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“I’m lining up our next paid gigs,” said the short-haired blond woman in the co-pilot’s chair. She was scanning messages displayed on the infosheet statically attached to the wall next to her.

“Cool,” said Toller as he concentrated on being a successful student driver. Pilot. Driver-pilot. Wendel called it driving as often as she called it flying, something about being in the profession.

She laid it down bluntly. “Having you along means a different kind of picking and choosing – but it narrows things toward my preference, anyway. I still consider you an asset onboard.”

“I believe that I can be,” the boy said with equal bluntness. “If I’m not, you just boot me right away.”

“I would, and I hope you wouldn’t take it personally.” She smiled fondly. “But you’ve already turned things around for me once. After that it’s just about anything you need, friend – I’ll stick up for you. Your limits are my limits, which are honestly good for me.”

She propped up her feet on the corner of the controls and continued musing aloud. “No official contracts that don’t include personal appointment or come from close enough to allow clauses. We’ll only accept under-the-table work for a while. I’m fine with those clients and that shift in the balance now, after my stint as a big-scene chauffeur.” Wendel covered her face with both hands, something she would do in reference to that time. For a quiet moment of driving they both stared straight ahead.

The captain turned and flattened a wrinkle in the kerchief-weight infosheet against the wall. She tapped through and wrote some replies. The lad held his silence while she expounded. “Everything can take as long as it needs to. Partly because I want to keep teaching you, but also because I don’t want some of the patchwork on here fraying untimely.” Her eyes pointed around the ship. “No hurry jobs.”

As he kept even progress, Toller noticed her assess him sidelong. “So… there’s under-the-table, which you know about, and there’s hidden, which you shouldn’t. Hidden jobs often aren’t planned for. They’re bonus. I may not let you know they’re happening, though you may suspect. I may not even actually know, myself. One of the cautionaries of being an independent contractor. Hidden should stay hidden, more or less, if you know what I mean. We’re not in the business of judging.”

“I know I’m not.”

Wendel snapped a finger in front of her face to break her focus from the infosheet, and she relaxed back into the co-pilot’s chair. “We’ve got one probable, which is enough forward thinking for now.” She nodded to the boy. “We’re already on course. You’re doing very well! Oh hey, wait…” Toller kept his cool and kept his course, letting her explain. “There’s an assistance flag for this occupied sidespace. We’re about to pass it, but don’t alter too quickly. Just start removing top speed factors, and we’ll see if we can get a good look.”

As they passed, Wendel captured a direct view. “Weird, it looks like a life raft. We can come back around. I’ll let you do this – take a side lane, keep slowing down, and listen as I talk you through.” The student pilot did so.

“Add three planes and take an outer tangent. Then a reverse reverse-acceleration parabolic, RRAP, which spells Wrap, which is not done in reverse -“

“- I remember -“

“- And then we have to overshoot to use the correct traffic entry for the sidespace – remember, in space there are no roads, only rules – then minus a plane, take a minor tangent, then Wrap, and we’ll descend in. We call that a cloverleaf.”

Toller nodded as he assembled these directions in his mental picture. “I can technically do each of those things.”

“Now do them one after the other. I believe in you,” said the captain, shooting her protege an adventurously reassuring smile. She supplied reasoning for the detour: “I’ve got most of the tools, and I’ve practically stitched two halves of a ship together, so I stop for people in the drifts when I can.”

“Drift 9?” he asked, referring to the ship’s name.

“Drift 9. Do you remember how I showed you to turn this on?” Toller looked over to where she was moving the spherical toggles of the photon-particle co-disruptor, the PPCD, the C-D bands.

“Uh huh,” he murmured, eyeing her actions. Wendel used a fold-out keyboard to send a symbol flag, which she dictated for his benefit: “Offer of Assistance.”

“Did you really total your ship nine times like you said to your friend?”

“Not exactly, but in manners of speaking.” She viewed another capture as they passed close visibility again in the opposite direction. “That is a weird thing to see in vacuum space. Someone’s just standing on it, looking comfy. Seems like they could use some help, though.”

