Thursday, April 28, 2022

Before there were software engineers...


Before the term 'software engineer' was invented I used to be a computer programmer. I earned a living by building information systems and I loved my job. But I'd always had a hankering to be a writer and I'd dabbled in story telling more than once, with notable lack of success.

When I finally retired from the stress-filled rat race that was the IT industry in the mid-noughties I decided I'd finally write that book.

After a few weeks of writing, I threw my virtual manuscript at a virtual wall.

The problem was the main character who could interact with computers with her mind, sort of like… magic. With my IT background, that didn't really appeal. And I didn't like the setting. It was all too… fairy tale in space. And slow.

So, I dreamed up a new backstory. Imagine something not unlike the machine wars in Terminator has destroyed the fabric of the first world planets. Human kind has fought back and re-established itself. The Cyber Wars are now centuries in the past. But the lesson had been learned. Sophisticated society needs computers but there would be no artificial intelligence that could repeat the previous destruction. To make sure nothing like that could ever happen again, specially modified humans were used to act as an artificial intelligence but in a limited, strictly controlled way. These Supertechs created all the apps in the Confederacy's systems and kept the Fleet's warship systems going.

Meet Morgan Selwood. A supercomputer was embedded in her brain at birth and a few other modifications were made to make her a Supertech whether she liked it or not. Supertechs were supposed to be subservient, obedient individuals who did what they were told. If they strayed from the path – well – they were exterminated. After all, mistakes DO happen, but not tolerated.

Morgan was a mistake.

She's feisty and difficult and exceptionally good at what she does. She also hates, loathes, and detests Authority – especially admirals.

I wrote a short story about Morgan's first posting after she scraped through her Fleet Academy training. It's called Supertech


She’s a Supertech, bioengineered from birth, fresh out of the Academy and tasked with designing a control system for an experimental fighter. Morgan’s up for the challenge but there’s more to the job than meets the eye. The Fleet invested in her education but did they train her for … this?

Ensign Morgan Selwood was almost too good at her job and far too casual about Fleet rules and regulations. Tasked with designing a control system for an untested attack fighter seemed like a dream come true and a real career booster. But the specs and modules tell only part of the story—what Morgan discovers can put not just her career, but lives at risk.

You can buy the book (US$0.99) at  Your choice of vendor

Or use coupon code RYIE5BBQZT at Payhip and get it for FREE. This offer expires on 30th April.

Then I got to work on her main story – Morgan's Choice. The book's name has changed several times, Morgan's name has changed several times, and the story has changed, too. Given the current penchant for titles like 'The Alien Admiral's captive' and such, perhaps I should have called the book "The Alien Admiral's Cyborg". But it was always going to be about Morgan going far beyond her own world to undiscovered parts, where she would have her adventures, and meet a man who could match her.

Oh - that story I flung at the virtual wall? After a few revisions and rewrites it was finally published as The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

CAPTIVE (The Survival Race, book 1) - CHAPTER 13

Last week's episode ended with Addy in a bad place emotionally...she hates this new planet and hates being a broodmare. Who could blame her? At least we know Max is alive. (Yay!) But how does Addy feel about that?

If you just found CAPTIVE, you can catch up reading here: Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter 6  Chapter 7  Chapter 8  Chapter 9  Chapters 10 & 11  Chapter 12

Or you can get the full book now at your favorite retailers for only $2.99.

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


Chapter Thirteen


It was another sleepless night as usual.

A gentle shower misted outside Tess’s transparent bedroom. Tired of watching tiny raindrops merge into large beads and roll down the observation wall, Addy got up from her pillow bed, pulled on her jean shorts and a sweatshirt, and crept to the kitchen in search of an apple.

The fruit bowl sat empty except for an orange. In her constant state of hunger, she had eaten everything else. She held the orange, wishing it would change into a Granny Smith. Smooth. Green. Crunchy. Tart.

Swallowing saliva, she replaced the fruit. Only one thing satisfied her midnight cravings. She put on her shoes, grabbed a lightstick and one of Tess’s baskets, and slipped out into the rain.

The gentle mist from the sprinkler system cooled her face and roused her senses. The pungent damp earth comforted her, as it had all her life growing up in the wilderness areas of Klamath National Forest. Not one to shy from Mother Nature in any season, she always felt right at home in the great outdoors.

Of course, she wasn’t really outdoors now, was she?

