Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday’s Serving – To Protect and Service: Ravenous Virtue (WIP)

Kimi, being the gregarious creature she was, moved on to other dance partners after fifteen minutes.  Raven didn’t want to dance with anyone else, and fortunately, Douglas seemed loathe to give her up.  He kept touching her, as if to make sure she and everyone else knew she was with him.  The contact was innocent, just cupping her shoulder or elbow, sliding his hand down her upper arm, or brushing her waist.  Yet every touch made Raven feel warm inside.  The seductive way he swayed rather than jerking enthusiastically like many others were, also had her nerves jumping.  The man was pure sex in jeans, and Raven found herself assaulted once again with visions of what he could do to her.

And those deep, dangerous eyes, with their mesmerizing gold color, seemed to hypnotize her.  She just couldn’t look away from Douglas, not even when the floor grew more crowded than ever and she was constantly bumped into.  It was almost as if they existed on a separate plane from everyone else, like ghosts among the living.

He had some kind of hold on her, Raven realized.  It should have warned her away.  Instead, she wanted to remain in his thrall, to see what danger the man truly represented.  She moved close to him, so close that she could smell his exotic cologne.  Close enough to feel the warm of his body against hers.  Dancing with Douglas Bringer was like dancing with a cobra, a beautiful, deadly creature that bided its time, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Releasing Fall 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Police Work is Boring. Just Ask Gelan and Wynhod.

Honestly, investigations into crime are tedious tasks.  Television and movies would have us believe otherwise.  All these shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, Law and Order ... everything gets wrapped up nice and pretty in the span of an hour.  And it’s exciting, with the bad guys shooting at the good guys, mental puzzles that would stump Einstein, and a thrilling chase scene here and there.  Police work looks plenty exciting on the screen when it comes from Hollywood.

In actuality, it’s hours of monotonous desk work, days of waiting on lab results, weeks of waiting for red tape to be cleared, and months when nothing ... NOTHING ... new comes up to move a case along.  Cases can extend into years with false leads going nowhere.  Sometimes they never get solved.

You’ll find this slow grind is very much the issue in Clan Beginnings:  Clan and Conviction.  When we join Gelan and Wynhod in the first part of the book, Gelan is investigating the Delir drug ring, as he has for months.  He’s the second lead investigator that’s handled the case, in fact.  Delir has already defeated the first one.  It’s been dragging along for quite some time.  Several things happen all at once to push this long-stagnant investigation into overdrive at last:  Wynhod becomes Gelan’s partner, a savvy criminal psychologist with new insights is assigned to help (Krijero), and a lucky break finally comes along. 

In the second part of the book, a new drug called Frenzy makes itself a pain in our clan’s collective ass.  This one stretches for two years before any headway is made.  There’s a lot of bitching about sitting at a computer doing research (Wynhod), because that’s the name of the game in most cases.  Interspersed with their Frenzy case are other cases that are no less tedious to our intrepid trio.  It’s no wonder they go in for extreme sports like mountain climbing, primitive hunting, and spear fishing with man-eating rizpahs.  These poor guys have to do something to blow off steam and get the adrenaline pumping.

Yes, police work, especially the investigative part, is mostly dull stuff.  However, Clan and Conviction skips over broad swaths of time, so don’t be worried about sitting next to Wynhod and Gelan, your eyes glazed over as you spend hour after hour on a stakeout watching people walk in and out of a supposedly closed-down club.  You get to miss all that stuff and go quickly to the shoot outs, hostage negotiations, and races against time.   Plus there’s that matter of new intimate relationships and sex.  Yeah, that helps pass the hours too.

Tentative release set for May 2013.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

WIP Wednesday – To Protect and Service: Ravenous Virtue

Raven’s friend Douglas is not what he seems:

Douglas took a deep breath.  The air shimmered around him, like desert heat off blacktop.  Then he changed right before her eyes.

His chameleon hair turned as blond as Vendeen’s.  His golden eyes shaded to brown.  His features sharpened, taking him from the chiseled perfection of Douglas Bringer to that of a thinner, finer-featured man.

Raven couldn’t even summon a gasp.  She stared, trying to decipher what her eyesight was telling her.

Before she could gather her senses to react, Douglas changed again.  His features became rounder and even more delicate.  His eyes turned blue, and his hair lengthened to past his shoulders.  His body curved out until Raven was looking at a woman.  A woman that had been Douglas Bringer.

