleep ran through her head—find food and drink to stimulate your system before getting some real sleep. Some would want to bathe and hydrate their skin, and some might have a minor headache.

“Absolutely he made it. My fur baby.” Her mom took Farah’s hand and kissed the back of it. While her mother had always been affectionate, she was really indulging in this “you’re awake” bit. “You’re one of the ones who…who…”

Farah stared at her mother in alarm. Her questions were cut off by the person on the microphone.

“Now everyone, let’s give the final sleeper and Dear Barbara some time to adjust. Cats rule!”

More cheering, and the colonists dispersed, a few that she’d gotten to know during prep classes waving at her before they filed out of the cryopod bay. Farah’s pod had been positioned in the waking carousel, per protocol, but she was the only one left.

“Mom.” Her mother was waving back at the colonists. Well, she was probably waving at their cats. “I’m the one who did what?”

“You almost didn’t come out of the long sleep,” said that high voice again. “You’re one of the ones who’s just not very hardy.” It seemed to be coming from the foot of the cryopod. Where the cat was.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Farah asked, but there weren’t any people around besides her mother. It wasn’t as if waking from cryo, a science perfected millennia ago, was a big deal. Even if some snafu meant she was last. “Mom, seriously, what’s going on?”

Her mom burst into full-on tears. Why wasn’t she happy that they would reach the colony in a week? Green grass, blue water, clear skies, and healthy plants. No pollution, tons of animal species, and a lot less corruption and conflict. A lot less need for a civilian advocate, too. So far. Earth had grown too expensive, crowded, and polluted for peons like Farah and Barbara, so they had shipped out to a planet named Tiongos, and now all Mom could do was cry?

Farah grasped her mother’s hand and inspected the older woman. She…wasn’t the same as the last time Farah had seen her. Her hair was much, much longer and zanier. Her body seemed older, yet less soft. There were more lines on her face. The techs had insisted that the stasis would eliminate bodily functions such as hair growth and ageing, so the changes in Mom’s appearance didn’t make sense.

Farah put her hands on the sides of the pod, prepared to lift herself out. She wanted to get food and reach the bed in her quarters before she crashed. Because of her allergies, she was one of the few who had a room to herself. The others shared with cats and fellow colonists.

“Wait, honey. Wait. There have been…there have been…” her mother tried to say.

“We aren’t at the colony,” said the high voice. It was definitely coming from the cat. Farah stared at him, and the little shit’s mouth moved along with the words. “While we were sleeping, the humans had a ridiculous war with quantum tech and it pretty much destroyed the galaxy. Now it’s three thousand years later, we’re orbiting a very different planet, not everyone made it, and yes, I can talk and am much, much smarter than you.”

Farah rubbed her watery eyes and sneezed. She would need her allergy shot soon or she was definitely going to pee her pants. Not that the silvery leggings one wore in cryosleep were very good pants, but still. Her real clothes were in her room.

“Mom, is this a reality holovid?” she asked. “I’m not in the mood. I just want to…”

“It’s all true,” Barbara wailed. “Baby, I’ve been awake for several years. For years, I was the only person with the kitties. Something about the radiation, Javier says, evolved them right in their little pods. Xerxes is talking to you, and it’s rude to pretend he’s just an animal.”

Farah lay back down in the pod and closed her eyes. “This is a dream.”

“You don’t have dreams in cryosleep,” said the voice that absolutely wasn’t a cat. “And you’re welcome for saving your life. Who do you think brought you out of it? Me. Right up in your face. Doing my magic. You were too far gone.”

Barbara sniveled. Farah opened one eye and looked at her. “Can we not?”

“Xerxes is telling the truth,” said a new voice, a human one. “They both are.” A wrinkled old man with dark skin strolled up to the cryopod. His long jacket was white, which could be a lab coat and could be a fashion statement. “My name is Javier. I am a medic and I’d like to check your vitals, if that would be all right?”

“Uh, I don’t know you.” Farah sat back up. “You weren’t on the ship.” Few men or trans men had been on the ship. As the sixth (maybe) gen ship that set forth to Tiongos, theirs had been populated by adult labor and service. Less vital colonists. Specialized in one way since they almost all had cats and were a majority female-presenting, but mostly important as job fillers.

“Nevertheless,” Javier said dryly, “I am a medic, your mother is telling the truth, as is Xerxes, and I would like to check your vitals.”

