Monday, February 28, 2022

The Shell and the Star - Part 3

I'm back with Part 3 of The Shell and the Star, an unpublished Science Fiction Romance book being serialized and offered in its entirety here on Spacefreighters Lounge.

If you'd like to catch up with the first two parts and connected commentary, you can find them here:

The Shell and the Star - Part 1

The Shell and the Star - Part 2


How Part 2 ended last week:

A large form torpedoed into the room and splayed his fins, coming to an abrupt stop. He was a magnificent Perling male—a young giant, sleek and keen-eyed. Shoulder-length, black hair drifted in the gentle current, framing a handsome face. Very handsome, even by Talstar standards. His dark eyes locked on her figure and his face contorted with shock and scorn that Jinn knew—and feared—all too well.

“A throwback?” An explosion of bubbles emitted from the young male’s mouth. The sharp laughter simultaneously sounding from her translator shriveled Jenn’s battered heart.

Mortified, she opaqued the one-way shielding in her outer bubble to hide from the son’s scathing gaze, ashamed and wounded by his undisguised contempt.

So much for her suitor’s approval.


CHAPTER TWO

The Imperator grimaced and grasped one of his son’s forefins, addressing him in a tone of rebuke. “Have I not taught you better? Where are your manners? Introduce yourself to our guest, my son.”

“There is no need,” Jinn said through her teeth. They couldn’t see her inside the one-way shielding, but they could still hear her translator. She moved her hand to the controls, ready to reverse course and glide straight back to the transfer station and the shuttle that would soon depart again for Talstar.

“Please hear his very humble apology,” the Imperator said with a glower at his son.

“Apologies,” the young Perling said in a most unapologetic voice. He pulled his fin away from his father’s grasp and rose to snatch a breath of air from the ceiling before speaking again. “I am Tardem,” he announced, puffing out his chest in pride. He crossed a fin over his waist and jack-knifed his body into an exaggerated bow. “First son of the Imperator.”

First son? Jinn mouthed from within the safe screen of her pearlized bubble. Then he’s…

“My impetuous heir now having satisfied his infinite curiosity will remove himself from our presence.”

“You’ll suit Trey well,” Tardem said with a droll smile, then flailed his arms in a mighty butterfly stroke, and rolled to glide toward the exit. Shooting through the archway, he slapped his fin on the shoulder of another Perling who had just entered as he jetted past.

Jinn took in the new arrival and gasped.

The young male gazed at her opaqued sphere and pulled himself up inside the chamber with a wave of his fins to hold his position. He was a runt! A Perling, yes—but short-limbed and compact—a virtual mirror of her own disfigurement.

Jinn felt a stab of pain in her heart as sharp as any dagger.

Now I see.

The second son of the Imperator was a mutant among his people, just like she was. Had their two fathers agreed to marry off their freak offspring, finding them suitable for no one but each other?

Jinn’s face heated and she hugged herself tight within the obscurity of her bubble. How could she accept the bid of this man? Any children they produced might very well be doomed with the same mutation they both suffered. How could she afflict such heartache on an innocent child?

She wanted to power back to her shuttle and leave for home at once.

She wanted to shout obscenities.

But mostly, she wanted to cry.

“This is the son you have come to meet, Jinn Amalla.” Her translator interpreted the kindly voice of the Imperator. “The son who has bid for your hand. I think you will find his manners far superior to his older sibling. Perhaps I should leave the two of you to get acquainted. I’ll send Morra with refreshments.”

Jinn didn’t want to be alone with her suitor. What would they talk about? What did they have in common—other than the obvious? She watched the Imperator glide from the room, anxiety making her palms sweat. Still hiding within the safe obscurity of her sphere, her gaze darted back to his second son.

“Hello.” The young Perling swam closer to her bubble, peering at the whitened sphere she’d hid herself behind. “I’m Trey.”

His words were unassuming, and the timbre of his voice came deep and confident through her translator. Despite his stunted limbs, he swam with an effortless grace, the muscles in his shoulders and thighs rippling with power as he maneuvered his fins. Like his brother, he wore no bodyveil, only a short red swimkilt that left his chest and appendages naked. Jinn had heard her giddy siblings gossip about how this was acceptable attire for young Perling males, but having full view of his bare, well-toned chest felt indecent.

And yet…fascinating.

“I’m Jinn,” she finally muttered.

“You’ve come to honor my bid,” Trey affirmed. “As you can now see, I’m not like others of my kind.” Trey’s voice was steady, neither apologizing nor defending his appearance. He seemed at home in his own skin in a way she had never had been in hers. She envied him this.

“I am not like others of my kind, either,” she admitted.

His eyebrows raised in surprise. Before he could ask more, Jinn cancelled the opaque and her bubble went clear.

Trey back-paddled and stared. He broke eye contact for only a moment to rise to the ceiling to take in air then descended to hover at eye level. 

___________________________________________

About that Disability...

