Wednesday, August 31, 2022

CAPTIVE (The Survival Race, book 1) - CHAPTERS 33 & 34

Because chapters 33 & 34 are short (6 and 2 pages respectively), I included both for your reading enjoyment.  


Last week's episode ended with Regan in the Tuniit village looking for Max and Addy, but they had just left--Max on foot and Addy by umiak sleigh pulled by a team of wolves. Addy caught up to Max and they made an accord to work together to get to the refuge. Will things start heating up between them now that they are working together again?


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


Catch up reading on CAPTIVE here for free: Chapter 1  Ch 2  Ch 3  Ch 4  Ch 5  Ch 6  Ch 7  Ch 8  Ch 9  Chs 10 & 11  Ch 12  Ch 13  Ch 14  Ch 15  Ch 16  Ch 17  Ch 18  Ch 19  Ch 20  Ch21  Ch22 Chs23&24  Chs25&26  Ch27  Ch28  Ch29  Ch 30 Chs31&32 



Chapter Thirty-Three 

Using pelts and her survival skills, Addy covered the back of the umiak with a makeshift tent long enough to lie inside. Now they could sleep out of the harsh wind and bitter cold. She placed the last pelt on the floor for insulation, placed the heating cube on its non-flammable tray, and double-checked her handiwork. Satisfied, she sat at the tent’s door flap watching Max drive the team.

The skin showing through his ripped gladiator suit had turned a blue-gray hue around his lacerations. What if she hadn’t come upon him out there? Or what if she had gotten to him too late? Chills shot up her spine. Best not to think about what-ifs.

Max hadn’t moved from the driver’s seat since she’d started on the tent hours ago. He drove the wolves hard as if something chased them. A smilodon? Or perhaps Ferly Mor.

From the moment Max learned about the prenatal shots, he feared a shortened head start had Ferly Mor hot on their heels. She couldn’t blame him for leaving her behind. After all, he’d warned her of that possibility before leaving the Hyborean’s apartment. Max probably thought if Ferly Mor found her at the Tuniit village, he’d give up the search. Or if he didn’t give up, at least Max could travel faster without a pregnant chick stopping every hour to pee. Either way, taking her out of the equation meant he had a greater chance at freedom.

Now, after promising to be teammates, her capture equaled his capture, thus he pushed the wolves to their limits.

Addy took a pelt off the floor and wrapped it around him, hoping it wasn’t too late to prevent frostbite. “You should put more thermal cream on your exposed skin.”

He grunted his agreement yet made no move to get up.

“I appreciate your haste, but what good will it do us if you turn into an ice pop before we get there?”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine.” Why was everything with him a fight? She picked up his ratty, old backpack, rummaged through the thing until she found the tube, pulled it out, and proceeded to rub thick, white balm over the slashes on his back.

He stiffened, whether from the cream’s sting or from her touch she wasn’t sure. She eased up on the pressure, trying hard to be like a feather over his wounds.

Max stared silently out toward the horizon.

She moved her fingers from his back to his ribs, gently working balm into his skin, imagining she could feel his hard body through her gloves.

For all that he angered her—and sometimes frightened her—she couldn’t help feeling drawn to him and drawn to the incessant man-versus-beast struggle in his soul. His moods were as unpredictable and enigmatic as the rest of him. And it enticed her damned curiosity.

What had his life on Hyborea been like? Where had he come from? Did he have a last name? Why wouldn’t he talk about home?

He said he’d forgotten that life, but she knew she never could. She gazed over the umiak’s side at the ground speeding past in a white blur and thought about home.

She envisioned her lake, calm and pristine, surrounded by lush trees. She could almost smell the pine and hear the geese honking overhead and the water lapping against the dock and the rowboat. Her memory floated up the winding dirt path to the log cabin’s porch. She could smell wood smoke wafting from its stone chimney. It reminded her of another fire. An inferno. Had those wild flames shattered her windows and surged up the walls, consuming her cabin and leaving nothing but charred remains in its destructive wake? She shook her head of the thought and saw the frozen white blur again.

She moved to Max’s side and worked cream into the slashes on his chest. “Did I tell you everyone back home thinks I died in a forest fire? And remained dead?” A few weeks ago she wouldn’t have had to clarify that.

He didn’t reply.

“It’s probably better that they do. At least they won’t have to worry over me.”

