His Take, Her Take

It is my pleasure and a privilege to be joining acclaimed author and writer James LaFond in the launch of Gender in Fiction: His Take/Her Take, where we will be examining gender and sexuality in classical and contemporary literature.

Visit jameslafond.com to share in reviews of works that continue to shape how gender is portrayed -- our newest joint review will be a fun look at Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard (author of Conan). Join us for masterpieces and mistakes.

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Watch here for something completely different .....
VJ Waks World Without Teeth

WORLD WITHOUT TEETH

Coming Soon to A Galaxy Near You


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San Francisco Book Festival Award SciFi/Fantasy

Winner at the 2012

London Book Festival Award SciFi/Fantasy

LOOKING GLASS, the second book in the award-winning RABBIT HOLE series, will be available in August on Kindle.  The printed edition will launch on Amazon.com August 2013.

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Hammerspace

Book two of the award-winning TAU4 series.

Desire, deception, possession - once more, nothing is as it appears to be, as the story of Gerda Tau continues.

The destruction of a secret laboratory and the loss of the morph and her creator - hopelessly captive on Altair's prison moon, Col Adrian has much to regret. But a new agenda is on the table and now more than ever, Stephen Weller has need of Col Adrian -

To return to Sephis and confront a creature more terrifying and deadly than the morph herself.

To solve a mystery that will decide the fates of not only the planets of the Homeworlds, but those of the Out Worlds as well - HAMMERSPACE.



 Sample Chapters

Prologue

PROLOGUE - LEGACY

With a resounding roar and from deep within caliginous grey storm clouds scudding low over the field, heat lightning snaked downward, shedding a rain of brilliant, deadly white sparks as the bolt struck the highest spires of the broken towers.

The explosive thunderclap sent a flock of raptors into panic-driven flight. With leathery wings flapping and strident rasping calls, they careened upward from the ruins, madly circling the clearing. Then, the greater part of the palú flock sped deeper into the North Jungle.

Only two remained – a mated pair, whose recent nest in the twisted mass of metal and stone overcame their instinct to flee. Returning to the tortured structure, they perched anxiously. The topmost towers of the fortress, rising blackened and rusted from the scene of battle, still glowed red with the charge as the heavy forest air grew heavier with the scent of ozone and charred metal.

A peace unallied to any kind of safety descended. The tiny reptiles nervously preened, peering out and downward upon a scene of carnage.

One hundred meters below the nest, stunt-winged snakes and myriad coloured lizards sunned themselves, spreading blue-tipped claws across the tumbled stones, now covered with tendrils of livid green vines and moss. Flecked with saplings, it was a field that stretched for leagues. A small city might fit here, with room enough to spread. In the distance, the massive trees still ringed the devastated land, ardent yet unable to fill the open space with new progeny. Soaring and timeless, they stood in mute but monumental witness to the work of rain, diligent soils and tireless jungle heat. In open defiance of the field of death, clusters of vivid yellow flowers overspread the ground in bright abandon, weaving a vibrant patchwork of stark intensity. Their bright hues threw the rough stone remnants and heat-split boulders into an incredible and unexpected panorama of shadow and light.

The ion field of Sephis never sleeps.

Hugging the planet in chaotic embrace, the skies sparkled magically above the counterfeit meadow. Spurred by the planet’s unpredictable magnetic and ionic fields, lightning again coiled across the narrow window of open sky as the clouds, churning faster before the real storm, built and concentrated the charge. In a fragile equilibrium of destruction and creation, the field edge skirted the lower stratosphere, flaming brilliantly before collapsing into ribbons of iridescence, glowing with magenta, silver and neon blue.


Reaping the benefits of the rare open heights above, another flock of palú, these smallest and most prolific of the Storm World’s raptors, rose again screaming from the trees, spiraling through the air in tumultuous dance. In ravenous flight, their raucous cries and beating wings drove the humming denizens of the middle airs before them, reveling in the bright, rarely seen glow of Sephis’ sun.

It was not merely hunger that drove the small winged lizards up toward the towering trees.

As rain finally splashed down, through the floating rainbows of warring light and vapour, the palock hide shod boots of ‘Khem Azur stepped out onto the springing turf.

Tall, visored in a lightly silvered helmet, his richly woven talar swung just above the stunted, busy grasses and masses of flaunting gold. Five Out Worlders – cloaked, and silent – followed their Commander. Halting as the tall figure paused, they waited attentively when he raised a gloved hand. One hung back to one side, respectfully awaiting a word, a small parcel clutched in the lightly gloved hands. Beside him, his squad leader – taller and broader in temerity as well as mien – moved forward, to take his place at the side of their Commander.

“How many?”

“Nearly three hundred dead, Lord Azur,” replied Pell’n. The Commander’s long time Lieutenant surveyed the expanse of the place of death: the broken stones, the coarse rubble so darkly strewn, a scattered tale of fierce and bloody battle laid out across the richness of the living grass.

“And the Master?” asked Azur.

“None can say, Lord. Not truly. But the fate of Dyle Carzon can easily be assumed. Survival is not among the possible options.”

Pulling his cloak gracefully to one side, ‘Khem Azur knelt, fingering the scorched stones, crystalised in the fiery heat from the guns.