In its infancy, I shared a portion of The Shell and the Star WIP with a couple of local critique partners for their reaction. Though both had favorable comments, one was struggling to understand what the hero and heroine looked like. She scratched out a quick drawing of two squat, bulbous little bowling pin shaped figures and asked, "Is this how they look?" I stared at her drawing with raised eyebrows and a sinking feeling that, clearly, I needed to do a better job as the author. (Writer, meet Shortcomings. haha)

The intended twist in The Shell and the Star is that Trey and Jinn look just like us--like modern humans--but their evolved, elegantly tall, graceful, long-limbed (or finned) contemporaries see them as hideously deformed social outcasts. Perhaps in the way our society would view a Neanderthal or a much earlier hominid if one were born in 2022. Perhaps viewed as a curiosity at best, but with those who are less tolerant seeing a freakish evolutionary anomaly--what in animal husbandry is sometimes called a "throwback." In fact, that's how these two societies refer to them, as well.

One facet of the story is how these two individuals grow up to view themselves. How one embraces and accepts his differences, but the other rejects her physical 'shortcomings' and is shamed by her appearance. 

Trey and Jinn are both throwbacks to our time. Two distinctly de-evolved individuals in this distant future. 

Or are they?

Read on next Monday, and have a great week!



Friday, February 25, 2022

AN EXPANSIVE NEW VISION OF LOTR

Sophia Nomvete, Ismael Cruz Cordova in LOTR:TROP
 

As a huge Lord of the Rings fan I can’t wait for the debut of the new television series “Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power” on Amazon Prime September 2. A return to that intricately drawn world of elves, dwarves, long-lived men and mythical creatures is just the antidote I need to escape this drab world of plague and war.

The fantasy series is set in Middle Earth’s Second Age, thousands of years before the events we’re all familiar with from J.R.R.Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s films involving the Fellowship of the Ring and their fight against the evil Sauron. In fact, this story is all about how the trouble began, with the forging of the rings of power, some of which, you’ll remember, were gifted to the elves, some to the dwarves and some to the kings of men. The One Ring, however, was forged in secret to rule them all, which came back to bite everyone in the proverbial butt in the Third Age. Some of this Second Age world we’ve only seen previously in ruins—like the caverns of Khazad-Dum—and some beloved characters only exist in this age in ancestral form (hobbits were “harfoots,” for example).

Most of this tale is only set out in the detailed backstory author Tolkien developed for his LOTR trilogy. When the first book came out, readers were so fascinated, they demanded to know more about his world. They wanted maps, histories, languages, genealogies. Fortunately, he had a lot of that in his notes, so he added appendices to the last book, some of which were drawn from a longer history of Middle Earth called The Simarillion that his publisher had rejected. (Peter Jackson’s co-writers on the film trilogy, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, used one such appendix to create the love story subplot for Aragorn and Arwen. Some of the lines in the film are taken word-for-word from the book.)

In 2017, the Tolkien estate decided to release much of this historical material in a separate auction. Though HBO and Netflix were in on the bidding, Jeff Bezos, himself a huge LOTR fan (are we surprised?), and Amazon won out with a $250 million bid. Production costs for the first season of the series on location in New Zealand have been estimated at $462 million. Eventually the series is slated to run 50 hours. So this is on track to be one of the most expensive television projects ever.

Showrunning duties have been handed off to two relative newbies, Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne. They got the job partially on the recommendation of industry star J.J. Abrams, who had worked with them as writers on one of the Star Trek films. McKay and Payne are longtime fans of both Tolkien and Jackson and are feeling the pressure here. “We felt like hobbits,” Payne told Vanity Fair. “We felt like two very small people in a very big world who had just been entrusted with something that meant so much to so many different people. Patrick and I will often look at each other in challenging moments of the show and say, ‘I’m glad you’re with me, Sam.’”

The creative team behind LOTR: TROP has worked hard to be true to Tolkien’s vision, while expanding on the world he only outlined in the appendices. Stories need characters and plotlines and themes, after all. And writers have had to condense the events of thousands of years down to a contiguous timeframe so things make storytelling sense.

Middle Earth might also look a little more like the world we know. This was a conscious choice. “It felt only natural to us that an adaptation of Tolkien’s work would reflect what the world actually looks like,” says Lindsey Weber, executive producer of the series. “Tolkien is for everyone. His stories are about his fictional races doing their best work when they leave the isolation of their own cultures and come together.”

Of course, when the news hit the Internet that a Black woman (Sophia Nomvete) had been cast as a Dwarf princess and a Black man (Ismael Cruz Cordova) as an Elf, not to mention various other people of color in other major roles, the trolls (and I don’t mean the kind you find in The Hobbit) came out to spew all manner of racist and sexist vitriol about how there are no POC in LOTR or fantasy. (I say sexist because the worst of the criticism was apparently aimed at Nomvete and other female actors of color.)

As a lifelong fan of Tolkien and LOTR I call bullshit. First of all, as Weber so clearly points out, the whole concept of the Fellowship of the Ring is that five (if you count wizards) diverse peoples come together to fight a common enemy. They overcome their differences (which are significant and longstanding—remember Legolas and Gimli) to destroy a greater evil.

Secondly, this is fantasy we’re talking about. When you’re writing or filming fantasy you can make your characters white, black, green, blue or any color of the rainbow. Tolkien was writing in the first half of the 20th Century in a generally white-and-male-centric British upperclass world; he was very creative with just about everything else in his world of Middle Earth. I’ll give him a pass for not consciously including any characters of color. But he did say he expected to “leave scope for other minds and hands” to expand his work, according to a letter to Milton Waldman. So, okay, the Amazon LOTR: TROP creative team is expanding on his work to reflect a more multicultural, open-minded consciousness.  I say good on them. The rest of us should follow their example and populate our spaceships and alien planets and castles and forest glens with characters of all colors and cultures (and of all sexual orientations and gender designations, too).