The female gave Raven a saucy grin, then shifted once more, returning to the visage of Douglas that she knew.  Golden eyes and short hair.  Chameleon hair.

The whole fucking man was a chameleon, if Raven was to believe her eyes.  She wasn’t so sure she did.

“What the fuck?” she croaked.  The only explanation was drugs.  She was so hopped up on medication that she was hallucinating.  Like she had earlier, with the voices in the dark she was just now remembering.  Douglas and Vendeen’s voices.

Douglas took her hand.  He felt real enough as he said, “My real name is Daagiis, Raven.  I am what many refer to as a face-changer, though I can alter my whole body.  I come from the world Paatuun.  The space station you thought was a joke is real, and you’re on it.”

She stared at him.  Damn it, this didn’t feel like a dream, but it had to be.  Either that, or she was absolutely fucking insane.  She said, “Right.  So what meds am I on?  Because I really think someone needs to lower my dosage.”

Releasing late summer.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday’s Serving – Clan Beginnings: Clan and Conviction (WIP)

            The Imdiko sighed.  Once again, his lack of social graces had tripped him up.  He should have been more sensitive to the investigator’s loss.  That wouldn’t have been the only possible reason Gelan had been such a jerk, in any case.  Like Jomik said, the investigators and enforcers were not exactly open to the insights of the psych department.  They hated to admit the objective opinion of someone not completely immersed in the case might be helpful once in awhile. They didn’t like to share the glory of solving the crimes either.
            Maybe in a few days Dramok Gelan would be more approachable.  If Krijero could get the guts up to ask for another meeting, perhaps he could try to get in his good graces.  He really wanted to be on Delir.  It was the kind of case that could challenge his abilities.
            “I’ll give it another go in a few days.  Maybe a week,” he told Jomik.
            “There you go.”  The Dramok moved back to his desk.  “Gelan’s new partner is hot, huh?  Don’t tell my Nobek I said that.”
            Krijero shrugged and pretended to study the notes he’d been making on the Delir case when Gelan and Wynhod had shown up.  “I didn’t notice.”
            Actually, he had.  Both men were handsome.  Big and uber masculine, with almost identical auras of power.  Exactly the kind of men he gravitated to.  Not that he would be trying to interest them in him, oh hell no.  Krijero preferred anonymous encounters, the ones that had no chance of ending up with strings attached.  And he absolutely did not get involved with Dramoks.
            He’d learned his lesson well with Pertak.  He would not set himself to be hurt again by anyone.  Especially not by a couple of smug jerks like Dramok Gelan and Nobek Wynhod.

Releasing May 2013

Friday, March 15, 2013

Alien Refuge Now Available

The official release day of Alien Refuge has arrived!  I’d like to welcome our latest addition, Clan Ospar, to the fold.  You can get your copy at Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.  It is also available in print.  Without further ado:

All Iris Jenson wants is a safe place to raise her autistic six-year-old son Thomas.  She thinks she’s found it on Haven, an Earther colony located within the Kalquorian Empire’s borders.  Making a fresh start under the watchful eyes of Earth’s former enemy has its challenges, but it also possesses opportunities to live free of fear, something Iris hasn’t had in a long time.  Love is an added surprise when Haven’s governor Dramok Ospar and his clanmates Nobek Jol and Imdiko Rivek enter the young widow and child’s lives.

Trouble is brewing on Haven Colony, however.  Insurgent Earthers want to free themselves of Kalquor’s influence, and Kalquor itself is on the brink of a revolt, led by the shadowy figure known only as the Basma.  Then a violent ghost from Iris’ past reappears and threatens to snatch Thomas from those who love him.  Ospar’s clan races against time to save Haven from a bloody rebellion and an innocent child from the grasp of a monster.

Mild BDSM, including anal play/intercourse, bondage, Dom/sub play, forced seduction, and multiple sexual partners (m/f/m/m). 

Chapter 1

The snow blower vibrated hard in Iris Jenson’s gloved hands.  Despite the quaking, it had been doing an efficient job of clearing a path from the snow crawler’s shed to her home’s front door.  She was halfway there when it suddenly made a horrible ratcheting sound.  It sounded like an iron monster chewing on metal screws, a racket fit to make her ears bleed.  Iris immediately shut it off.

As fast as she quieted it, she was still too late.  Her six-year-old son Thomas was already screaming, his hands clapped to the sides of his head.  He bounded through the knee-high snow, running away from her and straight for the travel lane that ran in front of their dome-shaped house.