“You saw this,” came his low prompt. His Lieutenant pointed toward one of the tallest of the trees, a massive giant whose lacy green fingers reached skyward nearly two hundred meters.

“I was there, in my shuttle, Sire,” he said, then nodded toward the one with the parcel. “And Losh himself was with Carzon only hours before, in the citadel itself. The fortress fell before the ship. In just two passes. The People do not lie when they deem him their finest – Teng, son of Akai.”


Azur tossed the stone back down to its leafy grave. “The People do not lie.

Let me see it again.”

Pell’n turned to Losh and motioned for the parcel in his ensign’s hand.

“Bring it, Losh,” he said.

Swift and tireless with the restless fullness of youth, Losh strode forward. Long had he served as the Lieutenant’s favoured ensign, nearly all his short life. Strong and lithe, he regarded Pell’n; time and service brought cunning to all who served Azur. The older officer’s body bore the scars of his long tenure. There were other scars, from other wounds. No one knew Pell’n as he did, not even Lord Azur. Few trusted him less.

Azur removed his gloves; the long fingers were wine-dark, smooth, the slight webs between the shapely digits barely noticeable. Carefully, as if still unsure of an unaccustomed freedom, he removed the light helmet. A face as finely chiseled as the hands, the brows arching, with cheekbones high, the skin glowing like richly burnished leather. And the eyes large, golden-hued, beaming with intelligence. He breathed deeply, savouring the scent of the field of ruin, admiring the work of leaf and vine and rich jungle loam.

The jungles of Sephis do swift work. All this. In just a few short months. Then he took the bundle and untied the cord. Exposed to the pitiless sunlight, the cloth within was finely woven, silken but stained and torn. Azur’s bright eyes studied it again, as he had studied it when Pell’n had first shown it to him, months before.

“His allies in the Homeworlds would pay dearly for this. You are certain it is his?” came the soft voice again.

Pell’n hesitated before he replied. His own memory of that night, deafening, bloody, and chaotic was still keen, still fresh in the alien’s mind.

“Before I fled with the shuttle, Commander, I myself saw Carzon. But that was early on, before the People had breached the fortress walls. Our fate was sealed. We were overcome; never before have I witnessed such savagery, such fierce courage. The People fought as demons, as if famished for blood. And then the Phantom came from the cover of the ion storm. The devastation was complete. What the People’s small weapons did not destroy, the Phantom’s guns did. No living man could have survived this. And Carzon was a fool, to have let himself be trapped so. In my estimation, Sire,” he added quickly, seeing the look in Azur’s golden eyes.

But the tall leader glanced away, to the edge of the glades pushing their young growth exuberantly into the field.

“Someday, your estimation may prove your undoing, Pell’n. Obsessive, yes. Unfathomable, without question. Dyle Carzon was many things. But he was never a fool. And the creature?”

“The People themselves mourn. The Colony is still full of it.” ‘Khem Azur smiled, but not from pleasure. He carefully returned the bloodied shirt to its thin shroud, knelt again, and rose. In his hands, its heat-crazed surface diamond-like in the sun -- an Out Worlder’s helmet. Below it, exhumed from the soft loam, lay the strewn relics of the soldier’s skull. White in the dappling sunlight, the empty cranium’s jagged edges were etched and worn by the jungle’s indifferent teeth and remorseless tears.


He laid the helmet back in its sooty grave. And, as though loathe to leave the rich abundance at his feet, his hands, like polished carnelian, dipped again and rose once more; this time cupped and filled with fragile, silken fragrance. He himself rose, now, and his hands parted, scattering the pungent, honeyed petals over the dark, secretive stones.


“The benediction of green, Pell’n. The richest absolution. New life comes,” he said. “In what form shall we see it next?” His Lieutenant once more surveyed the field of battle – it was little more than an islet, still carrion-fed. But now: vital, burgeoning and swelling amidst the giant trees. “A fitting grave, Lord Azur,” he replied.

At this, his Lord grew pensive. It was growing late. While their presence here was clandestine, it was still perilous. Their landing had been amongst the easiest yet.

Yet not flawless; there were repairs to make, all-important tidings to appraise. They would leave this place now.

The sinking sun cast a simple pearly light over the glade. But despite its plain, truthful glow, there were still shadows here. Questions. Not merely the reminders of one night, filled with death, and its irresistible, unending conflict with the needs of life. He motioned to his men; his own helmet, silvery, confining, and defining turned in his hands.

“Have you ever wondered?” he mused. “How it is that the dreams of men and their actions so rarely coincide? I have. And now, I wonder – where is Col Adrian?”

Chapter 1 - Mirror, Mirror

Chapter 1 - Mirror, Mirror

Whatever is yours --- we want it. --Hadrian of Tsoros, High Chancellor of the Homeworld Alliance

Thin, gossamer light, but no less substantial than chain, the manacles seemed to float on his wrists. The glitter of a signet ring in fine gold came from from one finger. They had allowed him to keep it. Small comfort, but meaningful. When one has apparently lost all, any reminder of happier days is beyond price. Flanked by two prison guards, Col Adrian walked resolutely from the warden’s office, through corridors of sparsely placed security personnel. All eyes on him, they were nonetheless careful not to stare as his party gained the open air.

Dead man walking. Again. Well, not quite dead yet...