Cheers, Donna

*Information for this post provided by:

“Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Series Rises: Inside The Rings of Power,” by Anthony Breznican and Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair, February 10, 2022. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2022/02/amazon-the-rings-of-power-series-first-look

“The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power Has People Of Colour, Get Over It,” by Ben Sledge, TheGamer.com, February 12, 2022. 

https://www.thegamer.com/the-lord-of-the-rings-the-rings-of-power-has-people-of-colour-get-over-it/

 

 

 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Can faster than light travel really happen?

 

 

A star field peppered with galaxies

The James Webb telescope is out there, starting its mission to collect light from the the universe's earliest beginnings, eighteen billion years ago. That's a long, long time and brings to mind the vast, unimaginable size of the universe and the distances between suns in a galaxy, let alone between the galaxies themselves. And that inevitably leads to discussion about space travel in fiction. Because, let's face it, without relatively fast space travel, space opera would not exist.

Indeed, the existence of Faster Than Light travel (FTL) is apparently seen as fantasy by the hard SF purists. Sure, that's true at the moment. But let me conjure up the ghost of Carl Sagan doing the 1980s Cosmos. Just a sec...

<Clears throat>

Come with me on a cosmic journey. We’ll start here, on dear old Mother Earth, the only planet we know a huge amount about. Journey back in time, four hundred years…


The world was beginning to open up. Intrepid explorers travelled to the other side of the Earth in search of trade and riches. Dutch merchant ships sailed from Amsterdam to what is now Jakarta in Indonesia to trade in spices. At the turn of the 17th century, they sailed down the west coast of Africa, re-provisioned at Table Bay and then set off past Madagascar and across the Indian Ocean up to Java. Makes sense, really, if you look at the journey on a map; down to the tip of Africa, then up at an angle to Indonesia. The journey took a year, sometimes as much as eighteen months if the winds were poor or the storms struck hard.

Then in 1610 Henrik Brouwer did something completely counter-intuitive and sailed south from Table Bay. Makes no sense, does it? Well, yes it does. The Earth is not a 2D Mercator’s projection on a tabletop, it’s a spheroid. The distance around the equator is greater than the distance around the lines we call ‘latitude’ to the north and south. Brouwer took advantage of that fact to shorten the distance he had to travel east and had the bonus of the reliable winds of the ‘roaring forties’ to push his ships along. All he had to do was remember to turn left when he reached the longitude for the Sunda Strait, sail up the coast of Western Australia and he was home. Taking this route shortened the journey by two thousand miles and more than halved the duration.

Over the years, sea travel became faster and more reliable. Steam and then diesel replaced sail. When my family migrated to Australia from Amsterdam the sea journey took about a month. Apart from the improved mode of transport, the ship also avoided the long journey around the Cape of Good Hope by going through a short cut – the Suez Canal.

Eventually, the obstacles forced upon us by oceans and continents were removed, too, with the advent of air travel. These days you can get on a jet at Schiphol in Amsterdam and get off twenty four hours laterat Perth International Airport. With airliners like the beautiful and now-departed Concord, you could do the journey in half the time. A trip from Amsterdam to Perth in a Concord would be around twelve hours. Half a day. That's pretty spectacular isn't it? But now there's the Sabre engine, which can operate in both atmosphere and vacuum, and can travel at 5 times the speed of sound. Such an aircraft could make the trip from Sydney to London in four hours. That’s 4 hours. Not bad, eh? But wait – there's steak knives! A spaceliner can do the trip in 90 minutes!!!

So we’ve come down from 350 days, to 1 month, to 1 day, to 1.5 hours. Rams the point home, doesn’t it? Please note also that the improvements are coming ever more quickly as we develop technology.

Still with me? Trust me, it’s all relevant to space travel.

Imagine what reaction a person would have received if, in 1600, she’d said that in four hundred years, we’d be able to travel from Amsterdam to that southern continent we didn’t know anything about, in an hour and a half.

Yes, but that’s just the Earth, I hear you say. We’re talking inter-stellar distances. For Pete’s sake, the nearest star system from ours is over 4 light years away.

Very true.

We have no way of spanning these vast distances in anybody’s lifetime. Regardless, the notion of ‘hyperspace’ in science fiction to allow for the possibility of space travel has been around for a long time. The Grand Master, Isaac Asimov, did rather a lot of planet-hopping. Have a look at his ‘Foundation’ series. Many of the more modern writers like Mc Devitt and Moon have FTL travel but show it as still a very time-consuming business with journeys taking weeks or months. Star Trek used warp drive, which was just a made-up thing, and also matter transfer (as does Linnea Sinclair) and others have portals for almost instant travel. Jack Mc Devitt in his book ‘A Talent for War’ postulated a quantum drive, where a ship moves from one place to another instantaneously. Worm holes would also allow for an instantaneous transfer the movie Interstellar is an example.

But now, there are murmurings that Star Trek's famous warp drive may not be as SF as we thought. This article in The Conversation talks about warp drives and how they would work.  And advances are being made in matter transfer, and although quantum tech is still in its infancy, the potential is there.

In my space opera novels I refer to my version of hyperspace as ‘shift space’. I’ve done that deliberately because in my universe the ships use the geometry of extra dimensions to get around. Ships ‘shift’ to another dimension for the duration of a journey.