Iris dropped the blower and waded through last night’s snowfall after him.  “Thomas, it’s okay!  The noise is gone!”

He was too panicked to hear.  His blue hand-knitted cap came off as he ran, sending his shaggy dark blond hair to bounce about his head.  He sobbed as if his heart might break.  “It’s broken!  Hurry!  Hurry!”

Under his terrified shrieks, Iris heard another sound, one that made her heart speed up.  It was the low hum of an oncoming shuttle, heading down the travel lane Thomas blindly galloped for.  The quickly growing throb of the vehicle’s engines warned her it was coming faster than the speed laws dictated.
She started running, moving as fast as the impeding snow and her heavy boots would allow.  “Thomas!  Stop!”

But Thomas almost never stopped on command.  The horrific sound of the snow blower breaking down had pained and terrified him, sending his senses into overload.  All the boy knew at this moment was that he had to put as much distance between himself and the source of the hideous noise that had hurt his hypersensitive ears.  The deep snow should have slowed him down, but he was a strong boy and he was a fast boy.  His boots also had traction soles, unlike Iris’.  With funds so low, she’d opted this winter to get by with her old, worn boots.  

Iris shot a panicked glance down the lane as she fought through the snow to get to her son.  The sky over Haven Colony was bright following last night’s storm, and it glinted off a metal surface racing ever closer.  The oncoming shuttle was a cargo hauler, flying close to the ground as colony regulations dictated for a vehicle that size. The glance told her all she needed to know:  she’d never get to Thomas before it was on him.  He was already in its path, his bulky tan coat not nearly enough contrast against the blinding snow.  The speeding shuttle pilot would not see him in time to stop.

She screamed desperately, “Thomas!  Danger!  Danger!  Get out of the lane!”  

He knew the word danger, but her shout had been a deadly mistake.  Iris had drilled that word in his head, trying to head off the lack of impulse control that often had him running right into travel lanes, exactly as he’d done this time.  Instead of getting out of the lane, he halted immediately.  He turned around and looked at her with wide eyes.

Iris had a moment of perfect clarity as Thomas stood still and waited to get run down.  Every detail stood out in that instant:  his wild, flyaway hair, rarely cut because he was too sensitive to cope with the sound of clippers.  His perfectly almond-shaped brown eyes.  A cherubic Rafael-esque round face, a face so beautiful that it made people pause and comment.  His sturdy little boy’s body made thick by layers of thermal pants, jeans, snowpants, shirt, sweater, and coat.  A perfect, angelic boy lit in the light of snow-reflected sun.

Iris screamed as the speeding shuttle bore down on Thomas, who was only now realizing something was coming at him.  Then there was a lightning flash of white and darkness that swept her child from the travel lane in a blur.  The stream of movement halted at the side of the lane, resolving itself into a tall, ebony-haired Kalquorian in a white snowsuit.  Thomas dangled from the bend of one of the alien’s arms while the other raised a battle-grade percussion blaster.  The Kalquorian fired on the shuttle, and the blaster’s shoo-whup made the air shiver.

The shuttle squalled to a halt, dipping and rocking violently as it did so.  Then it dropped, falling a couple of feet to the ground with an earthshaking thud.

Iris was barely interested in the shuttle.  Her eyes were all for her son, who goggled up at the Kalquorian who held him. 

“Thomas.  Thomas,” she choked, sobbing his name.  He was alive.  Unhurt.  Completely secure in the grip of the man who held him.  It was nothing short of a miracle.

The Kalquorian turned towards her and watched her stagger to them as he holstered his weapon on his belt.  A part of Iris’ stunned brain registered the man’s long black hair, his large purple eyes, the dimple in his curved chin.  His handsome face had the fierce set of the warrior Nobek breed.  His body, hugely muscled like all his kind, was clad in a form-fitting armored snowsuit that blended well with its surroundings.  His matching boots reached to just below his knees.  He seemed somehow familiar, though he shouldn’t.  Iris didn’t socialize with the alien race.

Iris held out her arms.  “Please.  Let me have him.”

The Kalquorian looked at her, then down at Thomas who still stared up at him.  The little boy plucked at the arm holding him and imperiously demanded in his musical voice, “Here, Mommy.  Give Thomas to Mommy.”

The alien man’s brows drew together.  One end of his mouth twisted slightly up.  Iris could understand his confusion.  Usually, Earther children on Haven ran and hid from Kalquorians.  Most of them were frightened as much by their parents’ stories of their former enemies as by the massive size of the aliens.  Any other little boy held by one would probably be screaming his head off right now.