A reply returned to them. “Assistance Offer Accepted. Wanted: Fuels, Charges.” Toller started executing his second Wrap. On the co-pilot monitor, Wendel scrutinized what she could see of the strange little ship. “I’m not sure what types of fuels that uses, but I’ve got some kinds. My charge modulator is a good one, anyhow.

“Stop in that zone ahead.” She pointed toward the indicator on his display. “I’ll take over from the descent. I’m not going to quiz you, but I want you to pay attention. I’ll tell you things as I do them.”

In the captain’s chair, she settled into her straps and rapidly readjusted her settings. She also received standard ship spec dimension readings and fed them to her specs. “Would you use that keyboard control to select spaces A5, E7, and B1 on that grid?” He deftly manipulated the PPCD. Stating the message, she recited, “Hold space adequate. Encapsulate? Confirm.” Drift 9 lowered gently into the wide field by the other vessel.

The simple reply bounced back: “Confirmed: Encapsulate,” Wendel read aloud.

Soleil watched the ship’s large door approach and open, like the maw of a fish to a floating tidbit. The craft was in good repair, with emphasis on repair. She could have been more nervous about the encounter, but she wasn’t. The boon felt effective as she used it, as surely as her hand could move. She engaged it with certain details: appearing as self, well-kept; wearing Zero-Clearance no-questions flash-display credentials, the signs of official covert business; with personal cam-jam. It would work because she could tell it was working.

As Moonshadow was about to be swallowed, she looked around to no sign of Garlic. “Garlic?” she called aloud. No Garlic. With that, they were inside the vessel. The door closed, and they settled into gravity.

Fire Within new to Kindle

Bones of Starlight 1: Fire Within is new to Amazon Kindle!


kindle release image

This is the updated reissue of the first book in the trilogy, previously known as Fire On All Sides.

A note on the previous version, Fire On All Sides:
this will remain available in hardcover and paperback through major distribution channels until just after the reissue becomes available in each format.

The story remains intact, the main change being a set of singular agendered pronouns for Dragons. This partial restart was also a good opportunity to align the volume titles better with my original vision. As follows:

1: Fire Within
2: Abyss Surrounding
3: Greater Beyond

Hardcover and paperback of Fire Within are to follow this summer!, featuring the amazing artwork of Leo Shallat and Genesis Grey on the covers. I’m going to release these without my author sketches from book 1 and collect them elsewhere, in a different way.

Meanwhile, Book 2: Abyss Surrounding will continue to wrap up here on this website, with the participation (all along) of wonderful watchful editor Alex Bear of Constellation Editing.

I’m at MisCon 32 in Missoula this weekend, roving and promoting this release. I’m making some handout autograph stickers (which you can put ANYWHERE). As shown:

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But there’s going to be a backing, so I can hand them out, and it’s going to take way more work than you see here! By which point, they’ll be practically precious, right.

Unicorn meets skinchanger:

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“This is disheartening,” said Soleil finally, with none but Garlic to listen. Dragon Food and Rosy Glow had departed on their own matters, possibly helpful to the situation. From where she sat on Moonshadow’s platform, she looked around the designated sidespace where she’d ceased arguing with a machine being that didn’t seem to entirely understand. It hadn’t been so hard in the midst of their trial of deep space survival. Now they sat parked in a place where they could officially or unofficially be found. At this level of frustration the novice pilot barely cared, though their potential visibility made it urgent that she learn how to use the new trick up her sleeve. Returning to that realization, she addressed Garlic again where it floated next to her at the level of her head.

“I need to ask you how I look,” said Soleil. “I’m trying something, though I don’t want to explain completely. Will you just watch me?” Garlic turned another side toward her, which she took to mean that she had its attention.

She looked down at her reflection in the mirror-shiny floor of the platform. “Okay, now I’m doing something.” She felt an aural rush flow outward through her. “And, now I’m not.” The rush dissipated. Throughout this, her reflection as she saw it in the floor mirror hadn’t changed. She knew what it was she was doing; she was changing how she looked, how she was perceived. She knew her chosen parameters, but she couldn’t see the results, so she kept it simple. Maybe Garlic would be able to tell her.

