This month is a snippet from my first novel, Magic Souls, which has received a new cover and a new launch.
It was the morning of the biggest presentation of my legal career, and I spent ten minutes practicing my speech in front of a potted ficus. The bronze faces of the partners stared down at me from the wall, and I tried to imagine my face among them. If my presentation went well, I’d become a mid-level associate at the Hanover Law Firm—the most prestigious law firm in the city—and I’d finally get my own office instead of having to share a cubicle.
I hurried through the hall, swung into the conference room, and discovered that the meeting had begun without me. The partners sat around a long cedar table, watching a plasma TV mounted on the wall. They swiveled their heads toward me.
“You’re late, Bebe,” said Annette Farwell, my arch-nemesis with stilettos and perky breasts. Her designer suit made my blouse and skirt look like consignment items. She wasn’t supposed to be in this meeting. She smirked at me from the head of the table, lacing her fingers together so that everyone could see her glittering maroon nails. “I’ve been working on this case for six months, and I don’t appreciate you interrupting my presentation.”
My PowerPoint slides hovered on the TV screen. Only at the Hanover Law Firm were the partners so busy that they couldn’t tell when attorneys were stealing cases from each other.
I nearly turned green when I saw Tucker Salinas sitting at the table. He looked sexy in his black suit and red tie, and I could smell his lavender cologne across the room. His wavy hair and brown skin made him stick out in the room full of pasty white people like me.
“Wasn’t this your case, Bebe?” he said.
Annette raised her voice to cover mine. “Of course Bebe helped me. When she wasn’t on Facebook, she was wonderful. But time management is her weakness. It’s just like her to be late.”
I wanted to say, I’m late because you rescheduled the meeting without telling me, but what came out was something between a pout and a nervous laugh.
The managing partner shot up. “That’s all I need. It’s a tough decision—both of you do a great job. But on the basis of this case, Annette, we’re going to go ahead and promote you to mid-level associate. Bebe, we’ll discuss your performance at a later date.”
Annette draped her palms over her mouth and sucked in air. “I can’t thank you enough for recognizing my hard work.” She schmoozed around the room, shaking everyone’s hands. The partners ignored me as they filed out, and when I tried to meet Tucker’s eyes, he looked through me, too.
“It’s nothing personal,” Annette said after the last attorney left. She primped her bun with one hand and packed her portfolio with the other. “You’ll get your promotion in due time.”
I blocked the door. “You stole my case.”
“It’s so nice to finally hear you speak. I couldn’t tell if you were shocked, or if you were participating in one of your silent vegan protests again.”
“This is wrong, Annette. You never worked on this case.”
“You shouldn’t have left your computer unlocked.”
“You’re committing fraud.”
“You’re the fraud.” Annette stepped toward me. “And if you think I’m a bitch now,” she said, “I dare you to tell the partners. Then I can tell them how you broke company protocol and kissed Tucker Salinas.”
“How do you know that?”
Sure, I had kissed him. I’d had too many cocktails at happy hour—super embarrassing—but he hadn’t kissed me back.
Annette saw me thinking and laughed. “You know the rules. Any kind of personal contact is grounds for termination. I’ll make you wish that you’d dropped out of law school like you should have, and wonder why you didn’t major in English, spend the rest of your life writing erotica, and contribute to society in some meaningful way other than being a tool for my personal advancement. Go on,” she said, pointing to the door, “tell the partners.”
I didn’t know what to say. Annette pushed me aside and slammed the door behind her, leaving me alone with the lingering smell of cologne, legal pads, and betrayal.
Magic Souls is an interactive urban fantasy styled after Choose Your Own Adventures, but for grown ups with a storyline that changes as you read it. Click here to relive your childhood.
As always, if you’d like to support me, check out my Patreon page.
New Character Introduction
Ren Flanahey tucked a pile of school books into her backpack.
She joined a stream of children into the dark hallways of Empire Middle School Hive Three Thousand and Two.
The hall sloped upward, and wrapped around in a large circle. The walls were orange and glistening like the walls of a honeycomb.
She walked quietly with the other students, who walked with sullen faces. A drone bot with a television flew overhead, and a teacher’s head appeared on the screen.