But then, Thomas Jenson wasn’t like most children.

The Kalquorian gently set Thomas on his feet and gave him a little push towards Iris.  “Go to your mother, boy.”

Iris shivered at the deep, slightly accented voice.  It was the voice of quiet thunder, full of command and strength.  Thomas seemed just as impressed.  He sloshed a single step awkwardly through the snow towards her, still staring over his shoulder at his rescuer.

Iris dismissed the Kalquorian for the moment, darting forward to snatch her child close.  “Oh dear God, Thomas.  Oh my baby, are you all right?”  She patted over his body, not quite daring to trust her eyes that told her he hadn’t been smashed by the shuttle.

He simply blinked at the Kalquorian looming over them.  He stared up at the Nobek, unafraid.  The alien stared back, seemingly transfixed by Thomas’ blatant wide-eyed curiosity.

There was no sign of injury on the boy, and Iris managed a trembling smile for the man who had snatched him away from certain death.  “Thank you.  Thank you so much for saving him.”

Before the Kalquorian could answer, the hatch of the downed shuttle slid open.  Blaine Middleton, a local that lived only a few miles from Iris’ tiny homestead, emerged and stormed towards them.  His open coat flapped around his gaunt frame.  Iris tried hard to ignore the gossip that said Blaine drank most of his calories, but she’d heard plenty despite all her good intentions.  She could believe it, looking at his bloodshot eyes and unkempt appearance.  

The scarecrow man who made most of his living transporting goods for other colonists was shouting before he’d taken half a dozen steps in their direction.  “What the hell is wrong with you, Kalquorian?  You fouled up my forward vision vid feed and my navigation is offline!  You coulda got me killed!”

The alien turned towards Blaine.  He pulled a small handheld computer off his belt and spoke commands to it, seemingly ignoring the irate man.    

Thomas brightened to see the portable computer device.  “Thomas’ handheld,” he declared, reaching towards the Kalquorian.  “Here, Thomas.”

Iris held him back and whispered in his ear.  “No baby, that’s his handheld.  He’s doing work on it.  You can’t have it.”

Meanwhile Blaine had drawn near, and he halted a few feet away.  His fists went to his hips and he stood spraddle-legged, as if bracing himself to remain upright.  He kept yelling at the Kalquorian.  “Hey, you damned oversized ape!  I’m talking to you!”

The Nobek regarded him coldly.  His rolling thunder voice filled the air despite the low tone.  “This vehicle is registered to Blaine Middleton.  Is that you?”

Blaine glared back with bloodshot eyes.  “Yeah.  So?”

“This is your third piloting offense in six months.  I am confiscating your shuttle.”

“My offense?” Blaine screeched.  My offense?  You’re the one firing percussion blasters at innocent Earthers!”

“You were flying at an excessive speed on a travel lane in a dwelling area.  A dwelling area that is also clearly designated as having a child with a disability on premises.”  The Kalquorian glanced at Iris and Thomas.  His gaze lingered a moment, then he marched past Blaine to the shuttle.  He boarded it while its owner stared after him in shock.

Finally the Earther spluttered in furious indignation.  “Hey!  You’ve got no right.  That’s my property!”  He plowed towards his craft.

The Kalquorian came back out before Blaine got there.  He typed on his handheld.  “The vessel’s warning mechanism that indicates the need for slower operation on this lane has been disabled.  I’m assuming that was done by you.  That’s another offense.  Your pilot’s permit is hereby suspended pending review.  I have locked out all your pass codes that enable you to use this vehicle.”  He looked at Blaine.  There was no threat on his expression, but it was cold enough to make Iris cringe.  She felt glad that stare wasn’t directed at her.  

The Kalquorian continued, “You may return home now, Mr. Middleton.  You will be contacted later with information on how to file any challenge you wish to make and final judgment on your case.”
Blaine stood there for a few moments, his mouth hanging open.  It took at least ten seconds before he found the sense to respond.  When he did, it was in a shriek.

“And how the hell do you propose I get home without my shuttle, you stupid shit?”

Iris’ grip on Thomas tightened.  She waited for the alien to crush Blaine.

Instead, the Kalquorian only lifted an eyebrow.  “You can walk.  As it is less than an hour until dark and your address indicates it will take you about that length of time to reach your address, I suggest you start now.”