He sounded like a doctor. Acted like one, too. Farah had seen enough of them in her time for allergy treatments. Medical science had cured a lot of things, but not most allergies. “And I’m just supposed to believe…this nonsense?”

“It isn’t nonsense. You’re nonsense,” the voice that was not a cat insisted. “Watch.”

She watched, and Xerxes blinked out of existence with a spark of xxx. Then he blinked back into existence in her lap. His claws poked into her skin in a familiar way.

“We can do all sorts of stuff now,” Xerxes bragged with a catty smirk.

“Shit!” Farah lurched reflexively, bucking and sending the cat flying through the air. He landed on all fours on the ground, tail fuzzed out and eyes narrow.

Farah’s newest claw marks stung as much as the ones on her collarbone. That was what the weight had been when she’d first woken, and the pain. It had been the damn cat.

“You must be made to understand,” the cat growled. The cat. It was the cat. The cat was talking. Xerxes was talking. Farah lifted a trembling hand to her mouth. “I am so dogging glad you’re the last one. We are sick of you disbelieving humans and your inflated sense of superiority. I’m going to find Boson Higgs. He’ll straighten you out.”

Farah lay back down again and closed her eyes. “This is a dream.” Then she sneezed, sneezed again, sneezed a third time, sneezed until tears ran down her cheeks. “My head is going to explode.”

“You did not mention her allergies were that extensive,” she heard Javier murmur to her mother. “Or perhaps it’s because we almost lost her. I’ll ask someone to carry her to the shuttle so we can transport her to my clinic at the box factory. I can care for her better where there are fewer cats.”

Unwilling to consider, unwilling to listen, Farah welcomed the onset of sleep. The sounds of the cryobay faded, but a million voices in her head, tiny, catty voices, followed her into her dreams.

(c) 2022 Jody Wallace


The cover of Catalyst by Jody WallaceTitle: Catalyst
Series: Cat Ship #1
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: August 2019
Pages: 236
ISBN13: 9781393683964
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple; Barnes & Noble; Scribd Audio; Audible; Paperback at Amazon
Genre: , , ,



Dance teacher Wil Tango, adopted by a cat who needs to make use of his opposable thumbs, knows all too well the primary rule of their arrangement: never reveal the cat is a genius. Their clever scheme to win all the jackpots on Gizem Station works until a bigwig gets suspicious, and he finds himself stuffed in a stasis box and shipped to Garbage Planet. At least he’s got the cat for company.

Sulari Abfall, scrapyard picker extraordinaire, thinks she’s scored when she earns access to the latest offload from Gizem Station. Their trash is her treasure, and the profits from her recycling program should provide more than enough to upgrade her clunky garbage scow into a clunky tow ship, a huge step up in trash hierarchy. When she’s drawn to a hazardous waste container, she finds more than she ever bargained for. A naked man. And a sentient cat.

But unsealing the stasis pod sends an interspace signal back to Gizem Station—and the vengeful VIP who thought Wil was dead. It will take all the wits of a lovely garbage scow captain, a down on his luck dance instructor, and a brave orange feline to defeat a gang intent on mayhem, murder, and a galactic catnapping that could change the course of the future for the entire Obsidian Rim.

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What readers are saying...

Rann: When I first saw this book, I knew I had to read it. A cat. Scifi. Romance. Jody Wallace. One click.

CW: Five paws up.

NSUM: Great characters, a suspenseful story and intriguing and creative world building.

Bea: "Catalyst" was fast, fun, and engaging. Once I got into it, I whipped through it, reading right till the end. I've already started bugging Ms. Wallace about book two. 😀

Lola: This review wouldn't be complete with more mention of Pumpkin. He was such a typical cat and at the same time so much more with his enhanced intelligence and special skills. I liked that mix of how smart and capable he was, but then reverted to typical cat behavior as well.

Karen F: What a fun read! Pumpkin was beyond words. His attitude mixed with his catitudes left me chuckling. The world building was first class. The ending was a shocker leaving me wanting more. Highly enjoyable book!

a grey cat looking all crazy eyed at the ceiling

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Try a little taste of CATALYST!


