Snippet time! (Into the Flames reborn!)

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Photo via VisualHunt

I don’t have a lot of time this morning. I want to get a little writing time in before I have to go deal with fixing breakfast. So you get a snippet of a VERY rough draft of the newly reborn version of Into the Flames.

The new blurb (so far – I know it’s long, I’ll shrink it later):

Fifty  years ago, the Core struck the weakened Colonies and won a war that they’d started over their need to conquer. Now, the Colonies were ready to strike back.

The Eleven have decreed they need a spy to watch the Core, to make sure they see nothing as the colonies prepare for a new war, one the Core will never forget. Eire Rezouac, a man born to the Core but now Colony through and through, asks his eldest daughter Fiera to take up the challenge. She agrees.

Given a new name, wealth beyond what she could ever imagine to place her among those who would know the doings of the Assembly, and the chance to go to the most prestigious university in the solar system, she accepts the danger and heads into Bouarus, unaware that she will encounter the person behind the current animosity for the Colonies and have to match wits with her.

Kuen Nakano didn’t want to leave the private academy he was attending, but when his mother called him home, he couldn’t refuse. Born to the wealthiest house in the solar system, he knew nothing of the social caste he was a part of or how to live a life outside the rigid structure of the world he’d existed in since he was three years old.

Thrust into the chaotic world of politics, university life, and social maneuverings, he does not expect to encounter a fiery woman who challenges his beliefs, his intelligence, and his physical prowess. He wants to defeat her in the beginning, but as time goes on, he wants more. When war rears it’s ugly head, and he discovers the truth about the woman he loves, he risks everything to save her and will come face to face with his mother’s obsession.

Fiera sighed. “I don’t know if I can do this. I still have the colony accent. You and Jacin have been pounding that into me for the past month.” Jacin Andreasan, one of her father’s oldest friends and the second most powerful man in the colonies that wasn’t a core worlder, had joined them on Sorus three months earlier just for the sole purpose of making certain Fiera was ready for her mission.

It’s not that pronounced unless you get angry, and you’ve learned to compensate for it even then,” Eire said. “Stop stalling. The Lusitania will be boarding in just a few minutes.”

Fiera rubbed sweaty palms on the elegant lemon colored pantsuit she was wearing. “Are you sending anyone with me? I’m going to look odd without a servant.”

No, I’m not sending you with a servant,” Eire said. “I thought about it, but you don’t need another liability to be used against you. Besides, do you really want to treat another colonist the way you’d be forced to?”

Fiera thought of the way she’d seen the wealthy core worlders act with their servants and shook her head. “I couldn’t do it. The first time I tried hitting one I’d be on the floor next to them asking them if they were okay and telling them I was sorry.”

This is why I decided that going alone was the best option for you,” Eire said. He glanced around to make sure no one was watching them closely and squeezed her hand. “You’ll be fine, Fury.”

Fiera managed a smile at the use of her familiar nickname. It was probably going to be the last time she heard it from her father’s lips. Neither of them spoke of the possibility of Fiera being caught, of her being killed. It was an instant death sentence for a colonist if they were found impersonating a core worlder. They both knew the risk was there and the longer Fiera was on Bouarus, the likelier it was she’d get caught.

Fiera blinked back tears. This was something she’d agreed to knowing full well what her fate was most likely going to be. She reached up and fingered the pendant hanging just above her collarbone. It was the final gift her mother gave her before she left Sorus. “This won’t look out of place, as such exotic treasures are valued in the core,” Alena said as she fastened it around Fiera’s neck. “It is something of home, to remind you of us and to help keep you safe.”

It was a tiny figurine, carved by hand instead of by machine, of a strange bird. Even Fiera hadn’t known what it was until her mother told her it was a raven. “I’ve never heard of those before,” Fiera said as she put her luggage into the skimmer. “What planet are they from?”

It is said they came from our world of origin,” Alena said. “Some people thought of them as ill omens, while others saw them as tricksters. They were intelligent and wise, if you knew how to speak to one in the right fashion. Or so the story goes in my family.”

Your mother and I are very proud of you,” Eire whispered, drawing her attention back to the space station.

First call, all those boarding the G.S.S. Lusitania please make your way to gateway four,” a woman’s voice said over the public address system. A few people broke off from their groups and drifted in the general direction of the named gate.

You need to go,” Eire said. “Be a good girl and don’t look back.” Fiera took hold of the handle on her grav pallet and hesitated. “Don’t look back.”

Fiera closed her eyes for a moment and then took opened them again. She took a single step forward. Then another. Then another. She let herself get caught up in the flow of visitors to the station. She didn’t look back.

 

A mother’s sacrifice will prove in vain

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Photo via VisualHunt.com

Phoibe carried Aurore along the path, reveling in the scent of the forest after the rain. The faint sunbeams that got through the canopy of the ancient trees cast pale spotlights onto the two dark skinned faces. Phoibe paused for a moment, letting the light soak into her skin. Faint tendrils of green extended from her hair and rose into the light, but Phoibe shook her head and they quickly withdrew.

“Mama needs sun,” Aurore said, snuggling up closer to her mother’s chest.

“I know, Ro. But Mama and Ro have something to do before mama can have some sun,” Phoibe said.

“Wiff daddy?” Aurore asked, tilting her head so her innocent eyes, the color of sunlit leaves, peered up into Phoibe’s.

Phoibe shook her head. “Daddy won’t be joining us today.” Aurore scowled. “I know, Ro. I’m disappointed too.” Phoibe continued along the mossy track, her bare feet leaving no marks in the soft soil.

She glanced over her shoulder but saw nothing on her trail. She didn’t relax. There were always too many watchers on her and Aurore. It had taken a great deal of effort to steal her little girl away alone like this. Someone might already be trying to find them.

“Mama, thirsty,” Aurore said, pointing to the tiny stream running alongside the path.

Phoibe stopped and knelt beside the trickle. She stuck the tips of two of her fingers in. The water was still pure. “Do not touch the bottom,” she said, setting Aurore next to it. The child stuck her hand in, careful not to stir up the mud. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. Her hair, which was already showing signs of drooping, perked up a bit. There was more color in her dark cheeks and her eyes sparkled when she opened them again.

Phoibe helped Aurore dry off her hand, making sure they left no trace of their passing, and lifted her into her arms again. “Where we go?” Aurore asked.

“Some place special, Ro,” Phoibe said, kissing her on her forehead. She felt the tears coming. She blinked them away and moved on.

The sun was getting close to setting, and Phoibe’s strength was almost gone with it, when they reached the clearing. “Mama hard,” Aurore said, poking at her mother’s roughening shoulder. “Need water.”

“I know I do, Ro,” Phoibe said. Her voice was soft, almost all of her strength gone. “But it’s okay. I’m going to be fine.” She set her daughter down. “Do you see that tall tree down there? The one covered with all the vines?” Aurore nodded. Phoibe heard a faint howling. They’d found her trail. “I want you to run as fast as you can and try to touch it, Ro. See if you can get there before I do. Okay?”