“I can understand it like it’s always been a part of me, but I still need to figure out how it works.” Soleil touched her lips as she concentrated on this puzzle, remembering the way the dragon’s gift had sunk into her skin. She accustomed herself to turning the glammer (‘glamr’) on and off by engaging it with her intentions of appearance. To herself, she looked the same. But what did someone else see? How deeply could she trust it, how extreme would the illusion go, with what nature would it manifest?

This matter of concentration safeguarded her from the disappointment that their next travel effort had gone awry almost instantly. She and Moonshadow just couldn’t seem to understand each other right now, or Moonshadow couldn’t figure out how to get there with the information it was being given. Soleil had ridden equinax when she was younger, and the psychology of this mount (as it had referred to itself) felt somewhat similar; but this being was also verbal, could understand code, mathematics, signals and power, and she didn’t know how many other differences there might be to this type of mind.

“If you would please hold up with me and observe – tell me, if you can, how I’m doing or what you see. On… off. …on… off.” She was looking between her reflection and Garlic, which was doing something strange. There was now another garlic next to Garlic. At this moment, when not engaging the glammer (‘glamr’), the garlic next to Garlic looked exactly the same.

With thought, Soleil consciously shifted some traits to those of a different person; and the garlic next to Garlic looked like a different kind of garlic! The second garlic was about as different from Garlic as the intended personage was different from Soleil. She examined different extremes of alteration, and Garlic demonstrated the effectiveness back to her. All the while, the reflection in the floor remained the same to her.

When she inquired, Garlic demonstrated to her that her apparent reflection also matched the given illusion, with a head of garlic under the different garlic that matched the different garlic, not today’s original Garlic.

A new thought occurred to her while she held an unusual glammer, one of an easily welcomed ally that should soon go on their own business. “Garlic, if you touch me, do you feel that you touch the form that you see, or my usual form?”

The two different garlics hovered before her. Gently, they both approached to touch either of her cheeks. One drifted back, while remaining was the garlic of altered appearance. So then, Garlic felt that it was touching what it could see. The altered garlic then moved back, and floated in again to gently bop her on the nose, then rested once more against the tip of her nose. So, the illusion was thorough.

Soleil wondered if the camouflaging panels of her Vedani gearsuit were superfluous, then figured it didn’t hurt to have extra layers of reliance, in case holding a glammer was tiring. Her dragon gift whispered about itself in a specifically coded inner language; any question about it, she could check and be informed. But she had to ask correctly or at all, except for those times it would volunteer itself to a specific demand. It was like using a new, yet innate sense.

There is an abyss, infinitesimal or gulflike, between any two understandings in the communication of an impression. What one is, and what the other perceives. Now, she could intentionally influence this space. Now she could decide how she was perceived. Though in a sense duplicitous, there was an honesty to it; she could honestly effect what she honestly decided. She must hone her intention in order to use it well.

“Tell me how this goes. Can I appear as something other than a different person?” With a little difficulty, as she wasn’t entirely sure how to project the right set of traits, she attempted something like a pard cat. The second garlic flickered rapidly between looking like Garlic and looking like some kind of large pod. So it may be successful but she wasn’t good at it yet, or garlic wasn’t good at imitating anything other than garlic, or it was only semi-successful. Okay.

They needed a catalyst. She decided to activate the sidespace flag for assistance signaling, and filled out the list of possibly helpful things. Soleil continued to focus on practicing her new ability while bothering Garlic as little as possible. She could keep on doing this for the rest of the time in her active day.

There was a passerby ship, the first in this out-of-the-way location. Soleil watched it reappear as it doubled back around, lucky day. The maneuvering looked inexpert but careful. It was returning her flag with a wave.

Looking at Garlic, she remembered she was hungry. On a slim hope, she asked, “Hey can you make food, something I can eat?”

A clove of garlic fell to the floor, and upon hitting it turned into a garlic chicken wing. “I guess it’s a good thing I like garlic,” she said as she picked it up. Garlic rolled around in midair. Soleil scarfed the food before she had to face the incomer, placing the bones in an ejection vesicle. She watched the vesicle pop its contents out of the field, releasing them to the vacuum. She turned her concentration inward to identify what she needed to be in this situation, and she answered the ship’s reply.