The low, flat mech-dolly let out a suspicious clank as it followed Sulari Abfall up the ramp that led into the unplumbed depths of the waste management stellarship from Gizem Station. The stench of oils, metals, and organic rubbish bloomed out of the cavernous bay doors. With great restraint, Su did not break into an excited jig at being first to enter, with the fifteen minute head start she’d won at last night’s pikka game.

Such behavior would be in poor taste. Even for a garbage picker.

The cold, ever-present wind in this district of Trash Planet whipped several strands of her hair free of the band of the protective goggles. As she shoved up her hood, she caught the glares of the other pickers, arms crossed, carts, dollies and assorted equipment idling behind them.

Fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes to bag and tag the best loot with no interference, no wheeling and dealing, and no fistfights. You had to go in alone—but it was always, always worth it.

“Halt for inspection.” The Pish Incorporated goons flanking the cargo bay waved her to a stop. She directed the dolly to idle while they sent drones underneath, tiny beeping robotics that looked like they may have been the work of a refurber here on Trash Planet themselves.

Hells, that probably meant they worked better than new.

“Arms,” directed the larger of the two goons. Su raised her hands out to her sides while he wanded up and down her body in search of weapons. He had the kind of scanner that penetrated the protective fabric of her coveralls. The drone exited the undercarriage of the dolly and shot up to scan the flattened crunch crates lashed to the top.

Guns weren’t allowed in waste ships or scrap piles after that explosion at Hazard Port. The pickers of Trash Planet didn’t agree on much, but none of them wanted to die in a chem fire that blazed for eighteen days and nights, untouched by the storms. Hadn’t been a Pish ship, but inspections on the way in and out were now routine with all the big companies.

“You’re not a very big one,” the goon commented. “How you gonna pick up any scrap?”

Su lifted her goggles to her forehead and enjoyed his flinch the moment he noticed her scar. “Stronger than I look,” she said. Which was true. Her job included heavy lifting. “Meaner, too. Tell him, Bart.”

“She’s plenty mean,” said the other guy, a Pish guard she’d gotten to know over the years. The big goon’s wand beeped at her knee, and he frowned, adjusting the knob.

“It’s metal,” she said. “You don’t wanna see those scars, too, do you?”

“Musta hurt,” he grunted, starting up her other leg. The rest of her was all flesh and bone and a damn bunch of hair, and he wouldn’t find anything illegal.

At least not that he would recognize as illegal.

“Any other implants I should know about?” The wand reached her head, and again his gaze fixated on the scar bisecting her cheek. “You mighta needed more mending after that, and I don’t want to false positive you.”

The second drone whizzed out from under her dolly, green lights flashing.

“I’m clean. So’s my dolly. And you’re wasting my fifteen,” she complained, though her head start hadn’t officially begun yet. “I got dumpsters to dive.”

“She’s safe,” Bart encouraged. “It’s a big deal, when they get to go first. Sorry, Abfall, he’s new here.”

Come find treasure, whispered a voice in her head, the embodiment of her own excitement, no doubt.

The new goon shrugged. “I’m done. Good hunting.”

Yeah, he’d better wish her good hunting. If the trash wasn’t quality, their union, Bristler, wouldn’t contract with Pish, and he’d be out of a job. Not all garbage ended up on Trash Planet. They had their standards.

She thumbed her chin in a rather insolent thanks and turned her attention to the other pickers. Hundreds of them, slavering for junk, and all watching her. Garza, the union president, lifted his wrist and tapped his chrono, his giant beard bristling with annoyance.

She could take a hint. She gave them the traditional one finger salute, and the countdown clock started.

“Goat, increase speed by three.” The mech-dolly responded to her voice with another ominous clank and zoomed up the ramp, into the loading bay. She hopped on the top of her crate stack, grabbed a corner pole, and abstained from spinning around it like a dancer hoping for big bills.

No jigs, no spins, no rubbing it in. She was all about being classy in her victory.

Because today’s treasure trove should bring her mega money. First shot always did. She’d likely earn all the credits she needed to upgrade the Moll, her small intraplanetery scow, into a stellarship capable of towing. Then she could scavenge trash on other planets and space stations on her own and not have to share.

The waste management company for today’s delivery, Pish Incorporated, along with others, contracted with various picker unions on Trash Planet to deliver the waste and scraps from other parts of the Obsidian Rim here. Not just as a dump site. The hardy entrepreneurial spirit that had enabled humanity’s survival during the deadly Oblivion War up until present day, over 1600 years later, also enabled them to create treasure from trash. Recycling, converting, refabricating, scraphacking, rewiring, composting, you name it, someone on Trash Planet did it, with what the rest of the galaxy considered garbage.