Apple picking by the peaceful moonslight shining through silver clouds lifted her mood. Even as the full basket weighed heavy on her arm, her spirit grew lighter. And when her teeth sank into the fruit’s tangy flesh, she sighed in blissful satisfaction. The trip in the rain had been more than worth it.

Long, wet strands of hair hung over her eyes. Her clothes clung to her. Not wanting to return yet, she strolled along the orchard’s straight path with Lunas Major and Minor lighting the way.

She sucked the last bit of juice from the core of her third apple when the hair on her neck bristled. Sensing a presence, she turned in all directions, searching the orchard’s shadows.


Her pulse quickened. Someone was out there. There was no denying that creepy sensation of someone’s—or something’s—watchful eyes.

She dropped the core. Keeping her gaze focused among the apple trees, she felt for the lightstick amid the apples in her basket. She pulled it out, turned it on, and spun in a circle with the beam drawn in front.

Twenty feet away, beneath a tree she had passed, he sat with his back against the trunk, watching her. He didn’t move when she shone the light in his face. He stared with those vacant green eyes.

“What are you doing out here?” If she engaged with Max like an officer, maybe she’d be able to control the sudden ire his presence triggered.

He didn’t answer.

“Did you follow me?”


She closed the distance, leaving about eight feet between them. Though the Hyboreans had shaved him a week ago, his drenched hair had grown out a half-inch. Rain slipped down his face and dripped off his ears and nose. He didn’t seem to notice or care. From his drowned rat appearance, he must have been sitting there a good long time. Sodden clothes clung to his gaunt body. Cut off at the knee, his left pant leg ended above the brown cast running the length of his lower limb.

Anger and pity battled inside.

Oh hell, she refused to feel sorry for him. “You violated me.” Her words sliced through the cool night air.

Max hung his head.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you.”

“I meant to seduce you,” he whispered into his chest. She almost didn’t hear him over gentle rain splatters on the leaves.

“Not then, you ass. After they shocked me with the collar. I passed out, and you raped me.”

His head jerked up. Life flashed in his eyes. “No, I didn’t.”

How could he lie to her face like that? “Then explain how the hell I got pregnant.”

His bold jaw set in anger. His green eyes blazed in the darkness. “No.”

“No? No? God, I want to kick your broken leg.”

“Go ahead.”

She took a step closer but couldn’t do it. “That would be police brutality.” It was a lame excuse, but she couldn’t think of anything better.

“You’re not a cop here.”

True. She’d get no justice in this place, and she wanted nothing more than to punish him. She dropped the lightstick and pitched an apple. It smacked him in the chest and bounced off.

He didn’t flinch. “Is that all you got?” His tone—iced with derision—sent molten blood through her veins. “Go ahead. Throw another one.”

She did. And then threw another. And another.

He didn’t move from his spot against the tree. Each time she hit him, he yelled for more. “Hell, woman, can’t you throw harder than that? Hit me. Hurt me!”

His taunts stoked her fury, and Max became the target for all the raw pain she’d felt since waking up in captivity. She hit him for violating her. She hit him for lying to her face. She hit him for the pregnancy. She hit him for her abduction, for the breeding box, for the Hyboreans, for being made a human pet, for her loss of freedom, for the loss of everything that made her who she was. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t her abductor. It didn’t matter that he, too, was held captive, forced to stud or risk punishment. What mattered was unleashing the white-hot anger pumping through her veins.

The apples ran out before her rage did. When her fingers scraped netted wood, she threw the empty basket at him. “I hate you! I wish they killed you.”

Max’s eyes closed. “Hell, woman. So do I.”

* * *

The woman sprinted away into the darkness. He made sure she was gone before he rubbed his aching chest. She threw hard. Her aim was spot-on, too. Not one damn apple missed.

He deserved it for not telling her the truth, but he couldn’t relive his shame. He wasn’t strong enough. Besides, it didn’t matter how she got pregnant. Nothing could change that fact now. All he could offer was a target for her frustration and hate. Physical exertion had a way of taking the edge off. Plus, beating on someone offered a rare sense of power and control on this world. It had helped him in the past. Maybe in some small way it helped her tonight. 

The woman was a fighter. He used to believe that was a good thing. He used to believe it gave a person an advantage. It didn’t. Hyborea chewed up fighters and spat them out. Fighting merely wore a man down and delayed the inevitable.