It’s pretty much accepted that our 3D notion of the universe is just a perception, that there are many other dimensions we are not equipped to see. Such an understanding certainly helps to explain the apparent complexities of quantum physics and the anomalous behaviour of sub-atomic particles. Way back in the 1980’s Carl Sagan in his wonderful TV series ‘Cosmos’ showed us a tesseract, a four-dimensional object portrayed as best we could in a 3D world. To understand what you’re looking at, think about a standard, 2D drawing of a cube. According to mathematics, there are many, many more than four dimensions out there, not to mention parallel universes.

The biggest limitation imposed upon us in reaching a real understanding of things like this is that we are constrained by our own world view and our ability to perceive. As far back as 1884 E.A. Abbott in his book ‘Flatland’ described the problems of seeing three dimensions in a 2D world. We are faced with the same thing, on a 3D scale, if we attempt to visualise four, five or six dimensions. Or many, many more.

However, I can give you some sort of idea of where I’m coming from. Take a piece of A4 paper. Let’s label two diagonally opposite corners as A and B. Starting from B, we can reach A by going straight up one side then along the top to A. Hang on, you say, wouldn’t you just go across the diagonal, thereby reducing the distance and time taken? Sure you would. Now curl the paper over into a cylinder. All you have to do to get from B to A is move along a straight line. The length of the line will depend on how you make the roll (short edges together or long edges together).

Now take point A in one hand and point B in the other and bring them together so they meet. Getting from B to A in this instance is like walking from one room into another.

That’s my notion of ‘shift drive’. I have included some duration in the journey in the book because I found it useful. Don’t ask me how the shift drive (the engine that makes it possible to take advantage of the geometry) works. I’m speculating a fusion drive to do something or other. When I work it out, I’ll let you know.

But technology moves at a gallop and as more and more corporations and governments jostle for a place in the space race, you can bet there are scientists trying to find an advantage. 

In fact, here's one that's happening right now. NASA and China are both planning manned missions to Mars. Using current technology, it would take six to nine months to transit from Earth to Mars. But using lasers to heat hydrogen fuel, transit times to Mars could be reduced to just 45 days! Read all about it in Scitech Daily.

So watch this space, folks. There may well be FTL in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

CAPTIVE (The Survival Race, book 1) - CHAPTER 3

Enjoy Chapter three of my alien abduction science fiction romance, CAPTIVE. Click here to read Chapter One. Click here to read Chapter Two


An abducted cop and a gladiator prisoner must learn to trust each other with their lives…and their hearts…to escape their alien captors. 

 

CAPTIVE

Chapter Three 

 

Letting go of the chain, Max sat back on his heels, wanting to punch himself for his stupidity. He hadn’t meant to frighten her. He just wanted her to understand the danger. She had started to warm up to him, even trusted him enough to eat the food he gave her, and now he’d scared her again.

Not the best way to seduce a woman.

Dammit. He didn’t have much time to begin with, and now he’d waste more by starting over.

“I...um...I need a bathroom.” Her words brought him out of his thoughts.

He pointed to the corner.

“Nuh-uh.  No way. I need a real bathroom, not a flowerpot.”

Looking at the toilet, he realized she was right. Not only was it shaped like a giant flowerpot, but it was also that same ugly orange color. After fifteen years, he’d forgotten how different—how strange—everything looked. Used to it, he rarely thought about home.

Who was he kidding? He never thought about home. Until now.

Damn woman.

He’d spent too long forgetting that life. Yet the best way to win her trust was to take her mind off this place, this situation.

“You’re right. It does look like a flowerpot. Unfortunately, that’s the only real bathroom we have.”

* * *

Even though he stood at the opposite corner facing the wall, Addy shielded her body with a sheet. She sat with a painful bladder ready to burst, but it was no use.

“I can’t go with you standing there.”

“Since I can’t leave, how about I cover my ears and whistle?”

“That might work.”

When he covered his ears, she couldn’t help but notice those ripped, bronzed shoulders. If the guy had been a sex slave for fifteen years, how come he was muscular? And tanned? Did the Hyboreans let them outside?

Whistling the beginning of a late eighties power ballad, Max swayed his head and hips, and his sheet rocked with him. He was awfully happy and relaxed for being a sex slave. Poor guy. Apparently, he’d accepted this horrible existence.

Well, she didn’t. When she got out of here, she’d set him and everyone else free. 

When she was finished, she hit the button she assumed was the flusher. A transparent lid whooshed closed, a red light flashed inside, and everything in the pot disintegrated. She barely heard the whoosh of the lid opening over Max’s very loud, very high-pitched singing. “I ain’t got time for the game—”

“Pretty high-tech toilet for a cult.” She secured her blanket.

He kept on rocking his hips and singing.

Stepping right behind him, she shouted, “Hey, rock star, where’s the sink?”

When Max turned to face her, he flashed a playful boyish grin, and her breath caught. She couldn’t help but return the smile. If she weren’t trapped against her will, being with this gorgeous man wouldn’t be that bad.

He strutted to one of the pitchers, picked it up, and sniffed it before holding it out to her. The clear liquid had a pungent cleanser type odor. “This one’s for washing.” He handed it to her, took the other pitcher, sniffed, and then held it under her nose. This time she smelled nothing. “This one’s for drinking. Don’t get them mixed up.”