In the end, everyone profited. Recycling required specialized machinery, time, and training, and for some it was cheaper to send it off. According to the contracts the waste management companies signed, they had to allow pickers to comb their ships before they added their mess to one of the massive scrap heaps in less habitable areas of the planet. The sorta-livable equatorial band was divided in districts, and everything outside that was a frigid wasteland.

Now that Su was inside the ship, she really picked up the pace. Fourteen minutes left. Ish. She and her employees had a rep for snagging super gloss items, bartering for what she wanted from other pickers for a minimum of digital intergalactic credits, and nobody had been happy that she’d won first look.

Since Pish employed guards, they’d probably give her the full fifteen. Today she’d focus on rarer barterables because they were easier to snatch. She’d scoop up her specialty items during the later phases when she could bring helps. Some of the things she refurbished were pretty big.

Su hung tight to the corner pole as the mech-dolly sped along the immense cargo bay to the lifts in the midsection. Ship rats ran squeaking out of her path. Since they were alive, they’d either broken in during the night or life support had been maintained in the bays during the trip to Trash Planet.

Interesting. Since when did rubbish need life support?

Overhead lights cast enough of a glow that she didn’t need her lamp. Su activated her goggles to detect any radiation and hazardous waste. She wasn’t equipped for hazmat, though sometimes she refurbished the containers. Those had significant resale value to Hazer Union and other places.

She also resisted the lure of the huge plastene bins stacked along the bottom bay walls. Someone else could hit those. Probably organics, from the smell of it. Hence the rats, which could have been loaded along with the organics back on Gizem.

Nope, what Su wanted was the high-end shit. The household waste. Yeah. Pish didn’t collect peon litter. They ran jobs for royals and high rollers and all of those jazz hands. People who threw out perfectly good stuff.

Finally she reached the elevators. “Goat. Slow.”

Pish cargo ships were long and bulky and rarely had side corridors. But they did have multiple floors.

And Su went straight for the next to top floor. Always the best. Always. Most said top, but too many other pickers would go for the top, and she’d have to fight or, worse, pay her way out.

And she had a feeling about today. A feeling that she was about to hit the legendary Gizem Station jackpot.


catapult by jody wallace is a man in coveralls with a black cat on his shoulder and a space backgroundTitle: Catapult
Series: Cat Ship #2
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: November 2019
Pages: 313
ISBN13: 9781393645511
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Genre: , , ,



Lincoln doesn’t want trouble. Briar is trouble personified.

Lincoln Caster owes everything he has to the Trash Planet recycling plant that hired him, allowing him to lead an uneventful life for a change. When he’s asked to plan a heist from a less than savory rival factory, he wonders if his checkered past is the only reason he got the job. That is, until he realizes the priceless item he’s been asked to steal will save a top-secret generation ship full of cryopreserved humans…and freakishly intelligent cats.

But first Lincoln has to seduce—or at least fool—the rival factory’s sales agent, cool, competent Briar Pandora, who may or may not be leading a double life as a corporate mole. He’ll have to trust her with the truth…unless her own agenda results in them becoming targets of a vicious intergalactic corporation that will stop at nothing in its quest to hijack generation ships and sell off their parts—and their passengers, be they human or feline.


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Please enjoy this excerpt from CATAPULT!


Mighty Mighty, pink nose to the view screen, watched in horror as the stellarship carcass he and Lincoln intended to scavenge was towed out of the throng of dead vessels in orbit around Trash Planet. The one part they needed to replace in order to reboot their own cryosleep system was being dragged out of range by some dog-damned, pesky humans in a fleet of short-range cruisers.

“Lincoln!” Mighty yowled at the top of his lungs, hurled himself off the control panel, and raced to the last place Lincoln had been refurbishing the many ancient components on the Catamaran. Boson Higgs, their long-haired tabby pilot, stared at Mighty in shock when he raced past. He reached the nearest waste room in the flick of a tail. “They’re stealing our ship, they’re stealing our ship!”

“What?” Lincoln bolted upright, thonked his head on the underside of the specialized disposal unit, and glared at Mighty. “Nobody in this part of the galaxy can pierce this camouflage. They can’t possibly be stealing the ship.”