Aurore giggled. She loved racing her mother. It was a game they played often, though only under the watchful eye of Phoibe’s husband and his men. “I ready.”

“Three, two, one, go,” Phoibe said. Aurore broke into a dead run, laughing all the way. Phoibe started down the path after her, knowing she would never reach the tree. But a part of her ached to try. She restrained herself, giving her daughter the one chance she had – the one Phoibe herself had thrown away so long ago.

“There’s the mother,” a harsh voice called. Phoibe turned and looked over her shoulder. The humans – strange in their mechanical suits – were at the edge of the clearing. None of them could enter, which meant that Phoibe’s husband and his men weren’t with them yet.

“Keep running, Ro,” Phoibe called.

“I run,” Aurore said.

Phoibe turned to face the interlopers. Veletheria had been a pure world of light, soil, and water until their arrival sixty years earlier. Now the sentient planet – and its children – were dying because of them. Phoibe tapped into the well of power she still had access to, something her people were rapidly losing their connection to, and raised a barrier between them and the heart of the sacred tree.

Phoibe glanced over her shoulder to see Aurore still running at full speed. As she turned she felt a sharp pain in her chest. She looked down. Several barbs poked out of her skin in the areas above and around her heart. She looked back to see her husband – a hideous hybrid of Veletherian and human – standing at the edge of the clearing.

“You can’t win, Bea,” he said, lowering his hand. “Whether you like it or not, Ro – and the others of her generation – are the future of this planet.”

Phoibe dropped to her knees, the poison flooding her already weakened body. In her mind’s eye she saw her mother in the same position, her own father standing over her. His hand was held out to Phoibe, calling her back. Phoibe’s husband moved up next to her, drawing that memory even closer to reality. “Ro, you need to come back,” her father yelled. “Mama’s sick.”

The laughter stopped. The footsteps faltered. “Keep running Ro,” Phoibe called, unable to bear the thought of her daughter’s fate being tied to the monster beside her. She pulled all the energy she dared out of the area and got back to her feet. Her husband’s shocked look made it worth the effort. “I just tripped. I’m coming for you, Ro. You’d better run or I’m going to beat you.”

The giggles and footsteps started again. Phoibe’s vision faded, but she was sure she saw her daughter headed towards the World Tree. She opened herself to the forest and let it swallow her, seeing everything for a split second. Smiling smugly at her body as it turned to ash, her husband held Aurore’s hand in his own. The tiny girl stared in horror at the incandescent figure her mother had become. Phoibe’s screams became wind in the trees as her spirit joined those of her ancestors.

 

Aurore looked up at her father. “Mama dead?”

The man nodded solemnly. “She got very sick. It made her mind go. That’s why she brought you here. Only bad things happen when you come here, Ro. Don’t you ever forget that. Never come here again, Ro.”

Aurore looked down at the tiny flowers that were growing where her mother had just been. She surreptitiously reached down and picked one. She tucked it in her pocket, smiling up at her father. “I won’t.”

An Esper’s gift

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Photo via Visualhunt.com

Edgar leaned on his stick and watched his grandchildren play. The light breeze made the summer heat bearable. The river was running swiftly, a testament to the large amount of rain they’d gotten that spring. It was an abnormality he’d seen before, though his daughter and her husband claimed it was because of a change in the climate of the planet.

He sighed. They were right, of course. It was. But it wasn’t entirely man made, as they were quick to say. The planet had a lifespan, like so many other living creatures, and it was reaching another milestone in it. Of course, the results of this milestone would bring mass extinctions, natural disasters, and a large decrease in the human population, but that was something you came to expect when you got as old as he was.

He thought for a moment. It would be this planet’s second cycle. The last world he’d lived on had gone through eleven before it became unlivable. He missed that world. He lost his beloved Anyalisi in the destruction. He’d been chosen to leave on the colony ships. She was forced to remain behind.

Senalimaa was a good wife, and she’d provided him with five beautiful children, but Anyalisi had been with him for far longer than any other wife he’d had. It still hurt as he thought of watching her sapphire eyes watching him, full of tears, as he was forced at gunpoint onto the ship.

His musings were interrupted by screams. He looked over where his granddaughters had been playing. Velamara was at the edge of the river, shrieking and pointing. He saw a white haired head bobbing in the middle of the water as it was swept along. Belaminari was being carried away by the torrents.

Edgar grounded his stick and closed his eyes. He located his youngest granddaughter’s life energy and wrapped his mind around it. He stopped her momentum and lifted her from the water with the energy he drew from the world around him. He carried her back to the shore and set her down next to her sister.

He opened his eyes. “You two, get back from the river. Right now,” he snapped.

“Yes Elder,” Velamara said. She took her sister’s hand and dragged the soaking wet girl into the house.

A few minutes later, Edgar’s daughter Gemisidara and her husband Hamunixaru stomped out. “Father, what did you do?” Gemisidara asked, her voice high and frightened. “You know the Visionnari have forbidden the use of such powers.”

“Would you have had me let Belaminari drown?” Edgar asked, not turning around. “If I can save a life, I will.”

“I’m going to have to turn you in,” Hamunixaru said, not sounding sorry at all.

“Do what you must,” Edgar said. “It’ll do you little good. The Visionnari won’t do anything against me.”

“We shall see,” Hamunixaru said. He stalked off, followed a moment later by Gemisidara.

Three hours later, he heard the familiar booted footsteps. “Edgar, we were told you used forbidden powers to save your granddaughter,” one of the Visionnari said in a monotone voice.

“I did,” Edgar said, again without turning around.

“How many lives saved does that make?” another Visionnari asked.

“Since we got here? Five hundred and seventy three, unless you want me to count the infants I’ve helped deliver and kept alive,” Edgar said. “If you do, that puts it at well over a thousand.”

There was silence. In unison, the Visionnari behind him spoke. “Then we find no crime has been committed here.”

There was a muffled gasp. “How can you say that?” Hamunixaru asked. “He used forbidden powers?”

“For Edgar, there are no forbidden powers. He is Father to All Worlds,” the first Visionnari said. “It is to him we owe our existence. It is he who found this planet for us. It is he who granted us life. We honor him by granting him the ability to live his life as he sees fit.” The booted feet marched off, the sound dwindling into nothing.

“Father, what did they mean that you are the Father to All Worlds?” Gemisidara asked.

“Did you pay attention in your history classes? About how humans came from a planet called Earth?” Edgar asked.

“That old story?” Hamunixaru asked. “You don’t believe it, do you?”

Edgar finally turned to face his daughter and son-in-law. He pushed back his sleeve and showed them the tattoo on his forearm. There, in all its pulsing glory, was the mark of the Esper. It was the mark given to those who’d been genetically engineered to have some kind of extra sensory powers. Those like him had been the reason Earth was abandoned. “I am one of the last Espers in existence. Most have committed suicide or been killed by those who don’t understand us. I continue to live, to spread my DNA in the hopes that someday those like me will be welcomed again once more.” He turned and, pressing his stick into the soft dirt as he walked, headed towards town.