In the near distance, slow and mute as bullocks, the other captives in this highly secured prison moon that circled Altair made their maddeningly routine circles in the exercise yard. There, alone as always, walked the one man with whom the Captain had developed any association in this daunting place. And alone of all the others gathered in the yard in pursuit of hopeless health – he was Sephid.

Col had never learned how one of the Storm World’s own had come to the prison moon. Soon demoralized and without care, the Commander had strenuously resisted all attempts at contact by his fellow inmates. It had taken weeks to steel himself to look at anyone, until the one day when the closest thing to rough dispute had erupted.

Another of the incarcerated, in his attempts to pick a fight with the dour, ever silent newcomer had instead found himself face to face with a tall, very muscular warrior with dark glowing skin, shining black locks and deeply furrowed brow ridge. The Sephid had firmly removed the inmate’s calloused hands from Col’s throat, then carefully twisted them until, writhing in agony, the attacker had withdrawn. The man from Sephis had turned away, to melt in among the others gathered to witness what they hoped would be a bloody but welcome diversion. But not before he had held Col’s gaze long in his.

No words had passed between them. That had come later as the tall rescuer came to check on the newest addition to their sorry ranks. It was only much later that the Captain would learn how very much this small, determined often-wordless company would come to mean to the one growing ever more distraught, ever more vulnerable to despair. No one was meant to interact with any prisoner being moved to or from the facility. So it was with some surprise that Col saw his cell block mate suddenly approach the group without warning and stop the man in shackles. The tall warrior had time to softly utter two words before the guards threw themselves upon the speaker. Struck repeatedly with their electric prods, the Captain’s sole ally in this world, it seemed, was soon unconscious and savagely dragged away.


Col instinctively moved forward, but his progress was swiftly halted by the ever- diligent guards. “Stand down, Captain Adrian. Not your affair.”

“He’s a friend.”

“You have no friends here. Did he speak to you?” Col thought hard, although his face did not betray it.

“No,” he replied. “As you said – I have no friends here.”

“Let’s go. You don’t want to be late, do you?”

Col watched as the limp body of his block mate was removed from the shuttle bay, then turned to his wardens.

“Never. Especially not to my own hanging.” The guards watched and waited on the shuttle bay as the young co-pilot inside the ship gave a peremptory nod to the prisoner, and led him aboard. But the pilot looked up and grinned in welcome as their cargo shifted toward his seat.

“Hallo, Patterson. So I’ve got you again,” said Col. “It seems so, Commander. What is this, the third time, in this month alone? You know what they say – three times a charm.” Dark grey eyes flashed in reply. “At any rate, it’s the fourth, if memory serves.”

“You’re a real favorite with me, sir,” said Patterson, as he finalised his liftoff, leaving the shuttle bay and the gaunt grim walls of the prison receding fast below them. Col observed their departure, noticing by rote the careless retro firing and that their trajectory had been less than perfectly attained.

Old habits.

“I’m getting real fond of you, too,” he murmured, instead. “Are people beginning to talk? And what about you? ” Col added provocatively, leaning so closely and so suddenly near to the desperately nervous co-pilot, that the fellow nearly lost his seat.

The poor lad pulled back; he was just in training on this short trip between Altair and her prison moon, and utterly unprepared for this kind of response from a prisoner. But instead of withdrawing, the shackled man’s face drew even closer to his.


Too close. The clean-shaven jaw was still prominent after months of prison repasts. The dark hair still fell forward, and Col’s eyes now flashed cool grey as the young guard, more alarmed than ever at the bizarre intimacy of the question, struggled to keep his composure.

Patterson’s ribald laughter was no help.

“But we’re not supposed to talk with the prisoners,” the trainee stammered. Patterson only laughed more heartily.

“What’s he going to do? Report us?”

Col sat back in his seat. “Never mind, darlin’. I don’t fancy being the one who’s tied up, anyway.”

So it was that for the fourth time in the last month, he settled into his customary seat in the shuttle, eyes drawn to the horizon, where the edge of Altair slowly crept into view. And for the four thousandth and fourth time, he regarded his shackles – light, smooth and deceptively slight. Regarded the shuttle interior, with its scanty armour, minimal weaponry.

How to do it? There’s always a way. Always. In four months I should have found a way to get out of this damned place.

You would have, came the soft little voice in his head. Time and countless repetition had not dulled the acid sarcasm. Most definitely you would have. If you had been someone else.

I don’t need to be this hard on myself.

This was in his own defense, yet the thought gave him little comfort.

Yes, came the little voice again. Don’t be. You’ve got the entire Altairan government to do that for you, now, don’t you? After all, you brought down an empire.

I did what was needed.

Really? demanded the soft little voice, more sharply than before.

Shut up, soft little voice.

“Dr. Weller.”

~ Sitting at ease behind his spacious desk in the darkened suite, Stephen Weller looked up from his digipad. With his dark hair falling across his forehead, it was with cool, reflective grey eyes that he regarded the younger man who shifted restlessly on the couch across the room.

His patient. To any unfamiliar to them, seeing them like this, together in the same room, the two men might have been near kin, so alike were they. It was only one of the reasons the Commander had been selected in the Government’s efforts to finally address the issue of Dyle Carzon and his work at the Base. The same clean jaw lines, the same flashing eyes and penetrating gaze. But in the man at the desk, that gaze was more penetrating still, underlining some dark emotion. And the cold silver that streaked his dark hair and the lines on his face hinted at something substantially more incarnate than simply greater age.