Blaine was shaking with fury.  Iris was afraid he’d say something else to anger the alien titan, or even worse, attack him.  However, it turned out Blaine had a little bit of self preservation, at least enough not to tangle with a big, muscled Kalquorian twice his weight.  The Earther turned away from him and leveled a black look at Iris instead.

“When are you going to teach that damned kid of yours to be normal, Iris?  Or at least put him on a leash!  You and your retard son—”  

There was that blurring motion again, and the Kalquorian suddenly stood right in front of Blaine.  His voice came out in a growl.  “You are in the wrong here.  You will speak with respect to the woman or I will pull your filthy tongue from your mouth.”

Iris gasped and Thomas laughed, no doubt delighted by the alien’s amazing feat of speed and not his words.  Blaine stumbled back in shock.  His gloved hands came up in a defensive posture.  When the Kalquorian only stood there, not increasing his threat, the Earther walked around him, giving him a wide berth.

He still couldn’t resist running his mouth.  His voice a grating whine, Blaine said, “You’d better believe I’m talking to Governor Hoover.  You can’t threaten me like that!”

The Kalquorian simply watched as Blaine stomped away, muttering under his breath.  When the man had gotten several yards up the lane, the alien turned his attention to Iris and Thomas.  He approached them carefully, as if concerned he might frighten them.

“Go fast!” Thomas encouraged.  He watched the nearing alien with a big smile.

The man offered his own slight smile at the boy, then bowed slightly to Iris.  “Your child is unharmed, Matara?”

Iris swallowed to see those cat-slitted eyes trained on her.  “I – I think so.”  Mostly to get away from that intense gaze, she gave her attention to her son.  “Thomas, are you hurt?”

“All better,” he said.  Since the Kalquorian was apparently not going to run fast again, the boy’s attention turned to the inoperable vehicle resting on the lane.  “Shuttle broken.  Fix shuttle, Mommy.”
Iris buried her face in Thomas’ overlong hair, smelling the sweet shampoo scent of it.  “Don’t worry.  Someone will fix the shuttle,” she whispered.  

The Kalquorian still stood there, watching them.  Iris slowly straightened to her full height.  Heavens, she only came up to the man’s chest.  A throb that felt more like anticipation than fear spilled in her stomach.  “I’m sorry you had to rescue him.  My snow blower broke down and made an awful noise.  It scared him and he ran and I couldn’t catch him.”

All at once, the vision of the shuttle bearing down on Thomas assaulted Iris.  She remembered the terrible knowledge that she was about to lose him and there was nothing she could do to stop it.  Caught by surprise, she sobbed.

Thomas looked at her, his expression startled.  Then his little face crumpled, and he began to wail.  “Don’t cry, Mommy!  Don’t cry!”

Iris tried to get herself under control.  Thomas couldn’t handle it when she cried, becoming so upset that sometimes he vomited from the stress.  But the realization that he’d been within a second of dying, her baby had almost been killed, was too much.  She shook all over, hot tears cascading down her frozen cheeks, burning trails that dripped off her chin.

A band of iron wrapped around her waist and gently turned her towards her home.  Through tears that trebled her vision, Iris saw the Kalquorian pick up Thomas in the crook of his other arm, simultaneously guiding her to her front door.

That voice of gentle thunder accompanied the strong arms holding them.  “You both need to go inside and warm up.  Come.”

Iris didn’t question the order.  It never even occurred to her to resist letting the Kalquorian push her and Thomas into their tiny home.

Stumbling into the domed dwelling was like entering safety.  As soon as they crossed the threshold, Thomas wriggled from the Kalquorian’s arm and ran through the den to the kitchen.  It was all one big open space, shared with a small dining area.  Closed doors led to Iris and Thomas’ bedrooms and the bath facility.

The Kalquorian guided Iris to the main room’s battered lounger, a long sofa-like seating piece.  Iris had picked it up in the warehouse when she’d first gotten to Haven a year prior.  It had been donated, along with other furnishings, by the planet Plasius to be used by Earthers displaced by Armageddon.  At the time it had appeared brand new, its velvety chocolate brown surface showing no signs of wear at all.  Nothing stayed new looking in the Jenson household, however.  Iris felt the habitual flush of embarrassment over her belongings’ shabby appearance and how it must look to a stranger.  Thomas was rough on furniture, climbing and bouncing all over it with neverending energy.

Her brain was still mostly focused on the close call they’d had.  She would have fallen to the lounger if Thomas’ rescuer hadn’t carefully lowered her onto it instead.  Her whole body continued to shake, and her knees were wobbliest of all.