A hero’s flame

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Photo via Visual hunt

It was eerily quiet. The sirens had stopped some time ago, and the bombs no longer shook the bunker. Brava clung to her daughter as the toddler whimpered in the dark.

“Brava, hush that brat before she gets us captured,” someone hissed. Brava couldn’t tell who it was.

“Have you ever tried to quiet a frightened child this young?” Brava snapped back, her voice a mere whisper. “It’s nearly impossible.”

“She’s not loud enough for the sniffers to find us anyway,” someone else whispered. “Leave Kayin alone.”

Someone grumbled but no one spoke again. Kayin soon went limp, a sign she’d cried herself to sleep. Brava pulled her closer, resting her chin on the top of Kayin’s head. A few people shifted in the dark, easing the awkwardness and pain of the positions they’d held for the past 24 hours.

Finally, Brava heard a peculiar sound and then the snap of a match striking something. Two lamps flashed into light. People cried out softly as their eyes, accustomed to the dark, were burned by the dim light.

Durai, the old man who’d hustled the townies into the bunker, looked solemnly at the group. “I think we can all accept the fact that our homes have been destroyed.” He paused. “I also think the bombs have stopped because there is no one left to drop them.”

“What do you mean?” someone asked. It was still dark enough Brava couldn’t see the speaker.

“I recognized the sound of the final bomb. It was the same type that destroyed my homeworld when I was a young man,” Durai said. “It is what drove me to this land. Now I feel it too has been devastated.”

“What do we do now?” someone else asked. Brava recognized this person. It was Rin, a young man who’d made several passes at Brava in the past. She didn’t like him but had to admit he’d been a brave soldier until a mine took out his leg.

“We check the air scan and then, if it is as I fear, we work on turning this network of rooms and tunnels into our new home. We will be here – not for a few years – but for a few generations,” Durai said.

“So long?” This was Leilani, a young woman who was in the early months of an unexpected pregnancy. She’d gotten pregnant just before her husband left to fight the Kilkani. He’d been killed and she’d never gotten a chance to tell him.

“Only if the air is as I suspect,” Durai said.

Borivoj, another soldier who’d returned too injured to continue fighting, went to the device next to the door. He started swearing. “The air is one thousand parts calinaris radiation.”

“That would be lethal within three seconds if we opened the door even half an inch,” Rin said. He looked ill.

Durai sighed. “It is as I thought. Riya, Gili, bring your soft lights. We need to map out these tunnels and bunkers. Brava, lay Kayin on my pallet and start cataloging how much food we have. Laird, check the seed collection. See what’s food and what’s ornamental.”

Brava set her daughter down and got to work. She wiped tears from her cheeks. Dieter, Kayin’s father and the man Brava planned to marry though she wasn’t sure she loved him, was dead. With the kind of radiation in the air outside there was no way he could have survived. Kayin would be devastated to learn her beloved “dada” was gone for good.

She closed her eyes for a moment before diving into the sorting. She wouldn’t betray his memory by being weak. She would be strong for Dieter, be strong for Kayin. She would be a hero for those she loved and those she now stood beside. It was the least she could do for all of them.

Excerpt from the NEW Chapter 1 of Into the Flames

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I’ve been working on a major rewrite for Into the Flames because I wanted to try something different with it. Here’s a sneak peek at the newly rewritten chapter one. Enjoy!

Do you have everything?” Eire asked.

As far as I know, Dad. You’re the one who knows better about the core than me.” Fiera ran her fingers through her hair, making the spikes worse. “You supervised my packing so if I’m missing anything it’s because you forgot about it.”

True,” Eire said. He pulled her into a rough hug. “Call me as soon as you reach Bouarus, no matter what time it is. I’ll answer.”

It always felt odd hugging her parents. She was a few centimeters taller than them, standing at just over a meter and a half. She was also slender where the rest of her family was stocky. Her mother Alena called her a throwback to an earlier genetic ancestor.

It wasn’t only her height that she’d inherited. Her face was narrow and angular where theirs was round. Her nose was pointed where the rest of her siblings, other than her twin, had snub noses. Only the shape of her eyes, wide and almond shaped, matched theirs. Eire teased Alena often that Fiera and Phelix couldn’t be his because of their appearance. No one took that seriously of course. Alena and Eire were faithful to each other and everyone knew it.

Fiera drew several deep breaths, cementing in her mind the scent of her father’s clean linen shirt and the spiciness of the chemicals all the farmers used to keep the bugs off. “What if you’re asleep?” Fiera asked.

Then keep calling until someone wakes up and can get me.”

That’ll irritate mom.”

Yeah, well, she can just deal with it.”

Fiera snickered. “You know, the way you two act towards each other sometimes looks more like teenagers dating than adults who’ve been married for, what, over thirty years now?”

About that, yes.” Eire laughed, a deep hearty laugh that made everyone around them smile. “We were married six months before Keoni was born.”

I remember hearing the stories from Gma and Gpa,” Fiera said.

Yes, and they thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen, your mom and me racing to the courthouse when we found out she was pregnant,” Eire said.

Fiera chuckled. “I still don’t know how you two have managed not to kill each other all these years, not to mention how many of us there are now.”

With love, respect, and a healthy sense of humor.” Eire smacked her lightly upside the head. “Get moving or you’ll miss the shuttle up. If you do, I’ll be really put out. What I’ve set up isn’t cheap.”

Fiera rolled her eyes. “So you keep telling me.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll call when I get there.”

Eire hugged her again, hauling her head down and pressing his lips to her cheek. “Remember: blend in.”

Into the Flames – Chapter 1

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As a bonus for my Kickstarter campaign (see the link at the end of the post), I’m offering the first chapter of Into the Flames for free.

Chapter 1

Fiera dropped her lavender duffel on the ground at her feet and inhaled the warm, fresh wind, feeling a pang. She wasn’t even aboard the ship that would take her from Sorus, her homeworld, and she already missed it. Why her dad picked her for this mission – she sighed. She knew the reasons, and even if she thought he was paranoid she knew she was the best one for it. Besides, she got an education out of it, though the location wasn’t one she’d have picked for herself.

A breeze teased her short, spiky hair and sent the tang of rocket fuel and metal to her. Her gaze skimmed the port. There was room for the three shuttles, but none for the huge passenger liner waiting for them at space station above. Beyond the fences, the fields lay green with ripening vegetables. She should be out there, doing her share of the weeding. This felt like a fool’s errand. She’d get into a fight and be blasted home by harvest.

A thud and a chuckle brought her back to the present. She turned to see her father, a small smile on his face, watching her. Eire Rezouac was a man in his seventies, yet looking at him you wouldn’t put him a day over thirty. It was only on closer examination that you saw the white in the dark red hair, the color of which Fiera had inherited. Her eyes though were the same turquoise as her mother’s.

“Do you have everything?” Eire asked.

“As far as I know, Dad. You’re the one who knows better about the core than me.” Fiera ran her fingers through her hair, making the spikes worse. “I still think Phelix would be better for this.”