“Yes, Captain?”

Unable to keep still, Col Adrian abruptly sat completely upright, and ran long, nervous fingers through his hair.

“I’m sorry. What was the question?”

“What do you remember then, Col?” The captive rose slowly to his feet. It was with measured steps that he walked to the high windows in the behaviourist’s office and paused there. The security grids just outside the portal shone here, as they did at every window at Altair Base, and their soft light played over the tall man standing there, seemingly strong and fit.

But face of the one at the window was pale. Beads of perspiration marked the high forehead and his eyes darted from room to window and beyond, almost unmindful of the Base’s limitless periphery of jungle spreading in tangled richness far below.

Weller saw it all with grim satisfaction; the young man’s altered composure, the rare but certain signs of self- doubt and precariously maintained control. It was all as he had wished, and the scientist fastened upon it greedily. The patient was there by warrant. His memories, or lack of them, at the center of a still active enquiry, were a tenure of the State. And in this critical and highly unusual case, the use of psychoactive and conditioning medications had been held in virtual check, for excellent reasons. Whatever ease these interviews might bestow was a matter of utmost indifference to the Government, and to very nearly the System’s finest behavioural modifier, who now noted how quickly Col first strove, then recovered his control.

And his eyes never left Col Adrian.

Weller was used to his subjects’ attempts to disguise their true emotions. Their subterfuges were as varied and creative as their motives in concealing the truth. Many had tried their hand at such illusion; none had succeeded. Yet it did not surprise Weller that the gaze of the man at the window was once more as cool and as direct as his own. And when Col spoke, his voice while plaintive, was once more strong, if not openly defiant.

“Why are you asking me this? Again? How many times do I have to say this?”

“Answer the question.” The Captain moved slowly from the window to the shelves of carved wood adorning the far wall of Dr. Weller’s suite. There, softly lit and meticulously displayed, were the collected artefacts prized by this most unusual of scientists, a man whose eager mind plumbed the mysteries of vanished races, whose tastes sought out the rarest of ancient relics.


Priceless, lustrous in their antiquity, as lustrous as the wood that held them. And as Col spoke, his fingers touched and played over them. Here, a relic from the Antarean moons. There, a funeral urn from a lost era of Altair itself, and finally, a rare engwa figure from Sephis.

Weller did not hinder him, and Col held the ancient thing, tenderly turning the finely carven totem over and over in his hands as he tried once more to remember, to provide what would finally satisfy his inquisitor. As if seeking an answer that had yet defied him, he studied the gracefully arched brows of the figure, the high forehead, the thin circlet, marvelously worked in stone, holding back the wisps of hair. The large, wide lips of the stone image were pursed, as if about to utter some wondrous secret, still vital but now lost in millennia past.

“The building was in flames.”

“Was that before or after the People made their attack on Carzon’s laboratory?”

“After. No. Before. During Teng’s final pass with the Phantom, the ship’s guns had hit the main power modules.

Each of the floors, every one of them, started to explode. One by one, they began to collapse. I was on the ground, some distance from the building as it finally came down. I don’t know how I got there. One of the People must have pulled me there, away...”

“From Carzon’s fortress.”

“Yes. From Carzon’s fortress.”

“And the morph?” It was a now shaking hand that rose to Col’s brow. It was now shaking fingers that rubbed the temples, as if to prompt the memory itself, somehow recover what was lost. Weller took it all in, silently weighing the silence, avidly evaluating what could only be real distress. And he had already made his decision before the Commander spoke, in tones so low that the scientist exerted his utmost attention to hear clearly.

“She never left the ..... She didn’t...She’s gone. Gerda Tau is ...”

Unable to continue, he stopped and turned his head to one side, away from the penetrating gaze of the man at the desk.

Weller counted to a slow ten. Then he closed his digipad. “Come here, Commander.”

With flushed face and his breath coming quick and hard, the agitated man came forward, to sit numbly in the chair directly before the desk. The behaviourist regarded him in silence. Then he finally leaned forward, reaching across to touch the Captain’s hand.


“Look at me.”

Adrian raised reddened eyes to his opponent’s bright gaze. Weller did not release Col’s hand; his words were calm and precise.

“She is dead, then. I’m content that you’ve told us all you know.”

As if on a signal, the guards stationed outside the suite entered, and Col rose to take his place in the muster. But as they moved to the door, Dr. Weller called out, and Col turned to face him, his tormentor and liberator's eyes.

“I am sorry for the loss,” said the behaviourist. Col studied his inquisitor for a long moment, an enigmatic look in the grey

“Whose loss are you sorry for, Weller? Mine? Or yours?” And once more passive, silent and most carefully attended, he left the room.

Once more he passed through corridors as familiar as the sides of one’s own coffin. And as he finally entered the highly secured temporary quarters, to await his inevitable return to the prison moon, his mind was on two things only.

The events that had just passed.

And two words, spoken just hours ago by one brave enough to risk all. Two words that had changed everything. They had been in Sephid – a language Col alone could have understood. And he pondered them, repeating them over and over, until they became a mantra that fed wonder, a litany that conjured providence, as staggering as it was utterly unforeseen.

Be ready. Beware.