He set the drinking pitcher down and, taking the other one from her, led her to the “flowerpot.” His large, warm hands positioned hers over the pot before he poured liquid over them. “Rub them together and let them air-dry. There’s your sink.” He pressed the button, and the noise ripped through the awkward silence.

“Umm...how about a hairbrush, toothbrush, deodorant?”

“None of that in here. You can take a swig of this, gargle, and spit. Kills the germs pretty good.”

“But you said not to get the two pitchers mixed up.”

“I said spit, not swallow. Relax. It won’t kill you or anything. It’ll just give you the— er...stomach problems?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Gotcha. What else can you tell me?” If she pumped him for information, maybe she could figure a way out.

He set the pitcher down. “How about you tell me something.”

“Like what?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “Where in Northern California are you from?”

“We’re trapped in a box together against our will, and you want to chitchat?”

“Would you prefer sex?” His devilish grin set his vivid eyes twinkling with lust. “I would.”

Adrenaline surged within her, but she didn’t retreat. She held his gaze. “I prefer to get out.”

“You don’t find me attractive?” His wounded tone tugged at her heartstrings.

Manipulative bastard. She decided not to answer. Instead, she crouched by the fireplace. “What’s that?” Addy pointed to a glowing red cube the size of a dice behind the dark embers. It was too small to have noticed before now.

He crouched next to her, invading her personal space. “Furnace.”

“That little thing’s a furnace?”

“You’d be surprised,” his intense gaze didn’t leave hers, “how one little thing can heat up an entire room.”

Uncomfortably aware of the heat between them, Addy cleared her throat. She peered up inside the fireplace.

“There’s no flue,” he said, though he hadn’t been looking up.

“I can see that.” What kind of fireplace had no flue or at least a vent? She pulled her head out and scanned the barren walls. “If we got in, there has to be a way out.”

“There isn’t.” Max threw a log into the fireplace. It immediately ignited without help from a match or lighter.

What was with all the high-tech gadgetry? And why did he need a fire if the furnace was red-hot? “Then how did the food get in here this morning?”

“There’s a door”—Max stood and pointed to the wall behind her—“but it’s controlled from the outside.”

She ran her hand along the wall and down its corners, looking for a crack where the door might be.

He crossed his arms over his chest, leaned back against the wall, and looked at the ceiling, bored. “Do you seriously believe I’ve been stuck here this long and haven’t already tried everything you’re thinking? I’m telling you there’s no way out of this room unless they let you out.”

“Has anybody ever escaped?”

“Not from this—”

“I mean from out there. You said we’re only in here until we…you know.”

“Yes, I know. I know very well.”

Ignoring the innuendo, she pointed to the wall. “Has anyone ever tried escaping from out there?”

He let out a heavy sigh. “Yes.”

“And?”

Max’s eyes hardened. “He failed.” He strode to the other side of the space with fists clenched. She heard his intake of breath and the slow release before singing about having a little patience.

“What happened to him?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“If I didn’t want to know, I wouldn’t have asked.”

He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms.

Good. If he wasn’t going to help them get out of here, then let him be frustrated.

“You want to know what happened? He escaped. He got caught. He was killed. That’s it.” Again, he spoke in that monotone card-game-directions voice.

“You know, you’re a real pain in the ass.” She hoped her anger hid the terror coursing through her. The cult murdered the people who tried to escape? She clamped her teeth together to keep her jaw from trembling.

Max sauntered toward her, a knowing smirk on his face. “And you,” he began in a sultry tone, “are even more beautiful when you’re fired up.”

The sudden one-eighty change in his demeanor caught her off guard. Her fear-thudding heart now flipped in excitement. He’d obviously practiced that voice more than a few times.

Max ran a finger up the length of her arm, leaving goose bumps in its wake. She stepped back. How the heck did he turn on the bedroom eyes that fast? “Don’t,” she breathed.

“It’s why we’re here.”

“What about your song, ‘Patience’?”

He moved closer. “I ran out.”

She bumped the wall next to the fireplace. The smoke’s unusual fragrance seeped inside her head, making her dizzy. Or was the dizziness due to Max, half naked, closing in on her, desire burning in his eyes?

Maybe if she kept him talking, he’d change his mind. “How many times have you done this?” Idiot. Don’t talk about sex!

Stepping too close, he tilted and bowed his head seductively. “Enough to know how to satisfy you.”

Her belly quivered. No doubt he told the truth. Heat from the fireplace coursed through her body, warming her most secret places. She slid along the wall, her heart thumping like a jackrabbit’s. Her throat dried. She couldn’t look away from his penetrating eyes. His sleek, muscular body moved like a bobcat stalking his prey, waiting for the right moment to pounce and tear into her.

Was it wrong that a small, wild part wanted him to? No doubt the sex would be awesome.

What was she thinking? It didn’t matter that Max was hot. It didn’t even matter that her body responded to his sexual prowess. She didn’t know him, and she didn’t want to have sex for some murderous cult. And she sure as hell didn’t want to get pregnant by a man who slept with countless women and fathered— “How many babies have you made?”

He pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear. “No idea.”

“You’ve been a sex slave for fifteen years, and you don’t know if you have kids?”

“I wouldn’t be here if I were sterile.” He rested his hands on the wall, trapping her between thick arms.