“Phelix is clever, resourceful, and highly adaptable,” Eire said. “He’s also a little too naive. I need someone whose skepticism matches mine. Besides, he’s more mechanically inclined than you and a shipyard seemed the better place for him.” Eire pulled her into a rough hug. “Call me when you get to Bouarus. I’ve left word that they’re supposed to come get me if I’m teaching.”

It always felt odd hugging her parents. She was a few centimeters taller than them, standing at just over a meter and a half. She was also slender where the rest of her family was stocky. Her mother Alena called her a throwback to an earlier genetic ancestor.

It wasn’t only her height that she’d inherited. Her face was narrow and angular where theirs was round. Her nose was pointed where the rest of her siblings, other than her twin, had snub noses. Only the shape of her eyes, wide and almond shaped, matched theirs. Eire teased Alena often that Fiera and Phelix couldn’t be his because of their appearance. No one took that seriously of course. Alena and Eire were faithful to each other and everyone knew it.

Fiera drew several deep breaths, cementing in her mind the scent of her father’s clean linen shirt and the spiciness of the chemicals all the farmers used to keep the bugs off. “What if you’re asleep?” Fiera asked.

“Then keep calling until someone wakes up and can get me.”

“That’ll irritate mom.”

“Yeah, well, she can just deal with it.”

Fiera snickered. “You know, the way you two act towards each other sometimes looks more like teenagers dating than adults who’ve been married for, what, over thirty years now?”

“About that, yes.” Eire laughed, a deep hearty laugh that made everyone around them smile. “We were married six months before Keoni was born.”

“I remember hearing the stories from Gma and Gpa.”

“Yes, and they thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen, your mom and me racing to the courthouse when we found out she was pregnant.”

Fiera chuckled. “I still don’t know how you two have managed not to kill each other all these years, not to mention how many of us there are now.”

“With love, respect, and a healthy sense of humor.” Eire smacked her lightly upside the head. “Get moving or you’ll miss the shuttle up. If you do, I’ll be really put out. What I’ve set up isn’t cheap.”

Fiera rolled her eyes. “So you keep telling me.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll call when I get there.”

Eire hugged her again, hauling her head down and pressing his lips to her cheek. “Remember: blend in.”

“Yeah, got it Dad. Blend in. Love you. Give mom a kiss for me and tell the squirts to behave themselves.” She picked up her duffel, activated the pedal on the grav-sled, and waved as she turned to follow the line to the shuttle. Her father waved back and turned to go. No sentimentality, now that the parting was complete. Her eyes blurred for a moment, but she blinked back the tears. It wasn’t forever, just a few years.

She was stopped at the gate to the landing pad. “Boarding pass please?” a young woman with jet black hair and a perky smile asked. She winked as Fiera dug in her bag. “How long do you think you’re going to last, Fury?”

Fiera gave a half shrug as she continued opening and closing the small compartments. The girl’s question was the downside to living in a small community. Everyone knew where she was going, even those who only had a passing acquaintance with her family. “As long as I can, Jasmina. Dad’s being all serious about this, which means he’s worried about something.”

“I would be too, sending my daughter off to the core.”

“It’s more than that.” Fiera gave a frustrated sigh as she shoved things out of the way, still looking for her boarding pass. “Slag it. Where did it go?”

“Did you put it in your pocket?” Jasmina asked.

Fiera checked her pockets. She found the pass for the liner on one side and the one for the shuttle on the other. “Here you go.” She handed the small chip to the other woman. Jasmina scanned it. There was a click and the gate swung open. “Thanks Jas.”

“My pleasure. Take care and try not to get blasted home. Your dad would be offended.”

Fiera snorted as she made her way towards the small shuttle. High above Sorus’ atmosphere was the passenger ship that would take her from the outer edge of the colonies deep into the central worlds. The liners were too massive to land on a planet’s surface so they relied on space stations and smaller shuttles to bring their passengers to them. The small interplanetary shuttle was her first stop on the long trip to Bouarus, the world at the heart of the known solar system.

Fiera was stopped once more before she could board the shuttle. This time it was so she could hand over her baggage so it could be safely stored. It would be transferred to her room on the liner. Her father hadn’t told her what her sleeping arrangements would be. He’d only told her that he was seeing to it that she could be comfortable as well as useful.

Fiera got onto the shuttle. She picked a seat near the middle and settled in. As she leaned back, she heard a little cough at her elbow. A well dressed woman whose clothes screamed central worlds was staring at her. Fiera caught a whiff of some exotic flower and spice.

“Excuse me, dear, but I think you’re in the wrong seat,” the woman said.

“There are no assigned seats on the shuttle. Besides, it’s wide open. If you don’t want to sit next to me, go pick somewhere else to sit.”

“I always sit in this seat, and you are in my way. Move.”

“No.”

The woman’s nostrils flared. “Do you have any idea who I am?”

Fiera smirked. “A core worlder unacquainted with the idea of personal space?”

The woman puffed herself up. “I am Jaynie Mondadori.”

Fiera raised an eyebrow. “And that’s supposed to mean something?”

“Only an unlettered colonial wouldn’t know my name.” Jaynie crossed her arms across her chest. “Now, either you move willingly or I get one of the staff here to remove you from my seat.”

Fiera looked her in the eye. She reached back and secured the harness, effectively locking her in her seat. “Get fragged.”

Jaynie’s eyes narrowed. “Big mistake, colonial.” She stalked off towards the area where the employees were gathering. “That woman took my spot.”

All of the shuttle crew were from the Duyelia sector. They glanced at Fiera, who waved and smiled, and then back at Jaynie. “There’s no assigned seating. Sit somewhere else,” one of the men said.

Jaynie gaped at them for a moment before storming away. She headed for a seat on the other side of the aisle. She alternated between glaring at Fiera and whatever member of the crew passed by. They paid no attention to her any more than they did to the other passengers. A couple winked at Fiera as they went about their duties, but for the most part she was ignored as well.

The shuttle was barely half full when the klaxon sounded. Those not already strapped in quickly adjusted the harnesses and settled back in their seats. The intercom whistled and everyone looked up. “This is your pilot speaking. Liftoff in fifteen seconds.” Fiera silently mouthed the countdown numbers that appeared on the screen in front of them. As the readout hit zero, the engines roared and she was pressed back into her seat.

The trip up took twenty minutes. Fiera watched out the window as they approached the space station. The scarred metal exterior was lit with hundreds of lights, giving Fiera a good view of the many ships docked there. Most were freighters collecting the cargo from planetside. Their bulky, inelegant design was hardly awe inspiring but they could hold ten tonnes.

Next to them the sleek luxury liner looked out of place. Its hull gleamed in the station lights, smooth and unmarred by any kind of scratch or ding. It was a kilometer long with a design meant to cut through space with little turbulence from the solar winds. An electromagnetic field created a thin skin around the ship, preventing debris from striking it.

From what she’d read in the brochure her father had given her, the ship could hold fifteen thousand guests along with the amenities you’d expect to find in a high class resort rather than on something carrying you through space. This wasn’t something Fiera had thought she’d ever be riding on. Then again, her plans hadn’t included ever leaving the Duyelia sector either.