Chapter 2 - Once, Twice, & Again

Chapter 2 - Once, Twice, and Again

Once in a great while, the mix is perfect. This is that time. Unless I am mistaken, she will be the perfect morph. Tau has the strength and agility of her primary donor. Will it help her? It hadn’t helped the others. The survival rate of the transgenics still does not exceed 5%.
And what of the human recipient?
What remains of mind?
Of spirit? Of soul?
--Judith Temwold, Liaison, Morph Project

As the prisoner and his entourage passed down the hall, a door opened almost soundlessly, not far from Stephen Weller’s suite.

Adjusting her lab coat, almost in anticipation that the man once more in chains might look back to see her, a woman stepped out into the corridor. A rich if not immediately unequivocal array of emotions crossed the face of one of the most acclaimed scientists on the planet, as she watched the figure of Col Adrian, still flanked by his guards, until it was lost to view. A group of technicians nodded courteously to her in passing. Judith Temwold smiled wryly at the propriety, as false as it was seemly, as she finally turned away and re-entered her office.

You can never become less famous. I outlasted him. That’s all I did. I merely survived Dyle Carzon.

In her spacious research suite, her own assistant rose from his seat by the console as she entered. The young man held out the printed record of the scan.

“It’s the same as before,” he said. “And the one before that as well.” She regarded him gravely, marveling at his near success at sounding efficient, respectful and smug, all in one breath.

They get younger every year, she decided. More cold-blooded and more eager -- for the kind of feeding frenzy only Altair Base can still provide. Even with the scuttling of the morph project.

You name it, we’ll design it. As long as it can kill. We still have it. That clout. What makes us unique throughout the System. After all, we accomplished the impossible.

Nearly.

But what else did we nearly accomplish? If we’d only…? If she’d only…?

Her protégé’s soft voice broke in upon a very dark reverie. “What are we looking for, Dr. Temwold? Captain Adrian’s trace record is the same. It’s the same, this time, as in the one before. As in all the others before. For the last four months.” Briefly scanning the report, she put it down. Then, sitting at the console, she mechanically replayed the last third of the interview between Col and Dr. Weller. With practised skill, she again studied the range of vibrant colours in the complex field that played over the form of the prisoner in the room, a field that surrounded him –revealing his mood, his precise physical state, and virtually the plinth of his soul. As before, the IR and magnetic signatures displayed a near constant glow, as unperturbed as the by now predictable queries and responses lobbed back and forth between the two men in the room.


It was anything but a game.

“He’s not lying. He never was,” her assistant murmured, watching as the figure of the Captain rose and approached that of the man behind the desk.

“I know.” She breathed a sigh of relief, unaware of the young man’s rapt attention on her, as once more, he attempted to fathom the frank mystery of the woman for whom he worked.

He took in the neat, dark hair, the penetrating gaze. A mouth that, on any other woman, could even have been inviting. Ice maiden, he mused, echoing what was by now common conjecture at the Base. It was a conclusion that had seen more than enough fuel from the stories about her questionable relationship with Dyle Carzon and his wildly notorious tenure as Director-cum-Dictator of Altair Base, and creator of the morph project. Little was known, all was speculated. Still. Judith Temwold remained a mystery. Still.

Does she ever feel? he wondered.

His cheeks flamed suddenly, guiltily. For in apparent answer to his very thoughts, the scientist beside him drew a quick breath. Her eyes were now fixed again on the monitor. Then she shook her head and cleared her throat, her demeanour as calm as before. The young man stared first at her, then at the display.

There was nothing to see. Nothing but colour, colour pulsing on colour, mirroring the foreseen spectacle of demand and denial and demand.

“What is it?” he asked.

A long moment passed. Her face was once more inscrutable. “Nothing. Nothing,” she replied, calmly. As steady as before, her hand moved to abort the feed. “You’re right. It’s the same. Each time. Done. Hopefully for the last time. Get us some lunch?”

She looked directly at him.

And smiled.

He was thunderstruck. Without thinking, he smiled shyly back, and nodded, surprised into swift compliance at the sudden, unexpected rarity of the gift playing across those suddenly, clearly inviting lips.

She shuffled papers, copied the file, did the usual busy work with the hands. It was with sublime, impenetrable calm that Temwold waited patiently for him to leave. Then, as the door closed on him, she leapt up from her chair, hands clenched with raw excitement for the space of a heartbeat. Striding quickly across the room, she stopped and stood, staring back at the monitor as if it would sprout hair. One breath to steady herself, and she triumphantly seated herself once more at the desk.

Carefully reactivating the feed, she scrolled back to replay the last few moments. It was as she had said, all was exactly of a piece with what they had observed before, over the by now countless series of interviews between the behaviourist and the captive man.


But, this time, by pure chance, Col had approached his former mentor’s desk and the field sensors had briefly engulfed both men.

This time, Temwold’s gaze was riveted – not on the Captain’s field traces, which continued, predictably, repetitively unchanging, as they had been so many times before.

This time, it was with a sense of frank astonishment that she watched the field. What had started as a constant thing, had now inexplicably glowed; pulsing, changing in both hue and intensity.

And it had changed, unmistakably — if only for a split-second – around Stephen Weller.