“Students, as the weekend approaches, I would like you to take time to appreciate the glory of our empire.”
The drone sped ahead, repeating the message.
“Yes, we celebrate the glory of our empire,” the children said mechanically.
Ren said the words without feeling them, without meaning them, like she had for seventeen years.
Someone nudged Ren.
Her friend, Harlow. Well, more than a friend.
He was built like a young soldier. Bald and tattooed on the face—swirls on his cheeks—he was buff and handsome.
“Spaceship Calc was brutal today,” he said.
“Yeah,” she said, running a hand through her hair.
She had spilled soda on her uniform at lunch, and there was a gruesome stain near her stomach. She turned so that he didn’t see it.
“Glory be to the empire,” Harlow said.
“Glory,” Ren said.
“When is your emergence?” Harlow asked. “I just got mine. I’ve been assigned.”
The time when all of her friends were plucked away, sent onto career tracks in the military, teaching, or science fields. With the hive lottery system, she would never see them again.
She would never see Harlow again.
She knew she shouldn’t have gotten attached. No one got attached. It made life easier when Emergence happened. But she’d done it, and now she felt pain, pain unlike anything she’d ever felt in her life. She wanted to cover her ears, to grab his hand, to run, far, far away, over the top of the hive city and into the flat plains so they could get away, be free, free—free—before the somber reality of adulthood sunk in. The somber reality that she was never free, never would be, and that her life was predestined.
“I ship off tomorrow,” he said.
“Oh,” she said.
They walked outside into the moonlight.
The hive city seemed to swirl up into the stars. The lights of embedded pod homes glittered against the earthen walls. The twin moons, red and yellow, were bright in the gray sky.
A line of pod trams waited. The children lined up and entered. The pods zipped away on circular tracks, upward into the city.
The air was crisp, the moonlight pale on her skin, and the goosebumps on her arms popped up the moment she walked into the night air.
“This is goodbye,” Harlow said. “It’s been great.”
“So you just leave?” she asked.
They walked to a line.
“It’s better this way,” Harlow said. “We’re not even supposed to be dating. Or talking. Glory must first be to the empire.”
“Screw the empire,” she whispered. “What would it be like to live like they do in other galaxies? To be free?”
Harlow shushed her.
“You want to get us killed?”
“You didn’t say that when we were alone yesterday,” she said.
“The military needs me,” Harlow said. “And I have to listen. We all do. Maybe you’ll be chosen and we’ll cross paths in a few decades, Ren.”
She turned away and ignored him.
“Fine,” she said. “Goodbye.”
“Glory be to the empire,” Harlow said.
She didn’t reply.
She didn’t want to say anything.
Her boyfriend of five weeks, who had kissed her already, was leaving.
A drone bot hovered over her and the teacher looked at her.
“Glory be to the empire,” she said reluctantly, and scowling.
When she turned away, Harlow was gone, disappeared into another crowd.
The line thinned out and she approached the pod tram, a silver ball designed for ten.
She climbed onboard with the other sullen children, and she became one of them.
The Mavericks Together for the First Time
Keltie Sheffield waited in the airlock as the escape pod cleared the outer doors and the inner airlock doors opened. The escape pod was a circular ball of metal that looked painfully uncomfortable to travel in.
She wrinkled up her nose.
It smelled like space, too. Like burnt rubber and popcorn.
“Smells pretty bad, huh?” she asked.
She turned around. Eddie Puente was at a control panel, entering some commands. He ignored her.
Ever since they had been left alone, he didn’t acknowledge her. He seemed nice enough to start, and they even chatted for an hour. But it must have been something she said, because he stopped talking to her. Like a switch got flipped and she couldn’t figure out why.
He avoided eye contact and acted as if the pod hadn’t even entered the airlock.
The pod touched down on the ground with a clang.
Grayson piloted, and seeing him, she laughed. He was so tall his head was almost touching the ceiling. He was laughing, too.
Devika was frowning. But then again, Keltie had never seen her smile so that was nothing new.
There was someone else with them in the pod, but she couldn’t see who it was.
The pod doors opened, letting out a large whoosh of air.
And then Keltie heard it.
A crazed, revving-like sound.