The shuttle eased up next to the station. There was a muffled clunk as the docking clamps attached. “Docking complete. Please exit the shuttle in an orderly fashion.”

Fiera unfastened her harness and stood. She staggered a little and put her hand out to brace herself on an empty seat. The gravity was less than on Sorus and she felt off balance. She waited patiently for others to pass her, even letting Jaynie out before she moved into the aisles. She went down the ramp and joined the short queue, moving carefully so as not to run into anyone else.

The station was a vibrant hub of color and sound. People were moving between gates, some carrying baggage and others pushing pallets of cargo towards areas that Fiera couldn’t see. There was a sharp scent of oil and the tang of heated metal.

“Last call for Skyliner Lusitania. Please make your way to docking bay five.” The announcement was loud enough to cut across the din of multiple conversations and machinery.

Fiera looked around, trying to orient herself. A young man in the station security’s uniform came up to her. “Can I help you find something?” he asked.

“Docking bay five,” Fiera said. “I’ve got a ship to catch.”

“See the green line on the floor?” He pointed and Fiera nodded. “Follow that.”

“Thank you,” Fiera said. She moved quickly, staggering a little as her body reacted badly to the lower gravity. She crashed into the wall, scraping her arm against the bulkhead. She muttered swear words under her breath as she righted herself and continued on her way.

She reached the lock at the same time as several others who’d ridden up on the same shuttle. Luggage was being brought out and several people made beelines for it, opening their cases and shoving stuff around until they found the boarding passes for the liner. Fiera reached into her pocket and pulled hers out. The stewards and security personnel looked very irritated at those who had to scramble to find theirs.

She watched as Jaynie made it to the front of the line. “Boarding ID please,” the curvaceous blond in the liner’s uniform said.

Jaynie puffed up. “Don’t you know who I am?”

“Yes I do, Councilwoman Mondadori. But in order to log you on board properly we need your boarding pass. This allows us to make certain you are registered as reaching your destination,” the blond said, her dulcet tones matching the sweet smile on her face.

Jaynie flounced off. She pushed a few people out of the way and pulled open one of her bags. A few other people passed by the blond before Fiera got to her. “Do you get that a lot?” Fiera asked as she handed over her boarding pass, jerking her head towards Jaynie.

“People don’t always realize the safety factor involved in presenting the proper credentials,” the blond said. She smiled and looked over her shoulder. “Ruslan, she’s in first class, cabin twenty three.”

A tall, swarthy man who looked older than her father stepped forward. He was pulling a small hover cart with him. “Which ones are yours?” he asked. Fiera found her luggage. He loaded them onto the cart. “Right this way, ma’am.”

Ruslan led her into a lift. It looked to be made of glass and metal. She saw the inner structure of the ship as they crowded in with other passengers. Ruslan pressed the number two on the panel. Fiera saw that hers was the smallest number illuminated.

The door slid shut and the lift started moving. To Fiera’s surprise it didn’t move up or down. It went sideways. Once it reached a predetermined spot it started moving up. It stopped a few floors above and three people along with the stewards helping them got off.

“How dreadful it must be to have to stay in third class,” a woman said to her companion.

He nodded. “I’ve heard their rooms are cramped and they have nothing to do on the ship.”

“All of our passengers have equal access to most of our facilities,” one of the stewards said. “Our rooms are also among the largest in the fleet.” The other two fell silent.

Floor by floor more people got off until it was just Fiera, Ruslan, and one other couple and their steward. They reached the second floor and all of them got off. Fiera paused a moment to take in her surroundings. The corridor was covered in what looked to be real wood panels. The carpet was a deep blue plush and muffled the sound of their footsteps. Metal fixtures gleamed brightly and soft music played over unseen speakers.

“This way please,” Ruslan said, gesturing for her to follow him.

Ruslan took her to a door with the number twenty three secured to the wall beside it. The numbers themselves seemed to be made of gold filigree, and were polished to a mirror shine. Ruslan pulled out a card and slotted it into a machine on his belt. He punched something in and the machine beeped twice. Ruslan pulled the card out of the machine and inserted it into a discreet panel beside the door. It swung open.

Ruslan handed Fiera the card and walked into the room. She followed him in. He ran his hand across the sensor on the wall and the lights turned on. Fiera stopped and stared. “This is not what I expected.”

“Is something not to your liking?” He sounded anxious.

“No, no, everything’s fine. This was just a bit of a shock, that’s all.”

“Ah.” He maneuvered her baggage through another door and slipped it off his cart. “Would you like me to show you some of the amenities of the suite?”

“Yes please.”

He led her around the rooms, pointing out things she might enjoy. “Would you care for a tour of the other luxuries on the ship? You’ll be onboard for a long time and I’m sure you’ll need to entertain yourself outside your rooms.”

“I would love one,” Fiera said.

Ruslan spent the next half hour showing Fiera the luxuries she had access to on the ship. He led her back to her stateroom. “I trust everything is to your satisfaction?”

“It is, thank you.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” he asked.

“That seems to be it.” He seemed to be waiting for something. She pulled out her credit chip. He handed her a reader and she scanned it in. She gave him a tip of fifty credits. Her father told her that the staff on the liner would expect to be paid for their services. The balance on her chip reflected that necessity. He smiled and left the room.

Fiera wandered around the suite, running her fingers across the elegant furniture. Everything felt real. She knew the core could do amazing things with replicators, but the wood in the furniture felt as if it came from trees and not a lab. The warm earth tones were soothing and did a lot to ease some of her uneasiness.

Fiera sat down on the couch and pulled up the entertainment menu on the holo. She found a movie she’d heard of but hadn’t seen because it never made it out to the colonies and turned it on.

Two and a half hours later, Fiera turned off the holo. “Well, that’s time I won’t get back,” she muttered. She looked at the clock. According to the ship’s schedule, it was time for dinner. She was hungry since it had been a while since lunch. She got changed into one of her nicer outfits, a deep sapphire blouse with cut out shoulders and an empire waist. It was matched by a skirt that fell to her ankles the same shade as the top and a pair of sandals made of dyed leather.

The dining room was on the same floor as she was. It had a grand entrance with double doors flung wide open. She walked inside. There were several people already there. Each was dressed in elegant clothing that belied their central worlds origins. There were a few who were dressed as simply as Fiera was, showing they too were from the colonies.

She didn’t recognize any of the colonists but saw that they were congregating on one side of the room. The core worlders were gathering on the other. Fiera made her way over to the group from the Duyelia sector.

“Oh, I am so glad to see another colonist,” one of the women said as Fiera joined them. “The core worlders outnumber us fifty to one.”

“You’re exaggerating, Moyna,” one of the men said.

“I am not,” Moyna said. “Look at how many are on their side of the room compared to us. Not to mention there are more of them coming in.” She turned to Fiera. “I’m Moyna Zuiderduin.”

“Fiera Rezouac.”

“Eire’s daughter?” one of the other men asked. Fiera nodded. “I’m Klas Burgstaller.”

The others introduced themselves as well. “That’s a lovely outfit,” Moyna said. “It brings out your eyes.”

“Thanks. You look good in yours too.”