Anyone emanating masculinity and sex like he did couldn’t be sterile. His lips, mere inches from hers, tempted her to taste him. Their breath mingled in sensual intimacy. If she could glance away it might break the trance, but his gaze held hers captive. She swallowed. “Doesn’t it bother you to know you have children out there somewhere?”

He paused. A far-off look clouded his eyes. Was he backing down?

With a shake of his head, the lustful eyes returned. “No more talking. It distracts from the seduction.”

“But I—” His mouth, soft yet powerful, covered hers. Liquid heat flooded her veins. His lips coaxed hers open, offering a sampling of his fruit-sweetened tongue. Then, slowly, he withdrew.

Breathless and trembling, she couldn’t move. Her mouth tingled from his five o’clock shadow. Never in her twenty-three years had anyone’s kiss equaled Max’s sensuous hunger. Never had her body reacted with this level of intensity. She couldn’t get any wetter if she stood in the rain.

The room swayed as if she were tipsy. Lightheaded.

His sexy half-smile spoke of unleashed desire. “Don’t be afraid.”

Supercharged, her body revved on the starting line, waiting for her brain to give the green light. But the signal never changed. Her thoughts chanted: Sex. Slavery. Selling babies.

He planted soft kisses on her neck.

Shivers shot throughout her body. Her nipples tightened with the need to be touched. Her head spun with drunken passion. She closed her eyes, lost in carnal desire. In one swoop, he lifted her into his arms and carried her two strides to the pillow mattress. The soft bedding cradled her backside.

“Please, Max. I can’t do this. I don’t know you. I don’t love you.”

“None of that matters to the Hyboreans.” He removed the sheet from his hips, and her breath hitched at the sight of him in all his naked glory. “Just relax and go with it, and they won’t hurt us.”

She barely had time to register his words before his heavy body covered hers. His kiss hijacked all thoughts except one. Would sleeping together really be a bad thing?

He tugged on her toga, slipped a warm hand inside, and brushed his fingertips up the side of her breast. Goose bumps tingled her flesh, tightening her nipples. Her body yearned to be explored.

How could she feel this aroused by a man she’d just met?

Sex. Slavery. Selling babies.

Hot, hungry kisses trailed down her neck, throat, and over her breasts.

“No,” she whispered.

“We have to.”

“No, we don’t.” 

“You don’t understand. Trust me. Just go with it.” His lips were on hers again, probably to shut her up.

Addy wriggled to get free, but the toga opened, and his erection pressed hard against her.

Heat radiated from the deep center of her tightening belly. She barely heard herself gasp above her heart pounding against him. He obviously thought he could make her change her mind, and perhaps under different circumstances he could have. Lord knows she shamefully wanted him. It was as if she were intoxicated with lust.

Wait. Was she intoxicated?

Had he slipped a date rape drug into her breakfast?

She clenched her jaw so tightly it ached. Her ears pounded. Angry heat coursed through her, waking her from her sexual stupor. “Did you drug me?”

He didn’t answer.

“Get off of me, Max.”

A knee slipped between her thighs, nudging her legs apart.

She couldn’t shove his rock-solid body off. “I said get off, you fucking animal!”

Max froze. His dead weight crushed her chest. He looked down in disbelief, as though he too had awakened from a spell and realized what he was doing. The next instant he jumped off.

Precious air rushed into her lungs. She covered up with the blanket and scooted against the wall, putting as much distance between them as possible.

Staring at her, horrified, Max backed to the other side of the room. He stepped left, then right, then back again, as if he didn’t know in which direction to go. Not that he could go anywhere anyway.

He kicked the metal bowls and pitchers, launching them into the walls with a powerful crash. They ricocheted off, painting the room with pink splatters and black goop. Liquid mixed into the black breakfast pulp and streaked down the walls like mascara tears.

She pulled the blanket tight and coiled into a ball, crushing her back against the wall, wishing to melt into it, watching him through dry, unblinking eyes.

“You’re right. I’m nothing more than an animal.” He back-kicked the wall with enough force that Addy felt the vibrations on her side of the room.

He rubbed his hands hard up his face, into his hair, and let his shoulders fall against the wall. “I can’t delude myself any longer.” Slowly, his body slid down until he was crouched on the floor. Their gazes met, and for the first time since he had washed her hands over the flowerpot, he saw not a sex object, but her. Addy Dawson.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Saying nothing, she stared with what must have been a stupid look on her face at his distraught eyes. Her heart ached in empathy for him.

Him? Her cheeks flamed. How could she feel sorry for him?

She had seen his sexual desire. She had felt his strength. She hadn’t been able to fight him off. The only reason she was whole right now was because he stopped. He stopped because she called him an animal. It wasn’t much of an insult, but it apparently hit a nerve.

“I won’t force myself on you,” he said. “I refuse to be their stud.”

His eyes filled with anguish she didn’t understand. Anguish that came from someplace other than his attack. Whatever the cult had done to him in the past, this incident was merely his last straw.

The muscles in his face hardened with hate. He jumped to his feet and pounded on the wall. “Listen up,” he shouted to whoever was on the other side. “I’m through being your goddamn stud. I’m through being your alpha gladiator. Fuck your consequences. And fuck you.”

Another kick sent the bowl crashing into the wall. “Torture some other Earthling, you alien bast—”

Zap! Max grunted in pain, clutched his choker, and stumbled backward. A longer zap, and he fell to the floor, motionless.