Keltie ducked as a small black cloud darted over her head. A red eye glinted in the center of the cloud. Seeing it, her heart jumped, sweat beaded on her forehead, and she balled her fist.
“No,” she whispered. And then she yelled, “No!”
A Planet Eater. The alien race that started all of this, the race that killed her best friend before her eyes!
She ripped a crowbar off the wall and banged it as hard as she could.
The alien winced.
“Go away!” she shouted. “Go away!”
She banged the crowbar harder and the Planet Eater flew away, sputtering as if the sound were hurting it.
“Eddie, open the airlock!” she shouted.
Eddie watched with his mouth wide open.
“Eddie!” Keltie said.
The alien sputtered again.
“I’ll do it myself,” Keltie grumbled, running for the airlock controls. “You killed Claire. You’ll pay, I swear to God—”
She heard gunshots in her mind.
Then she was back on Kepler.
In her spacesuit.
People were screaming.
Her best friend, Claire, was running next to her.
Bullets were flying everywhere. Planet Eaters covered the sky like ink.
A hand on her shoulder pulled her from the flashback.
She kept swinging the crowbar, denting the pod.
“Keltie,” someone said.
“Keltie,” the voice said.
The alien retreated to the corner of the airlock, and it shrunk to half of its size.
Someone grabbed her crowbar.
She tightened her grip. But soon the crowbar was gone and it clanged against the floor.
Grayson had grabbed her.
“Keltie, it’s all right,” he said.
“What do you mean it’s all right?” she yelled. “Do you remember what they—”
“He’s not gonna hurt you,” Grayson said.
“He’s telling the truth,” Devika said. “It seems to be docile.”
Keltie shook her head at the alien. She pushed herself away from Grayson.
A petite Asian woman stood behind Devika. The encounter had scared her.
“Hi,” the woman said. “I’m Michiko. And that’s Clark.”
Clark swirled in the corner of the ceiling and hovered under a skylight, almost disappearing in the blackness of space outside.
Keltie backed out of the room. Took one last look at Grayson, Eddie, Devika and Michiko.
She thought she knew these people.
Now they were harboring evil aliens!
It was too much to take. She ran out of the room.
Click here to grab your copy of Planet Eaters. Or, grab the whole series in one click.
A Traumatic Event Florian Macalestern’s Childhood
Florian dashed as far as he could, but he could not keep up with the man.
So he screamed at the top of his lungs.
“Thief!” he cried. “That man is a thief! Stop him! Stop him!”
The man looked back, scowling. His footsteps on the wooden dock were hard compared to Florian’s light steps.
“Stop!” Florian cried.
At the entrance to the dock, someone stuck out their foot.
The man tripped and landed face-first on the wood.
Florian’s heart leaped.
He caught up with the man and jumped on him, grabbing his mother’s purse.
“Let go!” Florian cried, pulling at the purse.
The strap ripped, scattering money, coins, and credit cards all over the ground.
“Big mistake, brat,” the man said, grabbing Florian by the throat.
But Florian kicked him in the groin and the man doubled over.
They wrestled, rolling across the dock.
Florian pushed on the man’s face, feeling day-old stubble. The man pushed back and grabbed a clump of Florian’s hair.
Needles of pain spread across Florian’s scalp—the man was pulling his hair.
“Florian!” someone cried.
“Florian!” Greta cried again.
And then Florian felt someone on top of his back.
And then he saw a hand.
Slapping the man on the face.
“Leave him alone!” Greta cried.
The man let go of Florian’s hair.
Florian pulled away when—
Stars danced across his field of vision and he fell to the ground, clutching his chest.
He had been punched.
He tried to breathe but his stomach knotted up and his vision narrowed.
He saw his mother wrestling with the man, yelling at him.
Tatiana stood a few feet away, her hands over her mouth.
“Leave…her…alone,” Florian gasped.
His mother stopped.
The man stopped.
Smoke. Thick smoke. In the air.
His ears rang.
Florian tried to stand but he stumbled backward.
The world flipped up from underneath him and he was falling.
The dock sailed away from him, up, up, up into the sky.
And then he hit the sea, water flooded his lungs, and he sank down, down, down into the clear blue water.