The sled scraped through the packed snow as the wolves bounded over the land. Rushing air filled the quiet void.

No matter how hard she tried to widen the path of communication, Max never walked down it unless it had to do with survival. Had she really expected this time to be any different? The guy was never going to open up.

Why did that bother her so much?

Even if Max didn’t want to get to know her, you’d think he’d want to get to know his child. But he would never be the type of guy to talk to his kid through the mom’s belly. Would he talk to his child after she gave birth in the refuge? Would he want a relationship with Superbaby then?

She hoped so. It hurt not knowing your biological father. She didn’t wish that pain for her child.

She capped the thermal cream, tucked the tube back into Max’s pack, and brushed a thumb across its threadbare patch.

What made a savage gladiator carry around a cartoon duck? If he’d desperately wanted to forget his old life, why had he held on to it for fifteen years? Was he trying to punish himself?

“It was our mascot,” he said.

Startled, she dropped the pack. “What?”

“The Fighting Ducks. UO.”

“You went to the University of Oregon?”

He nodded.

“Small universe,” she said, and he cracked a half-smile.

She liked when Max smiled. Even the half-smiles that didn’t reach his eyes relaxed the hard angles of his face. Plus, it was usually a sign he was feeling more human than beast.

Max sighed long and heavy, like he didn’t want to tell her something, but had to. “My mom sewed it on.” He kept his eyes on the team. “I hated that dorky backpack. I wouldn’t be caught dead using it on campus.”

“It looks like it’s seen better days.”

“It’s never left my side since I’ve come to Hell.”

Addy wrapped the pelt back around his shoulders, trying to imagine what he might have been like fifteen years ago. What kind of person had he been? What had he liked to do? What had been his dreams?

“What was your major?” It seemed a safe question he might actually answer.

Max gave her a sideways glance and flashed a crooked, sexy breeding-box smile that made her breath catch. “You mean besides girls?”

“Oh, big partier, huh?”

“Never during the season.”

“What did you play, football?”

“Decathlon. You know, track and field?”

She nodded. She could see him as a well-rounded athlete. “I bet you were good.”

The green in his eyes sparkled. “I was better than good. I was five points shy of an American record as a freshman. I was Olympic bound. Until—” The muscles in his jaw hardened before he went mute again and Gladiator Max returned. That seemed to be his intermediate state between man and beast.

“If you want to talk, I’ll listen.”

“Do you know how long I’ve tried not to think about it?”

Addy stroked the pelt around his shoulders. “Fifteen years is a long time keeping your heart locked.”

“You’ve no idea.”

“I won’t pretend to understand what you’ve had to endure on this planet. I’ll never know the extent of your suffering, but it’s time you stop torturing yourself.”

Max pulled the team to a halt.

“There’s nothing wrong with thinking about home,” she said. “Yes, it’s painful, but isn’t it equally painful not thinking of it?”

“No.” He gathered his survival knife, a canteen, a bowl, and the food sack Yakone had given her to feed the wolves, and then jumped out.

Addy repressed the guilt that started welling inside for bringing up his old life. It wasn’t her fault Max’s past wasn’t left in the past. If he could understand that no matter how much he tried running, his past would always keep pace with him, drafting off his shoulder and breathing down his neck. One day he’d have to stop running and face it.

Sound advice, Dawson. Maybe you should follow it, too.

She shook off the thought. She had meant him, not her.

Her watch alarm sounded.

By the time Max climbed back in, Addy had taken her prenatal shot, reapplied thermal cream to certain cold areas, and rationed out some food. Max ate in silence as he drove the team.

“I’m sorry,” she said when she finished eating, “for everything you’ve lost, Max. For everything they’ve done to you. But you’re not alone. They stole my life, too.”

She moved to sit next to him again. “I had recently bought a log cabin on a secluded lake. It was perfect. It was my sanctuary. But one night, my life went up in flames. Literally. And though home is worlds away, it’s not gone. It’s in here.” She tapped her chest.

“Yeah, well, I don’t want it in my heart or my head.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s a bogus point of reference. It’s not reality. This is reality. Earth was a dream I woke up from. And there’s no sense in discussing dreams.”


“Hell, woman. No more talking.” He slapped the reins, pushing the wolves faster.




Chapter Thirty-Four


“Ye had to slit the man’s throat, didn’t ye?” Duncan called from Ferly Mor’s arms. Regan remained at Ferly Mor’s heel while the Hyborean “talked” with the Tuniit chief standing on the other side of the ice cage.