A second passed before Addy blinked. A second passed before she breathed. A second passed before she remembered last night’s paralyzing pain. Fingering her own choker, she didn’t wish that agony on anyone. Would he be okay?

She heard his labored breaths above her own frightened panting. He was alive. But was he paralyzed? Blind?

Damn her emergency training. As terrified as she was, she couldn’t remain clenched up in a tight ball. She had to help him. She leaned forward to crawl toward Max when a silent blast of cold, white fog surged behind him as if a smoke bomb had detonated. Instead of inducing a coughing fit or making her eyes sting, it enveloped her in its icy embrace.

Her heart thundered. Her gut clenched. She shivered from the cold and fear. Would the cult murder them?

Through the vapor, a monstrous, furry, gray arm reached in, grabbed Max by the ankle, and yanked his naked body out.

 

#

 

  I hope you enjoyed Chapter Three of CAPTIVE (The Survival Race, book 1). If you can't wait until next week for Chapter Four (now posted), you can find the entire story at these storesAmazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.  
 
Stay Safe out there!

K.M. FAWCETT

Romance with a rebel heart

www.kmfawcett.com

 

 

 

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Shell and the Star - Part 2

This is Part 2 of the unpublishing book The Shell and the Star, which I'm sharing on this blog. A new section will be posted each Monday until the conclusion of the story.

If you missed Part 1 last week, you can find it here:  The Shell and the Star - Part 1

Where the story left off last week:

Jinn expected looks of alarm and disgust from the Perling greeting party, but instead they smiled at her and traded glances. Did they find her appearance amusing? Jinn glanced down at her plain black leggings and simple white tunic with its row of gold-tone catches. Her clothing did nothing to hide her deformity. No wonder they grinned. Why had she even come here? 



A mature female with dark, close-cropped hair broke rank to tread water before Jinn’s bubble, her light orange and cream body-veil undulating around her sleek form.

“Welcome, Jinn Amalla, to the Imperator’s estate. His Grace is eager to meet you. I am Morra, his estate manager.” The Perling spoke without opening her mouth, yet the speakers in Jinn’s enviro-unit translated the staffer’s words into Talstaric. Jinn cocked her head, spying a device under Morra’s chin that seemed to generate her voice. Perhaps by interpreting the movement of her throat and vocal chords? “Would you follow me, please?” Morra asked.

Jinn nodded and powered up her bubble, trailing along behind the staff member who glided through the spacious, curved halls that opened on both sides to massive, rounded chambers. All surfaces were bathed in soft, subdued colors. Above, silver ceilings rippled, casting light that shimmered and danced along the floor and walls.

No furniture? Jinn’s mouth skewed. Of course not. A species suspended by the buoyancy of water meant no need for seating modules.

Following Morra’s lead, Jinn navigated her bubble through a broad arch into a cavernous room beyond. She marveled at the organic contours, awash in soft hues of sand and aquamarine.

A large embossed mural of an aquatic fan-shell graced one wall--the emblem of the Perling species and the basis of their collective identity--The Shell. As much a symbol of their empire as—she glanced at the blue tattoo decorating her palm—the stylistic Star of her native people.

Jinn’s gaze swept the globular room, noticing an imposing male in a columned alcove scanning diagrams on a large wall screen. He looked up as Jinn and her escort approached and rotated his fins to turn her way, a slow smile spreading over his lips.

“Your Grace, our anticipated guest has arrived,” Morra announced.

“Excellent.” Blanking the screen, he swam out of the alcove to greet her.

She brought her bubble to neutral-hold, bowing her head in respect...as well as a little awe. The Imperator was a magnificent creature, easily as tall and imposing as her father.

“Jinn Amalla, fifth daughter of Commander Arc, you are most welcome to my home,” his words rumbled from her translator. “Your presence here pleases me greatly.” He seemed genuine in his welcome, but then, according to her father he’d known what to expect.

“Your Excellency,” she responded with all the courage she could muster. “It’s an honor to be your guest. My father sends his highest regards.”

“I have missed my dear friend. Indeed, I have not had the company of a Talstar emissary in my estate for many longtides.” He rose to the ceiling and his head disappeared through the shiny surface. Jinn followed his movement, watching with her mouth agape. The malleable silver ceiling overhead wasn’t a surface at all. It appeared to be the bottom of a large air pocket incorporated into the room’s design. After filling his lungs, the Imperator re-submerged to regard her, still smiling.

They’re airbreathers? Jenn snapped her jaw shut, trying to hide her surprise. He might think her weak-minded. Her people were told so little about the Perling, it had never occurred to her that they couldn’t remain beneath the water without an air supply, just as she needed the enviro-bubble for the oxygen she required. So they weren’t truly a marine species as she’d always believed. Yet their kind certainly had important adaptations as aquatic mammals–fins, for one, and an efficient respiratory system that allowed them to hold their breaths for extended periods.

“Tell me of yourself, child,” the Imperator said, pulling her attention back from her musing.

“I—I have reached twenty-four seasons…as y-yet unbid,” Jinn stammered, then stopped when she remembered her father’s reproach for being so hard on herself.

“Much to my son’s gain.” Placing his fin beneath his chin, his deep blue body-veil gracefully enveloping his arm with the movement, the Imperator regarded her. “Yes, I think he will be most pleased to know you.”