He woke, and sprung up, gasping.
His lungs burned and he clutched his chest.
A man put his hands on Florian’s shoulder. His clothes were drenched and his hair was wet.
“Kid, you okay?” the man asked. “You almost drowned but I got you. You’re gonna be okay.”
Florian breathed in and sputtered. Wiping his eyes, he glanced down the dock.
Someone was crying.
Through a gathered crowd, he spotted Tatiana.
He could only see her legs, and bits of her dress.
“Tati,” Florian breathed. “Tati…”
She was crying. She was holding someone in her arms.
And then Florian saw her.
His mother, in Tatiana’s arms.
“No!” Florian cried.
He scrambled across the dock. His rescuer tried to stop him but Florian pushed him away.
Florian shoved two people aside and stopped at the sight of his mother.
Blood welled across Greta’s dress. Her eyes were distant and cold.
Tatiana looked up at Florian and shook her head, crying.
Florian balled his fists.
He looked around for the criminal.
But he was gone.
His legs were suddenly heavy.
He couldn’t move.
He sank to his knees and buried his face in his mother’s chest. He didn’t care about the warm blood on his face.
“Mama,” he said. “Mama, say something!”
But Greta did not respond.
Florian curled into a ball and screamed.
Orbital Decay is Florian’s descent into darkness. Click here to grab your copy. Or, grab the entire Galaxy Mavericks series in one click!
Michiko Sings Away Her Sorrows
Michiko Lins waited for her next assignment in the canteen of a transport carrier.
She glanced at a tablet on the table in front of her.
It had been a long hour, waiting for the assignment from headquarters that would change her life. Again. At least for the next few months. Crazy to think that her life was in the government’s hands.
She couldn’t take the waiting.
There were so many places the Galaxy Corps could send her.
Some of them made her nervous. Like the border planets near Argus. Or the colonies deep in the recesses of the galaxy, where no one would hear her communications for hours if something went wrong.
Yet she kept telling herself that she signed up for this.
She closed her eyes and listened to the ship’s quiet hum as it cruised through space. The canteen smelled like a global kitchen—on the various stoves, there were skillets with remnants of curry, rice, beans, and other foods the passengers had made for lunch just a little while ago. A plate of half-eaten pork dumplings and rice balls sat on her plate, next to the tablet, along with a cup of yerba mate tea.
Again her eyes went to the tablet.
She sighed, cradling the acoustic guitar on her lap.
She rolled her finger tips across the strings. Quietly, slowly, she began to play a gentle samba.
A samba for all the people she’d known. A samba for all the places she’d been. A samba for love, a samba for sadness, a samba for all those feelings in between. She held in her mind’s eye her mother, pale and beautiful in a kimono, her dad, tall and dark in a soccer jersey, the blue ocean shores of her home planet, Asiazil, the sunlight shining on the water, the dancing sands, the echoes of beach laughter among gentle waves, smiling faces, the dancing—so much dancing!—and drums and berimbaus and guitars and singing—men and women singing and crooning! In an instant she was back on Asiazil, sitting on a rock on a windswept shore, watching the sunset through a vermilion torii gate in the distance. She was singing, one leg crossed over the other, picking out chords randomly and seeing where the song went. Major chords and minor chords and jazz chords that only Asiazil could pull off. Her home planet’s name and essence was an idea born from a song lyric written hundreds of years ago, one she hoped the planet would always live up to.
And the time just passed her by like the ocean waves and the herds of clouds in the blue sky, and smells of the fragrant flowers and the intoxicating bento boxes with eel and crab and smoked Brazilian beef.
She sang of home. And for a moment she wished she was there, but then she realized that she could not go back.
Her fingers told her that the song was almost over.
She picked a final chord and arpeggiated it, letting the notes linger before she took her fingers off the strings.
She nodded in satisfaction, looking out the circular window at the stars blinking outside amidst hyperspace.
“That was some beautiful playing,” a voice said. A chubby twenty-something man leaned in the doorway to the canteen, arms folded. He had red hair and a shaggy beard, and he wore a gray t-shirt with blue G on the left side. His shirt was tucked into cargo pants—the Galaxy Corps uniform. She was so wrapped up in playing that she didn’t hear him enter.