One thing’s for sure, she was beautiful when fired up. So passionate. So full of energy and life. So like him in his younger years. Maybe that was why he couldn’t purge her from his thoughts. She reminded him of who he used to be when still naive enough to believe strength and courage would save him.

Hope was a fallacy. Nothing he had done had changed his fate. In the end, the masters broke him. Maybe she wouldn’t break right away either, but when she did—eventually everyone did—her defeat would be all the more unbearable. It would crush her soul like it crushed his.

He would hate watching that happen. With any luck, he’d be sold off before witnessing it.

How long would it take before they stripped the last bit of her humanity like they stripped the last bit of his?

How long could fire last in a world made of ice?


  How much physical and emotional torture can these two characters withstand before fighting back? Find out next week in Chapter 14. Or get the full book now at your favorite retailers for only $2.99.



Romance with a rebel heart

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Shell and the Star - Part 11

I'm back this week with Part 11 of The Shell and the Star. If you're just tuning in this week, or need to catch up on the story, you can find everything posted to date here: 

The Shell and the Star

Today's segment is a little longer because some critical information about their two cultures is about to be shared. 

Here's where the story left off last week...

For once Jinn was glad of the tedious hours she spent every day in the gravity chambers on Talstar, fulfilling her required exercise regimen to build and maintain her muscles. The effort it took to lift weights and do resistance training in the half-G of the training area didn’t feel so very different from the drag created by liquid water.

Her companion guided her away from his raucous companions into a small, private cove where a table of rock rose to just below the surface offering a place for them to perch. Trey hopped up to sit on the shelf and helped her up beside him. The sun-warmed water lapped against her thighs and she stretched out her legs until her toes broke the surface.

“You already swim like a native,” Trey praised, slipping off one of her fins and taking her small hand in his larger one.

Jinn looked away, unsettled, but soon cast a shy look his way. Water beaded on his face and shoulders and Jinn felt those strange stirrings again—the unsettling urge to touch those magical droplets. To trace the hollows and rises of his chest beneath her fingertips.

“What are you thinking?” he asked in a quiet voice.

Jinn dared not confess her true thoughts. “Why do you think…the two of us were born the way we are?”

“I’ve given that a lot of thought.” His thumb grazed over her fingers. “When our ancestors walked on the land—”

“Wait!” Jinn turned to him. “What do you mean they walked on land?”

“It’s true, Jinn. They lived on the land. And there, they were subjected to the full gravity at the surface without the benefit of buoyancy we experience in the waters--or the low gravity you know on Talstar.”

“But…they walked on the land?”

“Not only that.” He turned to look her full in the face. “They once walked on Talstar.”

Jinn tried to hide her utter disbelief. “How? And why?”

“The old stories say that Talstar at one time produced its own gravity that mimicked that of the land dwellers so they were comfortable living and working on the station, but over time, the system weakened and the knowledge had been lost of how to restore it. They had to adapt to low and micro-gravity. Over the eons the people of the Star began to evolve, becoming taller, leaner and longer limbed in the lower gravity.”

“That’s all very interesting…but what does it have to do with how we were born?”

“Because I believe we look like they once did, all those eons ago. And if I’m right, it’s possible our genetics sometimes revert back to our ancestral form that was once adapted to full gravity.”

“Throwbacks,” Jinn muttered.

“Yes. That’s what they call us. Because we look different from others of our kind—shorter limbed, more compact, more powerful.”

“Like you,” Jinn breathed.

“And you,” he added, holding her gaze.

“But if what you say is true, why did our ancestors leave the land to begin with?”

“Because of The Fall, Jinn.”

“The Fall?”

“You haven’t been told of this.” She shook her head, but his words had been a statement, not a question.

“If you are here to learn of my culture, you should hear this,” he said solemnly. “Ten thousand longtides ago—about fifty thousand orbits around our sun—a comet struck Veros. The impact sent out a great searing wind that scorched the land and there were powerful earthquakes and erupting volcanos. It left the air unbreathable and the lands barren and covered in deep ash. Billions died, but the few who survived were able to escape the planet and seek sanctuary with the residents of Talstar, which even then was in orbit around Veros.”

“And some sought refuge in the waters?”