It was true. The Catamaran, a very unusual ancient generation ship that had set sail into the stars over three thousand years ago, was protected by a reflective force field that prevented most of today’s sensors from detecting its worth. Or its occupants. Standard scans read it as one of the junkiest hunks in the sky pile.

“That’s not the ship I’m talking about. Obviously. It’s the one with the cryopods like ours.” Mighty placed an insistent paw on Lincoln’s leg, a gesture that rarely failed to motivate humans in the desired fashion. “You know these trash people. I insist you go stop them at once.”

“For the last time,” Lincoln said, “I don’t know most of the people on Trash Planet. I’ve only worked here for a couple of months.” The human’s scalp, devoid of hair, showed a faint red mark where he’d smacked into the cat toilet. Lincoln rubbed it, smearing a bit of grease on his brown skin.

“Then call your boss,” Mighty said, undeterred by mere facts and a sluggish human. “She will stop them. Hurry. They’re getting away!”

A couple of months ago, the Catamaran’s fundraiser, Pumpkin, and his human assistant, Wil Tango, had landed in a spot of trouble on Trash Planet and had been rescued by Sulari Abfall, the owner of a box recycling factory. Granted, Pumpkin had saved the day in the end—as cats do—but Su had proven to be a clean and honorable human, worthy of knowing the secret.

“You’re already pushing it with Su,” Lincoln reminded Mighty. He stroked his big hand down Mighty’s sleek black fur a few times. Some of the humans asked permission before they touched a cat, but some seemed to sense when the time was right for a pet. Lincoln was one of the latter. “She hired me to work on the mech and tech, not your ship, but I’m up here more than I’m down there.”

“Our cause is more crucial, and Su knows that,” Mighty said with a sniff. Lincoln had been selected for the trust circle, but he wasn’t as easy to push as a cat might have wished. He was stubborn of head and slow of body but reliable enough, as humans went. “If you won’t do it, I will skip down and talk to Su myself. She is a woman of science and will listen to reason.”

“She can’t stop whoever’s taking that gen ship framework. We always knew it was a possibility.” With a sigh, Lincoln started packing his tools. While he did, Catpernicus, one of Queen Bea’s kittens, skidded into the room, bounced off the wall, and jumped onto the waste disposal unit.

Lincoln stretched an arm toward the small black kitten. “Catto, hold on, I haven’t switched—”

But Catpernicus was already doing his business. The acrid odor of urine filled the room. Catpernicus squeaked as it doused his paws instead of being absorbed by the disposal unit like it was supposed to be.

“I haven’t switched it back on.” Lincoln hit the button and the unit gave a quiet, reassuring hum. The kitten scratched around, sniffed, and flew out of the room without so much as a thank you.

“Kittens today,” Mighty said. “They don’t know how good they have it. Why, when we cats first woke into the new dawn, we had to use human toilets. Can you imagine? The balancing was insanely precarious. And I don’t even want to talk about the food.” Mighty Mighty had been one of the Originals—the first felines to pop out of their cryopods and realize they were changed, with enhanced intelligence and other satisfying abilities. It had been days before he and the others had managed to wake a human, dear, dear Barbara Ann Collins, to perform the tasks that required thumbs.

Unfortunately, Barbara was the only human they’d been able to release from the thousands of cryopods in two years. They also hadn’t been able to wake all the cats. They’d spent that time combining their efforts to repair the ancient ship, rouse their colleagues, and figure out what had happened to the galaxy during their long sleep.

Now they had some new people—humans on a cold, dingy little rock called Trash Planet—who were proving to be very useful. Lincoln was useful, if slow. But you had to appreciate a human who always thought before he spoke, always watched his feet, and never accidentally stepped on a sleeping cat’s tail.

Lincoln finished packing his tools and joined Mighty at the view station on the bridge. The disappearing gen ship and its escorts were a blip on the screen, heading toward the planet’s surface.

“I believe they’re headed to the Market District of the planet, based on their trajectory,” Boson Higgs relayed as he monitored the status screens. With one paw, he increased the magnification so they could watch the gen ship burn through the planet’s atmosphere. All the controls had been altered to suit his specifications. “Who in that part of the world would have the ability to harvest a ship?”