“Hey, thanks,” Michiko said. “I’m not bothering you, am I? Because if I am—”
“Not at all,” the man said. “The opposite.”
“Where’d you learn to play guitar like that?” the man asked. “Good god. I didn’t even know music like that was possible.”
“I learned it back home,” Michiko said, putting her guitar into a black nylon case.
Michiko grabbed her tea cup—a smooth, shiny gourd with a metal spoon sticking out of a clump of green tea leaves—and she covered it with a napkin.
“What is that?” he asked.
“Just a taste from home,” she said. “It’s called chimarrão.”
The man walked to the table and extended his hand.
“Rudy Rundgren,” he said. “Nice to see another Galaxy Corps member here. I was starting to think I was all alone.”
“Michiko Lins,” she said. “Nice to meet you, too, Rudy.”
“So help me understand,” Rudy said, hesitating.
A question was coming. The kind she always got whenever someone met her for the first time. After all, she didn’t look like most people. Olive-skinned with slanted eyes, long curly black hair, and very short height. She looked like a little girl even though she was already out of college. Sometimes it was the looks; other times it was her slight accent that no one could ever place, a kind of lilting Portguese but not quite.
“My mom has Japanese blood and my dad has Brazilian blood,” she said.
“That was your question, wasn’t it?” Michiko asked.
Rudy rubbed his head. “Yeah, sorry if I offended. I figured with the guitar and the tea that you were from Asiazil, but I always hate to ask, you know?”
“No, I get it all the time,” she said, smiling. “I guess you could call me east by south.”
“You know, back on Earth. Long time ago. Japan was east. Brazil was south. It’s a song reference, like our entire planet. Too obscure, I guess.”
She laughed at her own joke.
“Well, whatever you want to call yourself,” Rudy said, “you can play guitar like that all day and night and you won’t hear a complaint from me.”
Click here to grab your copy of Rogue Colony. Or, grab the entire Galaxy Mavericks series with one click.
Smoke Gets Booked for Life in Prison
Smoke stared ahead emotionlessly as the police booked him.
The Southwest Station was a large metal pod with a parking lot full of police cars. It looked like an afterthought in the middle of the rainforest.
The moon was shrouded with clouds, and a gentle rain fell from the navy sky.
The police car hauling him pulled to a stop at a side door and two policemen took him out, handling him roughly.
Smoke felt the rain in his hair and on his skin, and he wondered if this might be the last time he ever experienced rain.
This was, to his knowledge, the first time he had experienced rain since…
His head hurt. He couldn’t think. The doors slammed to the police station and his concentration jumped to the two men who were guiding him.
In a holding room with white walls, the police patted him down again and emptied his pockets. Two silver keys, loose change, and four silver bullets. They took his visor and stared in awe at his cybernetic implants.
They threw the items on a table in the corner of the room in a clatter of noise.
Glancing quickly at the contents, Smoke knew he was in trouble. Not that he wasn’t already going to jail. But bullets in his pocket…that was a bad place for them. Seemed like a good idea at the time when he stuffed them in there.
“What’s your name?” one of the policemen asked.
Smoke did not respond.
“You’re going to have to cooperate,” the policeman said. “We’ve read your rights. You know what they are.”
Smoke ignored him, staring at the wall.
“What’s your name?” the policeman asked again.
“Do you understand what kind of trouble you’re in?”
The policeman gathered the contents and put them into a large white envelope. He handed Smoke a pen and told him to sign his name.
“You’re not going to tell us anything, are you?” the policeman asked.
“Are you waiting on a lawyer, then?”
Smoke shook his head.
“Don’t make this hard on yourself,” the officer said. “You’re going to get a fair trial despite what you’ve done. Talking’s not going to help or hurt you at this point.”
“Fine,” the policeman said. “We’ll get your picture and then you can talk to the mean guys.”
Smoke did not change his facial expression as they took his photo. The bright flash blinded him temporarily. As his eyes focused again, the policemen took him and ushered him toward the interrogation room.
Want more badassery from Smoke? Grab your copy of Solar Storm. Or, if you liked these snippets so far, grab the entire Galaxy Mavericks series with one click.