Thomas shoved past the Kalquorian with a dish towel in his hand.  He scrubbed at Iris’ cheeks, his lower lip protruding out and tears streaming down his own face.  “All better.  Wipe eyes.  Mommy all better,” he sobbed.  

Iris forced herself to stop crying though she felt an ocean of terror waiting to flood from her eyes.  She stretched a weak smile across her face.  “Yes, sweetie.  Thank you.  I’m all better now. See?  Mommy’s smiling.  All better.”

Thomas wiped his own eyes dry with the towel and then dropped it on the floor.  His expression abruptly placid, he walked off.  His gaze darted over the room as if seeing it for the first time in his life.  He worked at the fasteners of his coat.

Iris lifted her gaze to the silent Kalquorian who watched her.  She couldn’t even imagine what he thought of them, of the whole situation.  She said, “I’m sorry.”

He raised an eyebrow at her.  “I do not believe you have anything to apologize for, Matara.”  He took his handheld off his belt again and consulted it.  “You are Ear-is Jenson?”

“Iris,” she absently corrected, noticing what her son was busy doing.  “Thomas, please leave your clothes on.  We have a guest.”

Thomas had dropped his coat and sweater on the floor, and was working to add his shirt to the pile.  Ignoring Iris, he let that drift down too.  He sat down and yanked his boots off. 
Iris took a breath.  This was Thomas’ home, his sanctuary where she let him relax and be himself.  She offered the Kalquorian an apologetic smile.  “He won’t wear anything more than his underwear in the house.  Clothes are uncomfortable for him.  He’s very sensitive to touch.”

The alien’s face betrayed no emotion as Thomas peeled off socks and snowpants.  The boy began fumbling with the snaps of his jeans.  

His tone as noncommittal as his expression, the Kalquorian said, “This is the child with the difficulties?”

Iris nodded.  “Autism.  It’s why the noise of the snow blower made him run from me and put him in the path of that shuttle.  Did I thank you for saving him?”

The alien looked at her.  He smiled, and Iris forgot to breathe for a moment.  The man’s ferocity didn’t disappear, but it was tremendously lessened.  He looked approachable.  Warm.  Even friendly.  And damned handsome.

He dipped a nod.  “You did thank me.  You are most certainly welcome, Matara Iris.” 

Thomas had finally stripped down to his underpants.  He ran to one side of the room where his toys were, contained to one area for a change rather than scattered all over the floor.  He picked up a small vehicle, a toy train.  Trains were long gone, of course, a form of Earth conveyance that had disappeared before Iris had been born.  Thomas loved them, however.  He had been obsessed with trains since he first saw one in a museum.  Unfortunately for the little boy, Earther train museums were gone too, thanks to Armageddon.

Thomas set the toy on a track and began pushing it around.  “Train rolls down the hill.  Train rolls down the hill.  Train rolls down the hill,” he chanted.

The Kalquorian watched the child, seemingly fascinated.  Iris rushed to explain, “He’s not slow, intelligence-wise.  He’s actually above average intelligence.  His speech, social, and sensory issues hold him back.  And he has no impulse control.”

Even as she babbled, Iris wondered why she was explaining so much to the daunting Kalquorian.  Surely he didn’t care about an Earther child’s problems.  And why should she care what he thought about Thomas?  Her son was wonderful, and those who didn’t take the time to get to know him and understand him were not important anyway.  It was something she reminded herself of every time people edged away from Thomas, when they got those uncomfortable looks on their faces.

The Kalquorian didn’t seem uncomfortable in the least.  Instead, he gave Iris that transforming smile again.  “What a fascinating child.  May I sit down?”  He waved his hand at a scarred chair with a sagging seat.

Iris blinked at him, startled by the request.  Why would the alien want to stay for a visit?  Unless ... oh heavens, he didn’t think she was looking to join a clan, did he?

Not quite sure how to handle the situation, she stammered, “Um, sure.  Can I get you anything, uh...?”

“Nobek Jol.  I am head of Kalquorian security here on Haven.”  He bowed his head to her as he settled carefully on the chair.  It creaked alarmingly, but somehow managed not to break under his large frame.  “Thank you for the offer, but I require no refreshment, Matara Iris.”

Iris regarded him with wide eyes.  Nobek Jol was not just the head of Haven’s Kalquorian security.  He was also clanmate to the Kalquorian governor of the colony, Dramok Ospar.  