“That came later. The sea surface boiled and much of the water evaporated, destroying most life in the shallows. Then the surface waters turned acidic from the fallen ash and that ended most of the remaining species that survived the initial impact. It was generations before the seas became survivable again, and Talstar was able to send some of its residents back to the planet to establish colonies in a few of the shallow bays. By then they’d already started to evolve into beings more suited to lower gravity, and they were able to adapt to living in the water.”

“But why would those on Talstar risk returning to this planet? Why would they not stay in the safety of the station?”

“Because they were starving, Jinn. The hydroponic farms on Talstar couldn’t support the growing population. They had to divide their numbers so they could begin farming the seas. Soon they were growing enough to send to the station, and the station sent them tools and technology in return. That’s how the Star and the Shell developed their system of trade.”

“How is it you know all of these things?”

“There are histories that tell of it.”

“What are…histories?”

“Records, preserved digitally by the Star and later brought to Veros by those who would become the Shell. Copied and re-copied over the eons into more indelible forms.”

“And you have read these records?”

“Yes.” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze.

“But if these records came from Talstar, as you say, why don’t we know of them?”

Trey’s gaze dropped and his voice grew quiet. “As I understand it, your leaders deemed this knowledge sacred and privileged, not suitable to be shared with most of the residents. Not to be taught to the young.”

“Leaders like my father?” Jinn asked guardedly.

Trey shook his head, looking pained. “I think it was decided by those who came long before him.”

“And what would be the reason to keep such secrets?”

“This, I don’t know, Jinn. My father once implied it was out of fear for how the people of the Star would react if they learned they hadn’t evolved on the space station. That they might be terrified or begin to question their world and those who govern them.”

“But now you have told me these secrets.” Jinn raised her eyes to the skies above. “And they do not terrify me.”

Trey pursed his lips. “No. Not at all, it seems.”

“My father said something odd before I left. He said I would learn what he couldn’t teach me. But if he realized I might learn of our forgotten history, then he would also know if I went back to Talstar, I’d talk about it.” Jinn tilted her head to the sky above. “Maybe he expects I won’t return.” She turned to look at him, gazed deeply into the sea-blue depths of his eyes.

He held eye contact. “We can’t know what he’s thinking, Jinn.”

She took in a deep breath of salty air. “You are very fortunate, Trey, to have read these histories. To have this knowledge of what happened so very long ago. To know of this past that’s been denied to my people.”

“It changed my thinking about many things.” He held her gaze for another very long and heart-stuttering moment. “My father believes understanding the past is the key to surviving the future. I…” Trey gripped her hand. “I agree with that theory, whole-heartedly.”

Jinn contemplated the rocks, Trey’s words churning in her mind. “How can what came before matter to what lies ahead?”

“Many ask the same question. Even among my own people, few care to learn. Most are only concerned with the here and now.”

“But you think this knowledge is important.”

“I do.” Trey ran the smooth flat of his palm over her hand. “Talstar and Perling are interdependent. Trade is what keeps both civilizations strong. Talstar technology—like voice translators and the ocean eco-barrier—in exchange for food we farm.”

“My father said our trade has weakened in recent calendars. That each society is growing in number and wishes to hold on to more and more of what is produced for their own people, so they make less available for trade. Our societies are drifting apart.”

“It’s true. The decline in trade is troubling, but I believe there are solutions.”

“Like our fathers’ attempt to pair us?”

His head swiveled her way. He didn’t answer for a time, and when he finally spoke, she thought his words were carefully chosen. “Our civilizations share a vital bond, Jinn. They need each other. They rely on each other.” He looked into her eyes. “As I hope we might…one day.”

She was all too aware of his closeness and the heat of his body—his fascinating body—to let the conversation drift into the topic of their pairing.  Yes, she was attracted to him. Yes, she admired him. . But their time together had been short. She had only just arrived and there was still so much to consider.

Shouts from the Boggy Ball game carried on the soft breeze into their quiet cove. “Tardem must be losing badly to make such a protest,” Trey jested, as if reading her discomfort and trying to put her more at ease.


Hope you enjoyed this part of the story, with its many reveals and the growing attraction between Jinn and Trey.

One more note. "The Fall" is the reference I assigned to the comet disaster that afflicted Veros long ago, but because that term figures prominently in a peer's recent work, I need to change the reference to something else. For now, it's just a placeholder. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment below with your ideas. 

I'll be back next Monday with Part 12. 

Have a great week!