Fiera heard a familiar voice and turned to look. Jaynie was holding court with a dozen other core worlders hovering around her. “You would not believe the rudeness of the colonials on the shuttle,” she said. The woman was far from svelte, and the garish pink dress with its many sequins just served to make her look like some bizarre dumpling with sprinkles. Fiera nearly choked herself on her laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Vladislav, the first man to speak, asked. Fiera told them. There were a few soft snickers. “Don’t let her hear you saying that. She’s a member of the Assembly and can cause all sorts of problems for you.”

“I suppose that’s why she expected special treatment when we were getting on then,” Fiera said.

Klas snorted. “I saw a few of the core worlders try that when they got on at the same time I did too.”

“I didn’t think there were this many core worlders in the colonies,” Fiera said.

“Most of them were already on the ship,” Moyna said. “They’re here on a tour of the colonies. It’s a fairly popular vacation package apparently.”

“Some had actual business out here and were looking for a comfortable way to deal with it,” Shyamala, one of the other women, said. “I’m guessing that’s why the councilwoman was out here. I can’t see someone like her taking a vacation in the Duyelia sector.”

“There was this terribly rude red haired woman who wouldn’t get out of my seat,” Jaynie said. Fiera saw her sneer as she looked at the colonists. A look of confusion appeared on her face. “How are you here? This is for first class passengers only.”

“I am a first class passenger,” Fiera said.

“There is no way a colonial could have enough money for first class,” Jaynie said.

“Councilwoman, I’ll have to ask you not to insult our other passengers,” a tall, imposing man dressed in a smart uniform said. His buzzed hair was gray and the close cropped beard matched.

“And who are you?” Jaynie asked.

“Captain Owain McDougall. All guests are welcome aboard my ship, regardless of where they come from.” He smiled at the gathered passengers. “I’m glad to meet all of you who are just now joining us. Please enjoy the amenities of this ship and I hope you all have a pleasant journey.” He took a seat at a table near the front of the room.

That seemed to be the queue for everyone else to sit. Fiera sat with the other colonists. The waitstaff came around and placed food and drinks in front of them. “This soup is amazing,” Shyamala said. “I am constantly surprised by the ingenuity of their chefs.”

Fiera took a sip and almost spit it out. “Don’t be. This has replicator food in it.”

“How can you tell?” Vladislav asked.

“The chemical aftertaste.” Fiera took several swallows of her drink.

“This is a core world ship. You’re going to have to expect some replicated food,” Klas said.

“I didn’t think about that,” Fiera said. She finished her soup, suppressing her gag reflex. A short while later the next course was brought out.

“Is this one replicator food?” Vladislav asked.

Fiera tried everything on the plate. “No, just poorly seasoned. Their chef used too much salt and not enough of the other spices and herbs.”

“You know a lot about food,” Moyna said.

“My mom was a professional chef for a while before she had kids. She taught all of us a lot about food prep, meal planning, stuff like that. I also started cooking for her when she needed a break.”

“If you cooked everything from scratch, how did you get replicator food?” Shyamala asked.

“There are a few people on Sorus who either can’t or won’t learn how to cook properly so they have the feeds. One of them is a really good friend of my dad’s. Every time we’d get invited over to their house for a meal I’d spit out the food and refuse to eat because I could taste the fact it was replicated. The first few times I didn’t know that they had the feeds, or even what replicators were. I just knew the food tasted awful. Dad figured out why I was responding the way I was and the visits stopped. They started coming to our house for meals.”

“With how expensive this trip is, you’d think they would use all fresh ingredients,” Shyamala said.

“Even core worlders can’t afford everything,” Klas said.

“They’re cutting corners to ensure their profit margins,” Fiera said. “That’s typical core worlder tactics.”

“Klas, why don’t you tell Fiera about what you do for a living?” Moyna asked. “I think she’d be interested in it.”

“I own a shipyard,” Klas said. “What’s interesting about that?”

“What shipping line do you build for?” Fiera asked. Klas answered her and the rest of the meal was spent talking about ships and their component parts.

After dinner, Fiera joined the others in a game of cards, which went on until she was too tired to continue. She returned to her cabin and stripped out of her clothes. She hung them up and pulled on a sleep suit. She pulled back the blanket and laid down on the bed. She sank into the mattress, her head supported by the pillows. She stared out the window at the stars. For a moment she wondered what it would be like to do this for a living, sail among the stars. She snorted. She preferred solid ground under her feet and the scent of green and growing things. She closed her eyes and drifted off.

She woke up, feeling refreshed and ready to do something active. A quick glance at the clock told her that she had an hour until breakfast. She decided to wait until after she’d eaten to do anything. She went into the bathroom and took a quick shower. She pulled on a pair of black pants and an emerald green top. She sat down to watch a holo while she waited for breakfast.

Fiera joined the other colonists for breakfast. She noticed there were fewer people over on the core worlder’s side. “Is it my imagination, or are there some late risers?” she asked.

“There’s an open bar on the ship. Most of them stay up late drinking and talking about what they consider to be important matters. We’ll see them in here for lunch, if they’re awake by then,” Klas said.

Breakfast was a protein heavy meal, for which Fiera was grateful. “So what are everyone’s plans for today?” Shyamala asked.

“I’m going to let breakfast digest a bit and then go swimming,” Moyna said. “Then I’ll read for a bit next to the pool before lunch.”

“So your usual,” Klas said. Moyna laughed and nodded.

“Vladislav and I are going to go play a few games of chess. Anyone want to join us?” Klas asked. The others shook their heads. “What are you going to do Fiera?”

“Wait for my food to digest and then go check out the gym,” Fiera said.

“You’re probably going to run into a lot of core worlders there,” Klas said.

Fiera shrugged. “That’s true of wherever I go on this ship.”

She saw a flash of pink and turned to look. Jaynie was just stumbling in. She was dressed in a matching shirt and pants of the same garish pink color as her dress from the previous night. This time it didn’t have sequins, but was equally as eye burning with neon green stripes.

“Does that woman not have any style?” Moyna muttered.

“I don’t think she cares,” Shyamala said with a small giggle.

“She looks ridiculous,” Klas said.

Fiera finished eating. “I guess I’ll go find something to do while breakfast settles.”

“Why don’t you come watch us play?” Klas asked.

“Watching you two is about as riveting as watching paint dry,” Shyamala said with a laugh.

“We’re a little better than that,” Vladislav said, glowering at the other woman.

“Sure. It beats sitting alone in my room,” Fiera said. The others quickly finished and scattered to their separate pursuits.

Klas and Vladislav were skilled chess players and Fiera was anything but bored watching them. She waited through two games before standing up. “Are you leaving us?” Klas asked.

“Yeah. I’ve had too much sitting,” Fiera said.

“Enjoy your workout,” Vladislav said. Fiera waved and walked out.

Fiera went back to her room. She rummaged through her luggage and came out with a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. She changed clothes and made her way to the gym.

There were a few people in there using the various machines. Fiera looked around. There was a corner set up with automated targets for hand to hand combat. She went over and fiddled around with the controls until she had it set at what she thought she wanted. She hit the “activate sequence” button and got down to work.