Through hallways as immaculate as they were silent, the walk to the quarters of the former Director of Altair Base was short. But as Temwold’s course led her ever nearer to the place that Dyle Carzon had conceived as the heart of his unchallenged dominion for nearly two decades, she unconsciously slowed her steps, until she reached his doors and stopped before them.

There are no ghosts here, Judith.

Should there be?

Yet still she hesitated before her former leader’s door, hesitated a long moment before her Class One security card allowed her to enter the darkened chambers.

“On,” she said. Full, comforting light flooded the empty rooms, rendering them impotent, if not at peace. The damage incurred during the battle to wrest the morph from her captivity here had been repaired. The space now differed little from the time when Carzon himself might have walked here. Yet, despite all that she had known then, and knew now – the image of a cenotaph – grim, cold, waiting – prevailed, doing little to alleviate her growing tension.

Or her wonder.

This was only the second time she had come here since Col’s ship had wreaked such destruction on Sephis, and with it, all that the creator himself had made.

What are you listening for, you silly woman? He’s not here.

It was still not without some effort that she traversed the rooms, unwilling to touch anything. First his living quarters, then the bed chamber, and finally the private office of the man whose genius had come so near to creating a new line of living creatures, never before seen in any System, Homeworld or Out World alike. Seating herself at his desk, her fingers flew over the keyboard as once more she attempted to unlock his personal data files. Tried and failed. As had so many others before her.


And drawn irresistibly, compelled by memories, as tormented and consoled as had been few others before her, she once more activated the morph project hologram log – and propelled the image of Gerda Tau into graphic life over the desk of her creator. Temwold drew a quick breath and sat back in the chair, unable to look away from the effigy of their finest work. Her thoughts, unchained as ever at the sight before her, came unbidden, like tears tumbling free once the will had failed a stoic but fragile sway.

I came here to watch him. That was my job. To observe. We wanted to improve the race of men. To make us stronger, faster, better – to make us more than we’d ever been before. That was all.

It was never to create you. In a hundred years, we never imagined we would create anything like you.

Lithe and muscular, here, as in some dazzling, terrible, dream, hung the form of a young woman with skin glowing uncannily white, and whose hands, so shapely and so beautifully wrought seemed poised to change into something inexplicable -- savage, deadly and unstoppable. Temwold studied the classic features, the full lips, carnelian dark with non-human genetic substrate, the girl’s thick mane of short golden hair. And the morph’s eyes – large, liquid, sapphire – full of wonder.

As full of promise as of ready death.

Look away, Judith. Don’t look at her any more.

At a touch from her fingers, the image faded and died. She rose. With the room unseen around her, her own blind walk took her away from the console to the windows at the far end of Carzon’s suite. Here the Director had surveyed his domain; the high security Base, unparalleled in the System, sprawling acres wide, with its lofty towers, its impenetrable sancta bordering the jungles of Altair itself, jungles that spread as far as eyes could see.

She was high above the rest of the complex, which seemed from this vantage to be little more than an island, cold, forbidding, and deadly, floating in an even deadlier sea of green.

We have made here a savage world, within a savage world. The muted calls of cheiropts reached her through the thick security glass. Pestilent here as they were throughout the System’s many planets, Altair’s raptors, smaller but as ferocious as the Storm World’s palú, ranged in massive flocks. One group drew near. Circling acrobatically ever closer in expert flight, these aggressive reptiles were as eager to fight on the wing amongst themselves as to feed on the rich boreal life of the planet.


A low sound made her gasp involuntarily and drew her gaze back across the room.

As if called, like some phantom unwilling or unable to rest, the image of Gerda Tau once more hung above the desk. And its eyes somehow seemed to seek out her own, in silent plea.

Had she merely paused the program, instead of closing it?

And Judith Temwold cried out again, this time in horror, as with a loud, harrowing shock, two cheiropts violently struck the window right beside her face. Their bitter warfare had cost them dear. Locked in death, with tooth and claw still deeply imbedded in dying flesh, the broken mass of shattered wings and crushed limbs slid wetly downward, the tangled crimson pulp soon lost to view.

And on the window, like ominous red fingers drawn across the glass, rivulets of dark blood trickled, streaming slowly down.

Her pulse racing, Temwold returned to the console, and with trembling fingers, conclusively ended the hologram program, watching as the image finally died away.

What have we done, Gerda? What have we done?

She took a deep breath. It failed to steady her. To the scientist at the desk, the rooms again seemed preternaturally silent. But it was the stillness of a held breath, not an absent one.

Around her -- not the hush of vacancy, but of abeyance.

She was the stranger, here in these rooms.

Afraid of what she might now see in their emptiness, and resolutely resisting the dreadful impulse to glance behind her, Judith Temwold once again darkened the suite to a level as would befit a sepulcher, and passed through the doors.

Chapter 3 - Think & be Still

Chapter 3 - Think & be Still

I did it.
I will not change my testimony. I did it without hesitation. You ask if I feel any remorse. I do. But not for anything that concerns this Tribunal.
-- Col Adrian, Commander, Altair Tribunal Court Martial.

Back in his suite and aching with tension, Col rose from his couch, to begin, as would have any other caged animal, an almost unconscious, repetitive pacing of the rooms.

Secured by the standard impenetrable input codes, the quarters were small in comparison to the more resplendent guest facilities offered at the Base. But to this man, so recently freed from confinement, they seemed vast, empty, threatening. His alarm at this unaccustomed void was only slightly dwarfed by sheer amazement – against all reason and expectation, he was once more at Altair Base, at the one place in the System where, by all rights, he should be least welcome.