Friday, April 22, 2022


I'm visiting family in wild and wonderful West Virginia this week, so I have no blog post for you. But enjoy this picture of Flash, who wanted to help me with the packing as I was getting ready to go! I'll be back next week as usual.

No, Flash, you can't go with.     

 Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

CAPTIVE (The Survival Race, book 1) - CHAPTER 12

Last week's episodes ended with Max dead and Addy pregnant. This week's chapter is filled with lots of angst as Addy fails to come to terms with her new life trapped on an alien planet as a human broodmare.

Catch up reading here: Chapter 1  Chapter 2 Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter 6  Chapter 7  Chapter 8  Chapter 9  Chapters 10 & 11 

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


Chapter Twelve


“You’d better be burning in hell, Max.” Addy hurled her half-empty glass against the wall where it shattered. Orange juice and glass sprayed the kitchen.

“Still in the anger stage, I see.” Tess had entered the room from Ferly Mor’s apartment.


“You know, the stages of grief? You’ve been in the anger stage for three weeks now.”

The door began crackling, but before it solidified, a hand reached through the vapor, stopping it. It vaporized again, and Duncan emerged through the gas. He hung his cloak. “If ye ask me, it’s those wee heathen hormones. One minute she’s fine. The next she’s…well…we’re going to need more glasses, aye?”

“It’s everything! This planet. This baby. That lying bastard.” Searching for something else to throw, she reached for a miniature garden gnome that Duncan, for some reason, kept on the side table.

He scooped it up before she could swipe it.

Addy plopped onto the couch, her head in her hands. “After they shocked me, he said he wouldn’t hurt me. But when I was unconscious, he...he—” She slumped to her side and dropped her head onto the armrest. “And I was too stupid to even know.”

The cushion compressed under Tess’s added weight. A gentle hand rubbed her shoulders in soft, rhythmic strokes. “I can’t say that I know how you feel. My experience in the breeding box had been different. But please understand you’re not alone. I’m here for you. And so is Da and Ferly Mor.”

Addy shot upright. “He’s the damn cause of all this. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that...that...thing.” She stormed into the only room offering privacy on the damn planet, and guilt hit her like a blow to the gut. Tess hadn’t deserved her outbursts. She had been nothing but kind and friendly to Addy the entire month she’d been here. Addy had no right to yell at her.

Standing in front of the 3-D mirror, a worn-out, angry woman she barely recognized stared back. Dark circles hung low around tired eyes. Wild strands of strawberry-blonde hair had escaped the confines of her French braid.

Addy lifted her shirt and stroked her curved belly. She couldn’t deny the pregnancy. A baby was most definitely in there, growing, changing, and anchoring her to this Yard. This planet. This bizarre existence.

How had this happened? Disgusted, she pulled down her shirt and sat on the flowerpot lid. She closed her eyes, trying to recall the wildfire and the rapids and anything else she could from that night.

A gray fog rolled into her memory, clouding her thoughts. Why couldn’t she remember anything? Had she been in shock when she’d first seen the alien? Did Ferly Mor abduct her after she’d been knocked unconscious?

Still without answers, Addy exited the bathroom and apologized to Tess before she began cleaning up the mess of glass and breakfast juice. “You said your experience in the breeding box had been different. I’m glad to hear that.”

Tess knelt beside her with a dustpan and broom. “I turned sixteen the day before my first time. I remember being scared thinking about all the stories I’d heard. How some studs jump on top of you right away. Fortunately, the man they paired me with was charming and gentle. We spent the entire night and half the next day talking. On the second night, he reached for me, and I didn’t back away. It was lovely.” She blushed pink all the way to her neck.

A twang of jealousy tugged Addy’s heart. Why couldn’t her first time have been...well...totally different? She rested a hand on her belly. “Have you ever resented your children?”

“I’ve never given birth.” Tess’s tone remained neutral. “I always miscarried at nine weeks.”

“I’m sorry.” An awkward silence filled the little space between them. “I don’t know what to say.”

“I know some women don’t want their babies, but I would’ve liked to have one. Even if it was only for a little while.” Tess touched Addy’s arm. Her eyes shone with tenderness. “When it comes,” she began with apparent caution. “If...if you want me to, I can care for the baby.”

Give up her child? Could she do that? Addy had vowed long ago never to make her children feel unwanted or unloved, like her mother had made her feel. She had been determined to protect them from that loneliness. She was not going to wind up like her mother: unmarried, pregnant, and resentful.