The setting she’d chosen was the one designated for those with an intermediate skill level. She made the first move and the battle with the machine was on. Twenty minutes in and Fiera hit the button that told the machine she was done. The servos wound down and the automaton went still. Fiera hit the reset button, as the instructions printed on the wall said to do, and wiped the sweat off her face. That had been one of the hardest workouts she’d done.

“Leave it to a colonial to favor something so crude as fighting,” a familiar voice sneered. Fiera turned towards the sound. It was Jaynie.

“Hey, this is a core worlder’s ship. If it’s here, someone from your sector must use it,” Fiera said.

Jaynie glared at her. “We prefer central worlds or our names.”

“We prefer colonists or our names as well. Since you don’t give us that courtesy most of the time, why shouldn’t we do the same to you?” Fiera hopped off the platform and started towards the door.

“Just as I thought, completely uncivilized,” Jaynie said. There were several snickers as the rest of those in the gym watched the two women.

Fiera raised an eyebrow. “So what are you here to do?”

“Run the track of course. That’s what any proper woman would do.”

“So glad I’m not what you’d consider proper then. Running is boring unless there’s something worthwhile at the end,” Fiera said. She ignored Jaynie’s sneering laughter and left the gym.

A fast shower later and she felt somewhat human again, though she still seethed. She was toweling off her hair when someone knocked on her door. She walked over and peered out into the hall. It was Moyna and a few of the others from the colonies.

She opened the door. “Fiera, we were wondering if you’d like to join us for a game? We were thinking one of the multiplayer strategy games.”

“That sounds like fun,” Fiera said. “Come on in. I just need a minute.”

The others walked into her stateroom. She ducked into the bathroom and tossed the wet towel into the appropriate bin. She ran her fingers through her cropped hair and called it good. She rejoined the other colonists. “Are you any good at strategy games?” Shyamala asked as they headed out the door.

“I’m okay at them. My brother Phelix is a whiz. I play him all the time. He beats me three out of five games. Even my dad has a hard time winning against him.”

The others led her to the gaming room. They settled into comfortable chairs. Moyna activated the unit and the multi-level board appeared. Everyone chose their tokens and the game began. Early on Fiera linked up with Moyna to work on defeating the others. She was knocked out of the game quickly by Shyamala, but in the second game she managed to edge out the others to win. The group continued playing, laughing and enjoying themselves until lunch.

Lunch was still more of an informal affair and the group split up afterwards for more personal entertainment. Fiera went swimming and then settled in to watch a holo in her cabin. Dinner was the same formal meal as it had been the night before. She sat with the other colonists, learning about where they were from, where they were going, and why they were going there.

Seven weeks passed before the ship made the change into the central worlds. There was a subtle shift that the colonists could feel. They reached Ismillon first.

Fiera watched as Moyna packed everything up. “We’ll miss you,” Fiera said.

“It’s been a pleasure getting to know you,” Moyna said. “I’m just glad I’m getting off here. I don’t think I could deal with the supercilious attitudes from the core worlders anymore.”

“You’re going to be living on a core world. You’re probably going to be getting that every day,” Shyamala said.

“My sister lives in an area that’s full of colonists. I shouldn’t have much trouble,” Moyna said.

“Well I envy you,” Fiera said. “I’ve got another ten weeks on this thing.”

“That’s right. You’re headed into Bouarus. What is it you’re studying again?” Moyna asked.

“Nanotech with an emphasis on its medical applications and Intergalactic Studies.”

“That’s going to take you a while, isn’t it?” Moyna asked.

“Yeah, seven years, unless I drop one of them. Or manage to not frag myself by taking a lot of classes.”

“Be careful in Sio, Fiera. It’s not safe, even for the core worlders.” Moyna piled her bags on top of her grav trunk. She activated the hover field and dragged the luggage out of the room.

“Stay safe here, Moyna. Good luck with your sister.”

“Thanks.” Moyna waved and joined the others disembarking. There were quite a few, though Moyna was the only colonist leaving the ship.

Fiera made her way back to her suite. She got in and flopped down on the couch. She ran roughened fingers over the soft rust colored fabric, feeling it catch on the ridges of her skin. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. The recycled air on the ship was lightly perfumed with a floral scent. It gave her a low level headache.

Someone knocked on her door. She stood and opened it. Shyamala and Klas were outside. “We were wondering if you’d like to come join us in the lounge,” Shyamala said.

“I’m not interested in drinking and listening to someone belt out songs in a poor imitation of music,” Fiera said.

“It’s not that bad,” Shyamala said. “At least the one tonight isn’t. She’s actually got a sense of rhythm and pitch.”

“I’ll pass,” Fiera said.

“Then what are you going to do?” Klas asked.

“Probably work out again and call it early,” Fiera said. “My usual.”

“You’re wasting your time onboard. You’re supposed to be enjoying a vacation from your real life until you don’t have a choice but to take it up again,” Shyamala said.

“I’m going to be stuck on Bouarus for the next seven years, unless something happens. Don’t you think that’s enough of a change?” Fiera asked.

“Yes, but you’re going there to work,” Klas said. “This is supposed to be for pleasure.”

Fiera sighed. “Okay, okay. I’ll come with you.”

The other two grinned. “We’ll wait for you to change,” Shyamala said. Fiera closed the door and changed into one of her better casual outfits. She joined the other two and they made their way to the lounge.

The next ten weeks passed with the number of colonists growing fewer and the number of those from the central worlds increasing. Fiera expected to be harassed for being from the colonies, but aside from some snide comments from Jaynie, she was left alone. The stewards and other staff were attentive and respectful, and the captain even invited her to dine with him at one point to discuss some of his business points in the colonies. It was a far cry from what she’d expected when she boarded.

She was finishing her breakfast when the intercom whistled. “We are in orbit around Bouarus. Everyone debarking must be at the shuttle bays in ten minutes,” Captain McDougall said.

Fiera grabbed her gear and headed out of her cabin. It took her a few minutes to find the shuttle bays. There were so many people waiting for the shuttles. She got in line and waited.

“What do you think you’re doing? This line is for people needing to go to Bouarus.” Jaynie was dressed in another garishly colored outfit and all but drowned in a floral scent that burned Fiera’s nose.

“If I’m in line, what does that tell you?” Fiera asked.

“That you’re an idiot.”

“If I’m an idiot, how did I get into the University?”

“You didn’t get in. No unlettered colonial would ever be able to pass the entrance exams,” Jaynie said. “Besides, there’s no way they’d enroll you when there are dozens of more deserving young people fighting to get in.”

“Well, it’s been proven that those of us in the colonies are more intelligent than you core worlders. How else would you explain the disparity between my intellect and the process of those from the central worlds with even a modicum of education not being allowed entrance to one of the most influential universities?”

Jaynie looked blankly at her. “What did you just say?”

“If you can’t work it out for yourself, you’re not as intelligent as you seem to think you are,” Fiera said. The line shifted and Fiera moved forward, ignoring Jaynie’s spluttering.