Since that day when the Government’s battle cruiser had recovered him from Sephis, he had been resolved in surrender, prepared for the worst. The morph was gone. Her creator and mentor equally lost in the fiery and utter destruction that he and his crew had unleashed on Carzon’s hidden fortress laboratory on the Storm World – Sephis, the jungle planet whose fierce ion storms were renowned throughout the System. At his hands, the project that had created Gerda Tau had been destroyed. Without the morph and the ascendant vision of Dyle Carzon, a dynamic machine which had taken decades to prime and to bring to deadly efficacy, was now lost. Its decimated and blackened remnants lay strewn across a newborn meadow under the very eaves of the mysterious North Forest of Sephis.

The loss to the State was in the millions.

Primarily due to Col’s adamant testimony that his crew’s complicity was innocent, both Teng and his son Kaylin had been summarily freed. The State had no need of two Sephid warriors, however vehement in his defense. The fact that the Storm World had grown increasingly significant in potential as a future Homeworld base, and that diplomatic issues were at stake, had of course, nothing to do with the Tribunal’s criminal focus on the Commander of the Phantom, instead of on her navigator and pilot.

Firing squad, Col had decided, as he had waited forlornly in his holding cell on the Altairan prison moon.

Or worse, if they could contrive it.

And it was this prospect of ‘worse’ -- of possible isolation and captivity, unending, until his last breath was drawn --which he feared, much more than torment or even death.


Here is your vengeance, Gerda Tau. For all the lies, all the good intentions gone horribly wrong. For what I did to you, in order to take you from Altair, to try and free you from the bondage of Dyle Carzon. To open that cage door, at last, and for always.

What did I accomplish?

I opened that door, freed you from that cell. Only to take your place in it, myself.

Only to lose you forever.

If only Carzon hadn’t…Well. That remorseful thread led nowhere. It was hopeless, for the Government, and therefore, for him, as well. For Carzon — with that painstaking foresight and terrifying brilliance that marked all his works – had encrypted, unfathomably, and in a novel, irresolvable code all that he had learned and devised to create the morphs in the project. Nothing that he did or made or planned – none of it – could be recovered. None of it used, ever again. It was hardly Col’s fault that the Director had mistrusted his collaborators. Causal among all the others, the Military held supremacy. But during that mercifully short and predictable trial, it was this one inescapable fact, that of the absolute loss to the Government, that had been reiterated in the case against him and to the Tribunal of judicature. It was a loss that would inevitably cost them all in their ceaseless fight to hold a critical, suddenly narrowing, margin of supremacy against the hostile planets of the Out Worlds.

All this Col Adrian had done.

But he hadn’t done it alone.

Col had wisely refrained from reminding the Tribunal of this. In a drumhead of this proportion, they would merely have accused him of dropping one too many peanuts as he had juggled the elephants. Yet, it was a regret, added to all the others, that had afflicted him, consuming the prisoner as he had waited, alone and unaided, for confirmation of how his life was likely to end. Inured to the last, he met the verdict with a veneer of calm that was as thin as it was admirable – imprisonment, with no definable end. The prison moon of Altair awaited. The addition of a man of Sephid blood, silent and seemingly as dour as himself, to the cell across from his served only to remind him painfully that he was to have no news of his crew. He could only hope that they had returned to the jungles of Sephis.

To freedom.

The weeks that passed saw the captive clinging ever more weakly to a diminishing hope and finally, to his acceptance of what promised to be a monotony of despair.

Then, one day, oppressive with dark cloud and darker thoughts, came a remarkable occurrence, as unaccountable as it was strange. Taking one of his all too infrequent, brief but savagely demanding exercise regimens, he had been abruptly called inside. Uncharacteristically, in this man who had faced death so many times before, real fear struck him and he was momentarily paralysed with dread. Had they at last decided to end this sham existence for him? With no time left for reflection or preparation?


Or absolution.

Wet with exertion and nearly crippled by anxiety, Col found himself in the Warden’s office, suddenly face to face with one to whom he owed as much in gratitude as in requital.

It was Doctor Stephen Weller.

And with fairly equal levels of dread, shock and hope, the renegade Captain left the moon for the first of many interviews with the famed behavioural modifier. And to his greater surprise those examinations, increasingly demanding, and ever more invasive, were now conducted without the use of the many devastating pharmaceutical treatments to which, unbeknownst to him, he had already been initially but cautiously exposed.

Time after time, it was the same.

Time after time, the pressure grew. Weller’s ploys varied, from cajoling to pacifying to frankly threatening. And with each session, the prisoner grew weaker, more confounded, more agonised by what he could remember. And what he very clearly could not. And with each re-telling, it came again; ever more injurious, a wave of mounting grief, fear and desolation which threatened to unseat the man’s already fragile self-command.

Is it to break me down? To make me…do what.? I’ve told them all I know. How can I tell what I don’t know? What do they want?

What does he want?

Now, alone in rooms as threatening as any cell, he glanced around the suite. Cowed and miserable, he resumed his restless pacing. And as he passed near the desk, a glint of white caught his eye and he wondered that he hadn’t marked its presence there before.