She planned on having kids when she was ready. She would not chance having an “oops.” Yet here she was unmarried, pregnant, and resentful.

Apparently, an apple doesn’t fall far no matter where in the universe it lands.

Though angry at Max and her situation, this baby was a part of her. She couldn’t give it up, not to Tess and certainly not to Ferly Mor. She had to protect her baby from the alien. But how?

“I appreciate your offer, Tess.” With any luck, she’d find a way to escape this planet before then.

Addy tossed the glass shards into the trash before sweeping the smaller pieces into the dustpan. She needed to change the subject before she went crazy thinking about her choices, or lack thereof.

“What happened when the aliens realized you couldn’t...” She didn’t need to finish the sentence.

Tess wiped the floor with a wet rag as she spoke. “Well, I had two more cycles with the same man and one with another. During my fourth miscarriage, I hemorrhaged so much I bled to death. After that, Ferly Mor never brought me to a breeding box.”

“You died?” Having worked with emergency medical personnel, she’d known a few cases where people have been revived with CPR or defibrillation. But they’d never talked casually about their experience like Tess did.

“Yes. For nearly an hour. Any longer and Ferly Mor wouldn’t have been able to reawaken me.”

Reawaken. That was the same word Max had used in the breeding box. “You mean resuscitated?” Was it even possible to resuscitate someone after an hour?

Tess sat back on her heels, wet towel in hand. “Didn’t Da explain reawakening?”


Addy’s personal ringtone sounded from the Yard. On the other side of the observation wall, Ferly Mor waited with a leash in his hand. The music played again.

“You best go. I’ll explain later. And Addy, think about what I said about the baby. Please?”

She nodded because, well, what else could she do?

Ferly Mor carried her to HuBReC, a peculiar experience for an adult, yet less humiliating than being walked on the leash.

Inside the office, a woman’s labored breaths and grunting drifted from an open doorway down the hall. A newborn cry made her heart sink. Placing a hand on her belly, she sighed. Four weeks down. Sixteen to go according to the accelerated gestation period.

Ferly Mor placed her on a cold examining table and then left her alone with her prenatal doctor, Rosalita. Since Addy had been the first person in the Yard to encounter the new Hyborean at the survival race party, Duncan said Addy had the privilege of naming her. If Ferly Mor was the Great Gray Man, why not name his chestnut-red girlfriend Little Rose.

Rosalita weighed, measured, and shot Addy in the navel with the injection pen. The device must have contained growth hormones because her hair had been growing about a half-inch every week. When the exam ended, Addy sat on the floor to put on her shoes.

Ferly Mor charged into the room, nearly stepping on her as he guided in a hovering gurney. He handed it off to Rosalita before lifting Addy up onto the counter like the last time an emergency prevented him from taking her home. 

By the look of the scuzzy, bloody man they transferred to the exam table, this was going to take a while. Addy settled in to watch Ferly Mor work again, letting her legs dangle over the counter’s edge.

He dipped his hands and furry arms into a bowl of pink antiseptic liquid and then dried them before cutting the tattered clothes from the man’s body. Rosalita cleaned her hands and arms before hooking the guy up to machines.

When Ferly Mor stepped aside to throw the filthy shirt into the garbage chute, Addy gasped. Whip marks, both fresh and scabbed, crisscrossed the man’s emaciated back. Welts and bruises covered the flesh that sunk around his ribs and spine.

How the hell could these animals beat and starve a man like that? He looked like Justice, the abused pit bull terrier her family rescued when she was ten. Dad had found him beaten, starved, and locked in a crate in the forest. From the wounds and bite marks on Justice’s body, they figured he’d been used in dog fights.

The fetid smell of the man's filthy body and matted hair made her dry-heave. She pinched her nose to find relief from the stench.

Rosalita sponged him down, uncovering more bruises and marks beneath the blood and dirt. Ferly Mor cut and removed the man’s pants. A grotesque lump protruded from his skin as though the bone had snapped in two. Wincing, she diverted her gaze from the gruesome wound and rubbed her own shin in sympathy, as if that could possibly help ease this poor man’s suffering.

They sprayed something in his hair—probably to kill lice or fleas or some weird Hyborean insect—and then shaved his head to tend to a gash there. Raw burn lines that must have come from his choker encircled his neck.

“My God,” she whispered. “What have they done to you?”