“What’s the big fucking deal? He dies, they reawaken him. So what? Why the hell are we locked in here?”

“Quiet, lad. I’m trying to understand the Hyboreans.”

If that old fart weren’t in his master’s arms right now, he’d beat him to death. He punched his palm, imagining it was Duncan’s face.

They’d been close. One day behind. And now they were trapped in a cage made of ice. The Tuniit had confiscated his weapons and Ferly Mor’s tech-ring. How long before they got their things back and could leave this tech-less wasteland?

If he didn’t capture and return Xanthrag’s special broodmare— He almost shuddered at the thought but didn’t. Shuddering displayed weakness.

Minutes later, Ferly Mor placed Duncan on the powdery floor before flopping his large, hairy body down as well. His legs sprawled out as he leaned back and head against the wall and closed his eyes. Failure and misery emanated from the Hyborean like a reawakened gladiator after a survival race loss.

Stupid Hyborean. If Xanthrag were here instead of Ferly Mor, they would have been freed by now.

Duncan hurried over. 

“Well? What did that Neanderthal say?”

“The Tuniit are primitive Hyboreans, to be sure. I think their ancestors’ spirits are angry at the evil Ferly Mor brought.”

Regan laughed. He wasn’t evil. He was a warrior.

“Ferly Mor offered his healing skills, but they refused. They believe it to be dark magic. Can ye believe that? He could have easily reawakened the man.”

“Screw the guy. What about us?”

“The Tuniit will discuss our fate and return with a decision.”

“How long?”

Duncan shrugged. “I dinna ken, lad. We must have patience.”

Patience is a fancy word for ‘wasting time.’ You sure you understood everything?”

“Aye. The closer I am to Ferly Mor, the more precisely I can interpret his emotions and thoughts.”

“And what of my broodmare? How long before she hits open seas?”

“Traveling that distance by wolf-drawn sleigh? I’d say about twelve days. Providing she survives the birth.” His last words came out soft, tentative.

She’d better survive the birth. If she died, Xanthrag would torture Regan for not tracking her down in time.

Bitch would cause his ultimortem.



Will Regan and Duncan's imprisonment afford Max and Addy enough time to get to the refuge? Will their time together on the umiak sleigh give them a chance to warm up to each other? Max's cold heart seems to be melting slightly. Can Addy help heat him up and learn who he truly is inside? Find out in next week's episode Chapter 35 or read the full story now for only $2.99 at your favorite retailers.


Romance with a rebel heart  

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Shell and the Star - Part 28

 Welcome back!

The pot is about to boil in this aquatic SFR. If you've been following along each week, you know that Jinn and Trey are now in very hot water.

For those just stumbling on this post for the first time, you can catch up on all the parts posted to date in this 'aquatic SFR' at this link:

The Shell and the Star

For those who are back to continue the story, last week Trey finally had a change of heart and is allowing Jinn to accompany him to his father's estate, though they both know it may put Jinn in peril. 

Jinn doesn't believe she has anything to lose, because she's confessed to Trey that a life without him would be no life at all for her. But can she and Trey find a way to convince his father that mistakes were made and their relationship is worth saving?



The Imperator’s visage, haggard and lined with his burdens, turned to Trey when they were escorted before him in his office.

“It’s true,” he muttered. “You’re alive, when I so feared you dead.”

“I was in seclusion, father.” Trey said. “Until Jinn found me.”

With a deliberate hard-set frown toward Jinn, he dismissed her and addressed his son. “You returned to make your formal bid and engage in the Ritual of Pairing with your intended.” It wasn’t a question. It was a decree.

Trey’s attention cut to Jinn for a moment, just long enough for her to glimpse the dogged set of his jaw. “I will mate with no one but Jinn.” His steadfast avowal came as a soft hiss through her bubble’s translator.

Jinn snapped her head his way but Trey was locked in a silent battle of wills with the Imperator. He was outright defying his father. He was doing this for her. For them!

“The rejection of your bid by the Talstaric commander’s daughter was final. The Talstar female has been banished from our dominion and no longer exists under Shell Law. You will fulfill your new obligations,” the Imperator announced in a voice heavy with authority.

“No,” Trey countered, “I will not.”

Jinn readied her defenses. She would have her say in this. She opened her mouth to speak.