“It is my fear he will not, Your Excellency.”

“Ah, but that is because you don’t yet know Trey.” He pushed his fins forward, propelling himself toward the wall. “Something we will quickly remedy.” He stretched his arm to a panel and flicked a fin over it. Jinn heard a delicate chime sound through the water.

So it seemed she’d passed muster with the Imperator, at least. But was she prepared to face the scrutiny of a suitor?

A large form torpedoed into the room and splayed his fins, coming to an abrupt stop. He was a magnificent Perling male—a young giant, sleek and keen-eyed. Shoulder-length, black hair drifted in the gentle current, framing a handsome face. Very handsome, even by Talstar standards. His dark eyes locked on her figure and his face contorted with shock and scorn that Jinn knew—and feared—all too well.

“A throwback?” An explosion of bubbles emitted from the young male’s mouth. The sharp laughter simultaneously sounding from her translator shriveled Jenn’s battered heart.

Mortified, she opaqued the one-way shielding in her outer bubble to hide from the son’s scathing gaze, ashamed and wounded by his undisguised contempt.

So much for her suitor’s approval.

___________________________________________ 

Fin Fashion

No typo there. Today I want to talk a little about the fashion in the aquatic society of The Shell and the Star.

If you haven't yet read much of the story, you might ask: "You mean it's an aquatic society like Atlantis?"

Well, no. Personally I never believed in the whole Atlantis-became-a-society-under-the-sea-after-it-sank line of thought.

The aquatic society in this story is called the Perling, also known as the People of the Shell--their sigel and cultural icon. 

This week I'm going to explain how the idea for fashion and clothing evolved for this undersea society. So, literally, it's "fin fashion."

Creating Fashion that Doesn't Exist

One of the fascinating parts of creating this fictional world was developing the underlying culture and traditions where the story takes place. For this particular work in progress, one of the first questions I asked myself was: What sort of clothing would an aquatic society wear?

Just to clarify, the Perling aren't mermaids. No cliché, strategically-placed sea shells and scaled lower bodies here. The Perling are evolved humans who have spent a good part of the last 50,000 years--or 50,000 "calendars" in this universe--living in the shallow bays of the sea after an asteroid all but destroyed their world.

They are evolved humans who sport finned hands and feet, and bodies that are elongated and more torpedo-like with lean muscles in the arms, legs and torso that have adapted to buoyancy vs. surface gravity, and moving through liquid rather than air. These physical characteristics set them apart from their stout land-dwelling ancient ancestors.

The world of The Shell is one of serene, current-swaying beauty and sun-dappled blue lagoons. When I started imagining the type of clothing the Perling might wear, some very definite images took shape in my head.

Everyday Fashion

The more traditional clothing for this society was inspired by the simple elegance of a very familiar water dweller--the fancy goldfish.

Since the Perling live in tropical seas, there is no need for materials that provide warmth in cold water temperatures, so their garments of choice are light and drifty. They're called swim veils.

Swimveils are created from gossamer materials, fashioned into a loosely-worn body sheath with billowing parts or small veils to add a bit of flair with water movement. (Gives a whole new meaning to "current" fashion, yes?) These garments and embellishments are designed to drift with the tide, but not create a lot of drag with more vigorous movement.


In general, swim veils are brightly colored with many patterns and styles, much like the variety in our own societies, especially the more tropical areas. The design might suggest colorful underwater fins or flora.

 
I attempted to search out an assortment of stock photos for examples and inspiration, but found very few, and most offerings too outlandish and exaggerated to truly be practical in the water. One is the lemon yellow layered design above. The image below is of a belly dancer in costume--on dry land, of course--but the appearance is somewhat close to the effects of the swimveil in water.



The sheaths used by the Perling, however, wouldn't be ankle length, which would restrict fin movement of the feet, or have sleeves that reach to or past the wrists, which would interfere with the movement of the hand fins.

The garments would have a simpler cut and fewer embellishments than the clothing pictured in these photos, though I think the general idea is captured in these images.



Clothing for those engaged in more authoritative roles--such as male or female leaders, dignitaries or businessmen--would be finer and with more subdued patterns and colors, perhaps more reminiscent of the sophisticated simplicity of Greek robes than what we think of as business suits.

For workers and harvesters, the attire would be more practical and of more durable materials that could withstand the duties of, say, seafan farming or coral collection. (Most of the shallow-water coral on the planet has died and bleached, and is selectively harvested by the Perling to be ground into cement-paste, the basis for a compound used in undersea construction of buildings and dwellings.)

Sportswear

Like our sportswear, youth and athletes might find traditional clothing cumbersome and impractical for more active sports or lifestyles. They trade conventional swimveils for the convenience and practicality of swimkilts--which are, as the name suggests--an article of clothing that's a cross between a Scottish kilt and swim trunks, using a shorter, lighter, more H2O-friendly material. Female athletes might also wear swimkilts, with a bandeau top.

Swimkilts allow freedom of movement and reduced drag for more vigorous sports, like the favorite Perling past time of Boggy Ball, which is somewhat like the Aztec/Mesoamerican sport of handball crossed with water polo. Because of the need to move quickly and strategically, this and other vigorous sports are customarily played "swimkilt optional" by the males in the Perling society.

Hope you enjoyed the continuing story and this closer look at Perling fashion.

Have a great week.




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