They rolled him onto his back, and his head turned in her direction. Vacant, green eyes stared through her. Her mouth dried. How could the man who haunted her sleep and dominated every waking thought be alive? Regan had killed him.

Max’s breaths, shallow and labored, sounded as though he stood at Death’s sublimated door.

Not taking her eyes off him, not even to blink, she waited for his last breath. Almost wishing for it. Perhaps then, her anger and resentment of this past month would quell.

But did he really deserve to die? Hadn’t he suffered enough? Tears pricked her eyes. Did any man, even her enemy, deserve torture?

Damn. Why did he make it impossible for her to hate him?

The pain must have been sheer agony, but Max never moaned or grunted. Maybe he’d been given drugs, or maybe he was too damaged to make a sound.

The Hyboreans worked quickly, rubbing cream on his wounds, giving him injections of who knows what, and monitoring his vital signs on some kind of chirping equipment. After another injection, his breathing slowed to almost nonexistent. The chirping also slowed. His eyes shut and opened as if he fought heavy lids. It didn’t take long before they remained closed.

Her pulse quickened. She held her breath in order to listen for his. Had he been euthanized?

As Ferly Mor and Rosalita worked on Max’s leg, she watched his chest. Each time it rose, she prayed it would stop. Each time it fell, she prayed he’d inhale again.

She wiped the tears streaming down her hot face.

Ferly Mor pointed to the leash on the counter next to her. Another Hyborean—the sandy-colored alien who had held her down after the breeding box incident—nodded and grabbed the leash. She scooted backward on the counter but couldn’t escape his big, leathery hands. After attaching the leash to her collar, Sandy set her on the floor and walked her to the Yard.

She didn’t need a mirror to know her face turned beet red. That was what happened to a person when they held their breath in humiliation.

The door to the Yard sublimated. Sandy pushed her outside, unclipped the leash, and gave her a pat on the head like a good little doggy.

Addy spun around to kick him in the ankle, but the door solidified. Her foot smashed into the camouflaged wall, and pain reverberated up her leg. She clenched her fists. “I hate this place! I want to go home!”


 I hear you, Addy. I wouldn't want to be on Hyborea either. Although, it's pretty amazing that the Hyboreans can reawaken the dead. It's good to see Max again. But my heart breaks for him for having been abused and tortured. Hopefully Ferly Mor and Rosalita can heal him. See you next week for Chapter 13.



Romance with a rebel heart

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Shell and the Star - Part 10

Hope you had a wonderful Easter. We sure did...which is why I'm a little late to post today's episode of my aquatic science fiction romance, The Shell and the Star.  (Sorry about that!)

To recap the ending of last week's segment, Trey was trying to convince a very hesitant Jinn to leave her protective enviro-bubble and join him in swimming the Veros ocean. This is completely beyond her experience!

For those just tuning in, you can catch up on the entire novel posted to date if you follow this link: 

The Shell and the Star

For those back for the new addition to the story, here's how we left Trey and Jinn last week:

“I can’t communicate with you outside my bubble. I’d need my translator.”

“You won’t. I’ve been speaking Talstaric all along. Your voice unit didn’t need to translate my words and I don’t need to translate yours. My father saw to it my brother and I learned your language.” He beckoned to her with both hands. “So come swimming.”

She gave her head a shake. “This is crazy.”

“Think of it as an adventure.”

Did she dare? Should she risk doing something no one on Talstar had ever done? Maybe if she conquered her fears and met this challenge, she could tell her sisters of her bravery. They might look on her with more favor. For once.

Jinn the Adventurer.

She glanced at the top seal of her bubble unit and then at her suitor. “You won’t let go of me?”

Trey’s eyes went soft. “Never.”

Bracing her hands on the controls above her head, Jinn held her breath and opened the seal. The hatch slid back and fresh air rushed in—warm and humid—but no water lapped over the rim.

He switched off the voice synthesizer at his throat. “You see. Your bubble won’t sink.”

Her heart did a little somersault at hearing him speak, his real voice unfiltered by the voice translator. And such a deep, resonant voice it was.

The bubble bobbed and floated. The breeze carried in a salty scent, exotic and organic compared to the scrubbed oxygen of Talstar.

Jenn hit the controls to raise her console couch up closer to the opening and with wobbling legs, she climbed up slowly to perch on the top of the seat, drawing deep breaths as she stared down at the gentle waves. Her increased respiration wasn’t merely nerves. Sitting in the cushioned comfort of her pilot’s couch took little effort, but trying to stand against the full gravity of the planet would be another thing altogether.