“Your Grace, I must speak with you immediately.” Morra hovered near the entrance to his chamber, her face white and mouth quivering.

“It will wait,” the Imperator growled.

“No, Your Eminence. With apologies, I’m afraid it will not.” Morra crossed her forefins before her, remorseful but steadfast.

“What it is?”

“The Conclave of the Elders has called a tribunal. They demand to speak with you and your second son. Immediately, sir.”


Trey’s father swam far ahead. Trey and Jinn followed. All were accompanied by a host of the Imperator’s sentinels.

“Is this about me?” Jinn asked.

“I don’t know. But whatever the affront, the calling of a tribunal by the elders is…monumental.”

“Will they even allow me to enter the Conclave?”

“It might be better if you didn’t.” Trey warned. “The summons was for my father and myself, so you are not subject in this judgment though any words or actions on your part could endanger you.” Trey gave her a solemn look. “But if you wish to enter the Conclave, I will see to it you enter.

“You stood by me. And now I’ll stand by you.”

Ahead, the Imperator passed through the Conclave Guardians at the entrance, but when Trey and Jinn approached, they crossed their spears, barring the way for her sphere.

Trey faced off with them. “Jinn Amalla will attend this tribunal as my witness and advisor, as written in Shell Law.”

“Only the people of the Shell may enter the Conclave.”

“Nowhere in our laws does it state a witness must be of the Shell.”

Their spears remained crossed, and one of the guardians said, “The Conclave of the Elders is a sacred assembly, reserved for justice under Shell Law. Therefore, it is understood that no Talstar will enter the Conclave.”

“You are incorrect, Chief Guardian. May I remind you that Jinn Amalla’s own father was summoned to the Conclave many longtides ago.”

The Chief Guardian looked to his companion. After several moments, he gave a terse wave toward the entrance. The second guard disappeared through the yawning entrance to the structure.

“What’s happening?” Jinn asked Trey in a low voice.

“They’ll seek a decision from the Conclave of Elders, itself.”

Jinn dropped her eyes. What chance was there that the Elders would allow her to pass?

The second guard returned a short time later. “The witness will enter.”

The Chief Guardian looked pained, but he raised his spear and allowed Jinn to continue forward in her envirosphere.


What fate awaits Trey in the Conclave of Elders? And what will happen to Jinn now?

Find out next Monday in Part 29. There are only six parts left in the story!

Have a great week!

Friday, August 26, 2022


The ethereal Tom Sturridge is The Sandman on Netflix.
British author Neil Gaiman is one of the most recognizable names in science fiction and fantasy today, with a plethora of books, plays, short stories and graphic novels to his credit. He began his run in 2008 by becoming the first author to win both the Newbery and Carnegie medals for the same book (The Graveyard Book) and continued with the Book of the Year from the British Book Awards in 2013 for The Ocean at the End of the Lane. He’s won the Hugo, the Nebula and the Bram Stoker award as well. And, if that weren’t all, he’s done well-recognized work in light-hearted SF/F television series (Lucifer, Doctor Who, Good Omens).

Speculation and anticipation ran rampant for years that a project was in the works to adapt Gaiman’s popular DC Comics graphic novel series, The Sandman. In 2019, Netflix acquired the property in a massive deal with Warner Brothers, which owns the DC universe. Given the world-building requirements of the mind-blowing fantasy, The Sandman took a while to bring into being. But August 5, we all saw the result of years of written adaptation, careful diversified casting and gorgeous art production and computer- generated imagery when the 11-episode show debuted on Netflix.

I have to admit I’m a “Sandman newbie,” never having had time to read the original graphic novels. But Gaiman has said the show is aimed at an audience more like me than Sandman superfans. He and his other creative collaborators, David S. Goyer (DARK CITY, DARK KNIGHT, BATMAN BEGINS) and Allan Heinberg (WONDER WOMAN), wanted to make sure the series and its many characters were accessible to viewers who tuned in out of curiosity, not just long-time readers of the comics. And they succeeded. I was instantly hooked by the characters and fell deeply into the world of The Sandman.