The toilets weren’t the only parts of the Catamaran that had been altered to suit the cats in the past two years. Dear Barbara had proven capable as long as a cat was there to give her proper instructions, but it didn’t compare to a real mechanic like Lincoln who didn’t need pictures and blueprints fed painstakingly into his brain.

“I imagine there’s more than one factory that tears ships apart,” Lincoln said. “Just don’t know the names yet.”

Trash Planet was run by unions instead of governments or corporations. Not that there was much about Trash Planet to run—the barely habitable equatorial band was where the humans built their stenchy, loud factories to recycle the galaxy’s garbage, suffering bad weather and constant hail storms and long, dark seasons that could drive a cat mad.

Boson Higgs flicked through a bunch of data on the wide touchscreen, which whizzed past faster than Mighty could read it. “There are facilities in Hazer Union, Endeavor Union, Builder Union, and a few independent operators. Endeavor Union owns most of the ships in the sky pile and does a lot of trade in parts, so that’s the most likely culprit.”

A handy union to cultivate when you and all your friends dwelled on a stellarship. Granted, they had to keep their ship a secret. This galaxy wasn’t ready for the awesomeness that was sentient cats, and humanity’s tendency to destroy what it feared meant secrecy was paramount. That and the threat to their sleeping humans if pirates and slavers were to discover their gen ship.

Humans had not improved in three thousand years. They had arguably devolved while cats had done the exact opposite. It was a disappointment, to say the least.

“How much money do we have left?” Mighty asked. Their funding had been cut off after Pumpkin and Wil Tango got fingered in some ratty casino—probably because of something the human did—and wound up on Trash Planet.

“We would have to confirm with Jacobus, but enough that we could make an offer for the part we need,” Boson Higgs said, tail curling. “All we need to do is send Dear Barbara down to buy it.”

“Can’t do that,” Lincoln said, shaking his head.

Mighty looked up at the big man. “Why not? It’s worked for two years.”

Dear Barbara, in addition to maintenance, had been their agent in all the purchases and interactions with the sadly devolved humans around the Obsidian Rim. It wasn’t as if the cats could go haggle themselves. They had learned cats were so rare in the galaxy after the foolish Obsidian War—which was what happened when you left humans to their own devices—that the mere sight of a cat turned humans into avaricious lunatics.

The approved areas on Trash Planet were the lone exception.

“Anybody who knows you want just the Mozim power converter will know you’ve got a gen ship on your hands,” Lincoln said. “And if they figure out you’ve got this kind of gen ship, full of sleepers…”

“They will try to take it,” Mighty finished with a growl. Human greed and evil were constant annoyances, and the cats did not appreciate the threat to their people. “Why has humanity not found your better selves, Lincoln? Why are you like this?”

Lincoln, his dark face impassive and his lips firm, shrugged his shoulders. “Everyone has to learn their own lesson.”

Dragons of Tarakona Box 2

the book cover for the box set of dragons of tarakona part 2Title: Dragons of Tarakona Box Set 2
Series: Dragons of Tarakona #21
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: February 2021
Contributors: Jody Wallace, DB Sieders
Pages: 750
ISBN13: 9781393958123
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple
Genre: , , , , , ,



Dragons and wizards unite to save all of Tarakona!

Welcome back to the fantastical, fast-paced world of Tarakona! The Dragons of Tarakona is a light and adventurous paranormal romance series by authors Jody Wallace and DB Sieders set in both the unique world of Tarakona as well as the shared world of Magic, New Mexico, fronted by author SE Smith. In this second box set you'll find a dragon who didn't know she was a dragon, a hero who didn't know he was a hero, a genius dragon inventor, a surly sexy wizard, two former best friends competing to win a dragon race, a grouchy blue dragon who doesn't want to be in charge, and a mysterious wizard who has to pretend she's a human.

The Dragons of Tarakona series stands on its own, but each book does lead into the next, with recurring characters, settings, shenanigans, and happily ever afters. The books in this box set are GOLD RUSH, GOLD FEVER, BLUE STREAK, and BLUE GUARD.

Also in this series:


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
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple; Barnes & Noble; REAM Subscription; Paperback at Amazon
Genre: , , ,



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.)

This book and a few others are currently being offered as part of my REAM subscription service. If you subscribe, you get weekly chapters of various things and can pick what book I share next! There is also new, never before seen material, out of print books, and other goodies.

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.