Because before -- it hadn’t been.

Lured by sheer novelty, he drew up a chair, then set to studying the small anomaly.

Square, carefully folded into a complex form. Beautiful, intricate. Seemingly of some light fabric or paper.

A box.

Would it open?

For a moment, his fingers hovered over it. A cautious touch brought a gasp from him.

Before his eyes the colour of the paper, if paper it was, was changing. Creeping over edges which rustled softly as they lifted, violet and golden hues surged rainbow-like over the box. His face drew closer as a delicate fragrance, familiar yet unplaceable, rose from the thing.

Then he jerked his face to the side in fear as, with a loud hiss, the packet snapped open, unfolding completely. It was too late; before he could escape, the rustling layers had released a glittering cloud of pungent golden particles directly into his astounded face.

For two full heartbeats, his breath caught in a throat that tightened alarmingly. Choking, unable to speak, barely able to breathe, he stumbled up and away from the parchment that now trembled, curling back upon itself like a thing alive. To the stricken man, the room and all its contents wavered madly. Furniture, walls, fixtures, all shimmered in his sight, their colours now shifting, simultaneously darkening and brightening in his tearing gaze. His breath came in ragged gasps, and a few halting steps brought him close to the windows, and the softly glowing array of security grids enforcing their suddenly mocking barricade. The roar of his own blood was still deafening in his ears, but his vision was clearing now and, steadying himself by the window – he looked out.

And much as had another unwilling tenant in a room so very like to this – he looked out over the jungles of Altair – tempting, close, unreachable, a green riot of peril, and of safety.

Of freedom.

And suddenly, like a dash of frigid water in his face, the Phantom’s Commander was filled with rage.

Raw, powerful, insistent, flooding him and building with each passing breath. It was with mounting fury and piercing frustration that he glared out, at the unending expanse of emerald jungle, back at the rooms, now suffocating in their paucity, and then back once more – at the glowing grid.

With pulse racing and his blood now thrumming hotly in his veins – his lips drew back into a livid snarl of inarticulate hate.

And exactly as had another captive under the spell of precisely the same view, he slammed his tightly clenched fist hard, directly against the energy grid. Anger now consumed him – real, welcome, wholesome – almost unknown to this man whom imprisonment and isolation had rendered nearly emotionless, dead to all but anguish and despair.

And he clung to it, as he would have clung to any woman, hungry with passion, desperate with need after long want. He stood by the window and his hand, bruised and reddening, throbbed deliciously with pain. And, laughing now, he raised the bloody knuckles to his lips, tasting the warm sweetness.

It was with a sense of wondrous expectation that he turned back toward the table, to see that the paper box was still curling with magical life. But now it was withering away, writhing smaller and smaller, until with a flash – the pale remnants, gossamer and fleeting, vanished utterly, dissolving from view.


And he laughed again, the sound loud and strange, echoing in his ears as he perceived, seemingly floating in the air above the table, in letters of now living fire, a symbol, glowing and iridescent. Hanging impossibly in air, in a language so ancient, so mysterious, that not one among thousands throughout the System might have recognised it, it shone out, defying the growing shadows in the now diminished and confining rooms.

Only a symbol – it was the tchau, the word for ‘breath’ – and on Sephis, the Storm World – the universal symbol for freedom.

And Col Adrian stared at it as it flamed once more and utterly vanished, stared wildly about him, at the grid and at his still bleeding hand and his laughter rang out strong and triumphant, more vibrant than before.

And he saw in his mind’s eye the scenes of months before, as clearly as they had just occurred: the Altairan battlecruiser descending on the meadow of the Storm World, merciless and inexorable, to take him back. And the figure of Teng, as the warrior stood over him, with abrahmi, the herb of forgetfulness, kindled and smoking in his powerful hands, releasing its potent fumes. And his navigator’s voice, as Teng spoke over and over to him, low and commanding, urging him to breathe, to breathe deep – and to forget. Forget.

Now, he remembered all.

The breath came out of him in one long fevered exhalation. The fullness of memory, the impact of what he had lost and now recovered spread through him to his very core. And he was once again able to say her name – joyously, with passion, without pain, without remorse, without anguish. Because, now, once more, he knew.

Tau.

And the tiny room became nothing more than a cage, a cage that he was determined to evade.

And at the height of this new found sense of sovereignty, of determination and of courage, his door chime sounded.

And Judith Temwold strode into the room.

Looking Glass Arrives

looking-glassx140To a place once safe and sane, madness and worse has come. It has come as a frenzied wave of horror and death -- a change in the nature of space and time --a challenge to return, to combat once again an Evil that hungers for more than mere dominion --

It seeks the Future itself.

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Book Two of the award-winning TAU4 series.

Desire, deception, possession - once more, nothing is as it appears to be, as the story of Gerda Tau continues.

The destruction of a secret laboratory and the loss of the morph and her creator - hopelessly captive on Altair's prison moon, Col Adrian has much to regret.

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Award Winning Science Fiction

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TAU4 - Book One

On a distant planet of the Homeworld Alliance, Dr. Stephen Weller, acclaimed expert in behaviour, is about to penetrate one of the great mysteries of his field.

After months of determined planning and care, he will finally enter Altair Base, a high security experimental research facility, whose dark work has as its only focus the war efforts against the hostile planets of the Outworlds.

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