“Here,” Trey said, swimming close beside. “I’ll help you.”

He kicked his feet hard, rising up in the water. She slipped one foot out of her bubble onto the top curve of her sphere and he rose up to cup her waist. He had strong, but gentle hands. Lifting her clear of the bubble, he eased her into the warm surf beside him. She threw both arms around his neck, clinging to him in terror. The water lapped at her chin and she dreaded being sucked down beneath the waves. She felt helpless and vulnerable in Trey’s world.

“It’s all right,” he soothed; his voice warm and gentle at her ear. “I’ve got you. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Jinn became achingly aware of his hard body pressed against hers—solid, steady…and safe. His muscular shoulders became her haven, his arms her life preservers.

She’d never thought she could put this much faith in a stranger, and an alien stranger at that. How had he coaxed her out of the safety of her bubble and into his arms? She was reluctant to think too hard about the answer to that question.

“Hold on to the side,” Trey said, edging her closer to her bubble. Once she had a grip on a handhold, he reached down into the water and she felt his hands on her ankle, then the pliable warmth as he slid something over each of her feet.

His fins!

The supple material molded to her smaller feet, and she found alternating her legs in a slow back-and-forth motion made it easy to keep her head above water. Trey resurfaced and slipped his handfins over her palms, then showed her how to take her first experimental stroke.

It wasn’t so different from using limb action to move about in the zero gravity chambers on Talstar, there was just a lot more resistance against her movements. But…he was right. It was even a little fun. Jinn felt a surge of confidence.

She could do this. She could swim in his ocean!

Trey placed one hand beneath her belly, steadying her, guiding her. It took a moment to adjust to being touched in this way, especially by an alien who had made a bid for her hand. But the excitement of learning to swim soon eased her self-consciousness. It was a strange sort of freedom moving through the water close at his side and she had a growing awareness of how her skin tingled where his palm gently cradled her.

He steered her away from the Boggy Ball court where his brother and friends were playing another raucous game adapted to fewer participants. From the sidelines, the red-haired Eldelza watched them moving away, smiled and gave a parting wave.

“Would you like to swim underwater now?” Trey asked.

“You mean…beneath the surface?”

“Yes. It’s not difficult. You’ll just need to take a deep breath.”

“And you’ll hold onto me?”

His voice came in a low rumble. “Every moment.”

Jinn sucked in a lungful of air and let him guide her in a dive beneath the surface. A few strokes and she soon lost all fear. She loved the thrill of it—slipping through his watery world with no barrier around her, her long, pale hair streaming out in the liquid behind her.

All around, lacy sea fans of yellow and blue shifted gracefully in the current. A scattering of rounded, water-worn black boulders provided contrast to the plants. The pristine sands on the bottom stretched out into the distance where it took on a greener shade. She loved the wonder of this place, and she loved the feel of her suitor’s steadying hand, now light on her back.

Trey showed her how to dive to the bottom and collect colorful rocks and bleached shells before returning to the surface. She was soon moving between surface and sandy bottom with more confidence, marveling at how well Trey could swim even without the use of his fins. And how long he could dive without returning to the surface to breathe.

For once she was glad of the tedious hours she spent every day in the gravity chambers on Talstar, fulfilling her required exercise regimen to build and maintain her muscles. The effort it took to lift weights and do resistance training in the half-G of the training area didn’t feel so very different from the drag created by liquid water.

Her companion guided her away from his raucous companions into a small, private cove where a table of rock rose to just below the surface offering a place for them to perch. Trey hopped up to sit on the shelf and helped her up beside him. The sun-warmed water lapped against her thighs and she stretched out her legs until her toes broke the surface.

“You already swim like a native,” Trey praised, slipping off one of her fins and taking her small hand in his larger one.

Jinn looked away, unsettled, but soon cast a shy look his way. Water beaded on his face and shoulders and Jinn felt those strange stirrings again—the unsettling urge to touch those magical droplets. To trace the hollows and rises of his chest beneath her fingertips.

“What are you thinking?” he asked in a quiet voice.


Jinn has taken her first steps--or maybe strokes--toward becoming a part of this very-new-to-her world. Stop back next Monday to see what happens next in The Shell and the Star.

Have a great week!