I was seldom confused or lost by the narrative, but it helps to know some Greek mythology (which comes up a lot in the show), a bit of the Bible, and a lot about supernatural arcana a la Sam and Dean Winchester. Yes, The Sandman has its own stable of beings with superpowers—not only Dream/Morpheus/The Sandman himself (an otherworldly Tom Sturridge) and his siblings Death (the beautiful Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Desire (a nonbinary Mason Alexander Park), Despair (a bedraggled Donna Preston) and the rest. But also Dream’s creations—Nightmares like The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) who takes his victims eyes, or Gault (Ann Ogbomo), who wants to stop haunting her humans’ dreams. There are also those who serve in Dream’s Realm—the Librarian, Lucienne, who takes over when he’s not around and serves as his conscience (Vivienne Acheampong), and Matthew the Raven (voiced by Patton Oswald), who serves as his eyes and ears in the waking world.

We first meet Dream in the series when an evil student of the occult, Sir Roderick Burgess (played by veteran actor Charles Dance), calls him forth in a ceremony really meant to capture Death. (Burgess has lost a son in WWI and wants him back.) When he recognizes his error, he takes Dream’s objects of power (his bag of sand, his helmet and a ruby amulet), the only one of which Burgess can use being the ruby, which makes dreams come true. But Burgess keeps insisting he wants immortality and won’t let Dream go until he gets it. Dream, in the meantime, says and does nothing. For a hundred years.

Dream’s captivity has all sorts of consequences—in the waking world, where thousands of people fall into a kind of coma called the “sleepy sickness” and don’t wake up, and in the Dreaming, his own Realm, where Nightmares escape to wreak havoc and the Realm itself begins to crumble. The objects of power, the ruby in particular, fall into the wrong hands and cause their own kind of chaos in the waking world until Dream can escape his captivity and recover them.

The first half of the show—roughly five episodes—busies itself with Dream’s quest to find his objects of power and undo some of the damage done during his time away from the Dreaming. This is based on the first volume of the graphic novels in The Sandman series, Preludes and Nocturnes. Volume Two in the series, The Dollhouse, provides the storyline for the last half of the show, minus the bonus episode at the end of the first season (more about that later).

As Dream returns to his Realm with his objects of power and begins the rebuilding of his Realm, some problems are left behind unresolved. Three Nightmares still roam the waking world: Gault, Fiddlers’ Green (played by Stephen Fry) and The Corinthian. Dream will have to corral these three and return them to their proper place in his Realm.

And a new problem has arisen, the development of a Dream Vortex, a powerful human that disrupts dreams and has the potential to collapse the waking and Dreaming worlds in on themselves. This being takes the form of a young woman, Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai), with a complicated backstory, a tragic childhood and a separation from her younger brother, Jed (Eddie Karanja). This serves to introduce a host of other colorful characters and send us on yet another quest to find Jed. The quest ends up at a serial murderers’ convention, of all places, where The Corinthian is the honored guest. The Corinthian is using Jed as bait, but it turns out he is the one caught as Dream finds him at last, Rose and Jed are reunited, and everyone discovers the Dream Vortex is not who we thought she was after all.

Most of this plot moves along at a steady pace, if not a blistering one. There are some unnecessary detours along the way as we meander through several characters’ dreams, which I assume are there to satisfy fans of the graphic novels. I gather from reading the reviews that quite a few characters from the novels were left out. I didn’t miss them, and, as you can tell from this review, there are more than enough characters already. But I assume there would be plenty of material for another season. Netflix has yet to make a determination on that score.

Finally, a word about Episode 11, the so-called bonus episode, which is comprised of two separate stories, “Dream of a Thousand Cats” and “Calliope.” The first is an animated story about a Siamese who is on a mission to restore the natural order of feline dominance over humans by rousing her fellow cats to dream a different reality. But have you ever tried to get a bunch of cats to cooperate?

The second story concerns two successive authors (Derek Jacobi and Arthur Darvill) who bind the muse Calliope (Melissanthe Mahut) to their will, keeping her captive for years so she will inspire them to write for fame and fortune. It takes the intervention of her former lover Dream to free her. This little tale has the tone of an episode of The Twilight Zone, with the desperation (and cruelty) of the writers turned back on them in typical Serling fashion.

Yet it’s difficult to see the connection of this bonus episode to the rest of the show, despite the presence of Dream in both. There is certainly no sequential connection to the plot. The Sandman doesn’t appear to be an anthology series, though it could have been set up that way. So this episode (and a couple of others, like “The Sound of Her Wings” and “24/7”) stick out as oddities. If the show gets a second season, which it deserves, seems to me the concept needs some clarification.