She blinked.  “I’ve heard your name before.”

The Earther colony of Haven had been founded on a once uninhabitied planet within the Kalquorian Empire’s space.  That meant it had two governors, Dramok Ospar and Earther George Hoover.  Most Earther refugees, still hurting from the war with Kalquor and the resulting destruction of Earth, did not opt to live on Haven.  Other colonies held the majority of survivors, many going to the older settlements from when Earth was still a viable planet.  A large number had also settled on the colonies the Galactic Council of Planets had established after Armageddon.

The destruction of Earth’s major cities and the resulting death of the planet itself had come about through both Earth and Kalquorian actions.  The Kalquorians’ part in it had been an accident, even though the two species had been at war.  Horrified and remorseful, the Empire had created Haven for the Earthers who wanted a fresh start.  They had set up the colony and offered healthcare, land, and homes for any who wished to farm the verdant planet.  Haven was different from other colonies in that no one who came to live there was expected to pay back their benefactors in any way.  One simply applied to Kalquor for a homestead, agreed to abide by the laws of the Empire, and got to work.     

Iris and Thomas had come to the colony only a year before with nothing but a few changes of clothes.  It had represented a fresh start.  A new life with none of the horrors of the old.  Iris had left behind everything without a qualm, even though the work on Haven was difficult.  She welcomed it.
Freedom from fear and pain was worth every ounce of hard work that greeted her from the moment she got up in the morning until she collapsed into bed at night.  Her life before Armageddon, lived in a fine home with every material comfort she could wish for, had been a nightmare.  One she was grateful to have awakened from.

The heater clicked on, rumbling like an angry beast deep within the home’s guts beneath the floor.  Jol frowned for a moment before turning his attention to Iris’ son.

“Your child is named Thomas?”  He consulted his handheld again.

“Yes,” Iris confirmed.

“The difficulties he has, they cannot be corrected through medical means?” Jol’s question seemed merely interested, not judgmental.  Not rife with the usual rabid curiosity masked as sappy concern.  It was a nice change.

Iris answered easily.  “His brain works differently from most others.  He’s not neural-typical.  He could take drugs to calm some of his behaviors, but I don’t like for him to.  Medications make him feel tired and out of it.  His thinking becomes sluggish.”  She added defensively, “I think he’s perfect.”

Jol kept his gaze on the playing boy.  “He is certainly empathetic.  Your tears worried him greatly.  It is good for someone so young to feel concern for others.”

Thomas was locked in his own world at the moment, not noticing them.  “Train climbs up the hill.  Train climbs up the hill,” he singsonged, pushing his toy.  

Jol looked at the scattered blocks and building toys.  He seemed particularly fascinated by the myriad of trains; some were only rudimentary assemblies, but quite a few were intricate pieces that had been put together from all sorts of materials.  One vision of a steam engine had the tines of a fork as its cowcatcher.  Everything Thomas came across was fair game to be converted into his passion.

The Kalquorian gave the little boy an appraising stare.  “How old is he?”


Jol’s eyebrows shot high.  “He built those toy conveyances himself?”

Iris snorted.  “Don’t look at me.  I can barely put together a jigsaw puzzle.  Thomas?”

Thomas kept playing, completely submerged in his own world.  Whatever universe had been conjured in his head didn’t include Iris, Jol, or anything else.  It consisted of just his train and the hill it endlessly climbed and descended.

Iris spoke a little louder with more firmness, working to yank the boy back into an often unkind reality.  “Thomas?  Thomas, look at me.”

Her voice broke through.  He came out of his happy fantasy to look at her expectantly.

She smiled at him and motioned to the large man sitting across from her.  “Thomas, this is Nobek Jol.  Say, ‘hello Nobek Jol’.”

Mimicking her tone exactly, Thomas looked down at his train.  “Hello, Nobek Jol.”

“Hello, Thomas.  What are you playing with?”  Jol leaned slightly forward, as if interested.

Thomas held up the locomotive made of castoff bits of wood, screws, and metal pieces.  His eyes never left the piece.  “Train.  Train rolls down the hill.”

Jol cocked his head to one side, peering at the toy.  “I saw it roll down the hill.  Will you let me hold your train?”

When the boy hesitated, Iris urged, “Thomas, give Nobek Jol your train.  Let him see it.”

She half-expected him to tell her no and return to his play.  Instead, he stood and walked over to Jol.  When the Kalquorian held out his hand, Thomas carefully placed the train in his grip.  His gaze never left the toy.