Her ticket was checked and the steward let her onto the shuttle. She settled into one of the seats and waited for everyone else to get into place. A short while later, she heard the familiar chime. “Good afternoon passengers. We will be landing in Sio in approximately forty five minutes. Please be patient as we must wait our turn in line to disengage from the liner,” the pilot said.

A short while later, the shuttle lifted up and eased itself out of the docking bay. Fiera watched out the window, getting her first look at her new home. She was both disgusted and awed by what she saw as they made their descent to the landing pad. It was late afternoon and the suns blazed down through the clouds.

Sio, the main city on Bouarus, was a sprawling mega metropolis. It took up half the smallest continent, spanning just over 2400 kilometers. Fiera saw minuscule spots of green dotted in certain areas of the city. The skyline was dominated by towering buildings. The man-made structures spiraled into the sky and were high enough that they had to weave its way through them.

The shuttle landed. As soon as the signal was given, everyone released their harnesses and got up. The gravity was even less than on the liner. Fiera waited for the crowd of eager central world citizens to exit before getting up and heading out herself. She stumbled more than once as her body tried to accommodate this new environment.

Fiera went to the luggage claim area and snagged her bags. She almost lost her hold on her trunk as the lighter gravity threw her off balance again. She steadied herself and walked towards the doors. As she passed security, she noticed Jaynie speaking to one of the staff. A Port Authority security officer came up to Fiera. “Excuse me, miss, but if you came in from that shuttle you have to go through decontamination before you’re allowed to enter the city.”

“Why is that?” Fiera asked.

“It’s not known what kind of viruses or bacteria come in from the colonies,” the man said. “You have to go through decon to protect the residents. Can you imagine what would happen if a disease from one of the colony worlds broke out in the city?”

“Absolutely nothing, since your medicos would just whip up a cure within the first few days of the illness hitting the streets,” Fiera said.

“Your things will have to go through their own decon. If any of them are found to be contaminated, they will be destroyed and you will be responsible for replacing them,” the agent continued, guiding Fiera towards a series of booths.

“Isn’t that something the Port Authority should pay for?” Fiera asked.

“It’s a risk you take visiting the colony worlds,” the agent said. One of the others took her bags from her. She was shoved towards a booth. “Step inside and hold still. The process will only take a few minutes.”

Fiera did as she was told. As soon as she got in, the booth closed and locked behind her. Glowing rings repeatedly ran up and down her body until she was tingling as if she’d been out in the light of the twin suns with no time in the shade. The door unlocked and Fiera was able to step out.

The agent handed her a small bag. “Where are my things?” Fiera asked.

“Your credit chip and your pad are in there,” the agent said. “The rest of your belongings were full of hazardous biological material.”

Fiera noticed Jaynie was watching the situation with a smirk on her face. “There was nothing wrong with my clothes and personal effects. You destroyed them because she said I was from the colonies,” Fiera said, eyes narrowed.

“Be glad we left what you’re wearing. You’re free to go now. There are shops in town where you may purchase new things. If you’re going to stay in the central worlds, you should learn to accommodate our way of life,” the agent said. He pushed her away and turned to the next person.

Fiera let out a string of curses under her breath as she stalked out of the terminal and into the city. She hailed an auto cab and climbed in. A computerized voice asked her what her destination was. Fiera pulled up the notes on her pad and typed in the address her father had given her. The cab lifted off the ground and eased itself into traffic before heading deeper into the city.

Setting Into the Flames Into the Sky

Just an ordinary businessman

book-store-page-bookstore

Photo via Visualhunt.com

“He’s been locked in that room for days,” my wife said to someone. I continued pushing pins into the wall, faster and faster. I had to finish before she opened the door. I had to get done. “I can’t even get him to speak to me. The only reason I know he’s alive is he’s come out from time to time after we’ve all gone to bed to eat.”

It’s true. There were times where I was too weak to go on with my task, so I’d slip into the kitchen and grab something quickly before I was seen. I pricked my finger on one of the pins. I ignored the moment of pain. How many times had that happened in the past…how long had I been in here? I shook my head. It didn’t matter. Only my purpose mattered.

“You say he’s been acting strange for a while now?” a deep gravelly voice answered her. I didn’t recognize it so I moved on. “Explain that, please.”

“He went to this antiquities auction and purchased several items,” my wife said. “It’s part of his job. Or it was, until he got fired for stealing three books from what he’d gotten for his client. My husband isn’t a thief. He told me someone else made him take those books. I believed him. This was about two weeks ago. Ten days ago he started rambling about his ‘mission’, locked himself in the spare bedroom, and hasn’t emerged since. I think he has those books in there with him.”

“I see. Thank you, ma’am,” the gravelly voice replied.”Okay boys, we’ve probably got a class two field up over the door, so bring the splitter. Then we’ll need a plasma torch and the coolant gel.”

I scowled. A splitter would disrupt the frequency of my force field and a plasma torch would cut through the door with little effort. I glanced down at what I held in my hands. I was almost done. If I hurried, I’d finish just as they broke in. I pushed onward.

I heard the crackle of electricity as the generator shorted out. Then I felt the heat as the door was destroyed by the plasma torch. I pinned the last page up just as the metal hit the floor with a clunk. I turned to see a security officer in full riot gear smear coolant gel on the opening before stepping through.

“Clear,” he shouted. “No visible sign of weapons.”

“Of course I don’t have any weapons,” I said calmly. “I don’t believe in them.”

Another man, this one dressed in a more streamlined set of armor, entered the room. “Mr. Ross, I’m Captain Daniels of the Old District New York security office.” It was the gravelly voice.

“Pleased to meet you, Captain Daniels,” I said with a pleasant smile.

“Your aberrant behavior requires us to take you in for psychiatric evaluation,” Captain Daniels said.

“Certainly,” I said. “May I wash my hands first? I’m afraid I’m covered in dust and ink.”

“Mr. Ross, what have you been doing in here?” Captain Daniels asked.

“I’m not entirely sure,” I said, shrugging. “The voices finally stopped without telling me why it was so important the pages go up in this particular order. I’m sure I’ve gone mad, but at least my mind is quiet now.”

“You two,” Captain Daniels barked, gesturing to the first officer through and a second who’d joined him. “Escort Mr. Ross to the bathroom so he can wash up. Then take him to the transport.” He unlocked and opened the door. “Mrs. Ross, your husband is non-combative at this time, but I suggest you and your children still stand back.”

I heard her muffled sob. I felt nothing. She’d been an adequate spouse, nothing special, but very good at executing her duties. Well, all but one. My children were spoiled, overindulged little monsters thanks to her, and no matter how much I tried to discipline them she would countermand everything I tried to do. All of them needed to be punished.

I glanced at the wall. Thin bands of red light were starting to show between the pages. I let them lead me out of the room. I washed quickly and then got in the van when I was taken to it. I stayed very docile, not wanting to draw attention to anything. As the door started to slide shut, I heard the first of the screams. I started laughing as the security officers ran inside. I let myself out of the van and started walking down the street. No one paid any attention to me. I was, after all, just an ordinary businessman.