Iris looked at how tiny her son looked next to the mammoth alien.  Thomas was tall for his age, his body strong and sturdy.  Yet he looked too vulnerable at Jol’s side.  A momentary stab of panic went through her heart.  It subsided almost immediately, washed away by a sudden, instinctual knowledge that there was nothing to fear from Jol.

Iris frowned.  She didn’t know the Kalquorian.  There was no reason to trust him.  Yet as the boy and alien studied the locomotive, their heads close together, the feeling that Thomas was utterly safe with the Nobek persisted.

Jol turned the locomotive over in his hands, inspecting the homemade toy.  It was one of Thomas’ better constructions, his most recent.

The child pointed at the pieces jutting from the metal tube that made up the main body of the engine.  “Funnel,” he informed Jol.

“Funnel.  What does it do?”

“Smoke.”  Thomas pointed to a screw that stuck up.  “Whistle.”

“What does the whistle sound like?”


Jol chuckled.  “Did you build this train, Thomas?”

Thomas at last looked into the big man’s face.  “Yes.  Thomas builds toy trains!”  He smiled, pleased with himself.

Jol nodded, returning the smile.  “It is a well-built train. You did an excellent job. Thank you for letting me see it.”

He handed the engine back.  Thomas took it back to his little track and started pushing it, going back to his ‘train rolls down the hill’ chant.

Jol gazed at the boy with open admiration before turning his cat-pupil eyes to Iris.  “A brilliant mind for engineering is in there.”

Iris couldn’t help the pride that swelled in her voice.  “He reads, too.  I started teaching him letters and sounds when he was three, though he didn’t speak until he was four.  When he did speak, he could already read his story vids.”  She knew she bragged, but it wasn’t often people looked beneath Thomas’ behavior issues to appreciate the feats he was capable of.

“You have been blessed, Matara.”  Jol frowned then.  “But his lack of impulse control worries me greatly.  My biggest concern is how he ended up in the middle of the travel lane.  That would not have ended well for him if I hadn’t happened by, doing a routine check on the area.”  

Iris swallowed.  Thomas could have so easily died only minutes ago.  The miracle of Jol’s rescue brought fresh tears to her eyes, which she resolutely blinked back.  

She told the Nobek, “He doesn’t understand danger.  He simply has no concept of it.  I try to keep him close when we’re outside.  This time when he panicked, he got away from me.”  She shuddered.  “I can usually catch him, but it only takes once to be too late, doesn’t it?”

Jol nodded, watching her carefully.  “You need a boundary shield between your land and the lane.”

Iris bowed her head.  “I’m only a homesteader, Nobek Jol.  Because Thomas requires so much of my time, I farm just enough to keep us fed and clothed.  I can’t take him to the community fields and work for extra funds because keeping after him doesn’t allow me to.”  Not to mention Thomas had a bad habit of crashing through and wrecking crops.  She’d end up owing Haven’s Earther government money rather than earning any.

“I see.”  Jol glanced at Thomas and pursed his lips.  The line between his eyebrows deepened.  He nodded his head and stood.  

Iris stood too.  Jol eased his stern expression to offer her a small smile.  “The safety and security of Haven and its colonists ultimately falls on my shoulders.  I will see to getting you a boundary shield.”

Iris stared at him.  She couldn’t afford it, but Thomas always came first.  She’d find a way.  “Do I make payments or is there work I can do to offset the cost?”

Jol shook his head.  “That will not be required, Matara Iris.  Should you leave this property or not need the shield any longer for whatever reason, simply give it back to us.  This way, you will not have to worry about Thomas running into the lane anymore.”

He was giving them the shield?  For free?  Iris gaped at him and finally managed to blurt, “Thank you, Nobek Jol.”

The Kalquorian bowed to her and looked over at Thomas.  “Goodbye, Thomas.”

Thomas didn’t look up, but he responded without any coaching from Iris.  “Goodbye.  Woo-woo!”

Jol’s smile trembled as if he held back laughter.  He bowed to Iris again.  “Good day, Matara.”

He left, and Iris stared at the door long after it had closed behind him.  It took several minutes for her stunned consciousness to kick in.  When it did, she realized two things:  that she had not come close to expressing enough appreciation to Jol, and that she had worn her coat and hat the entire time he’d been there.

Shaking her head, still trying to wrap it around the events of the last hour, Iris finally took her outerwear off. 

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