"The woman….” Dona lifted a wavering hand, gesturing weakly toward the bed and its bloody contents. “She was aive when I…came in. Is she…?”
Monday, June 25, 2012
"The woman….” Dona lifted a wavering hand, gesturing weakly toward the bed and its bloody contents. “She was aive when I…came in. Is she…?”
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Monday, June 18, 2012
Hi, folks. The ninth book of my Mageverse novel will be out August 7, 2012. So I thought I'd give you a sample of the first chapter.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Enforcer is the long-awaited climax of the TIME HUNTERS series that so many of you have been demanding. I hope you find it worth the wait. In the meantime, I'd like to share the following chapter, just to give you a little taste of my futuristic world.
The one thing Dona had always hated about time travel was the smell. All those romantic temporal trids never mentioned the reek of horse manure and non-existent sanitation. But after three years as a Temporal Enforcer, Dona barely noticed the stench anymore.
This odor was an order of magnitude worse, a nauseating sensory assault blended with an overlay of human waste and the copper reek of blood. It seemed to coat the back of her throat until every breath, every swallow made her stomach roil.
Decomp was a smell you never got used to, no matter how many murders you worked.
Some of the bodies had spent hours ripening in the July heat of this dark, silent house before a courier ‘bot had arrived at the North American Temporal Outpost. The ‘bot’s report of a tour group under attack had every available agent scrambling.
Two and a half minutes after the ‘bot left eighteenth century Philadelphia, a team of ten Enforcers Jumped into the house’s parlor, weapons drawn. The smell told them they were too late.
It was soon obvious no frantic temporal tourist had sent the courier. Every one of the poor bastards was already dead when it made its initial Jump through time.
The killers themselves had sent the ‘bot. The question, of course, was why.
Now reasonably sure she had her rebellious stomach under control, Dona stepped through the open bedroom door. Her Enforcer’s gaze automatically tracked the arching patterns of blood-splatter across the wall to her left. The small oval rug felt sticky under her booted feet, saturated with drying blood.
She scanned the room warily. There wasn’t a hell of a lot to see, since there was barely enough space for the oak four-poster bed canopied in rose-patterned fabric, an armoire, and a wash stand. A china pitcher stood beside a matching washbowl on the stand, both painted with a delicate pattern of twining red roses that matched the canopy.
Beyond the bed’s canopy curtains lay a still lump so covered with dried blood, it appeared to have been dipped in brown paint.
Scan and identify victim, Dona ordered her internal computer.
She was perfectly suited to this kind of computer forensics. A nanocrystal computer wound through her brain, its artificial synapses linked to her neurons. More nanocrystal formed a lacy network of sensors just beneath her skin, designed to detect everything from DNA structure to the presence of tachyon weaponry. Deep within her bones and muscles lay still more nanobot filaments, making her far stronger than her long, lean build would suggest. All of which made her ideally suited for her job as a Temporal Enforcer.
DNA scan confirms there is a ninety-eight-point-five percent chance the victim in Lolai Hardin, the comp announced a moment later in its light, androgynous voice.
Dona muttered, “Yeah, that’s what I figured you’d say.”
Lolai had been the licensed temporal guide who owned Hardin's Independence Tours; this house was her Philadelphia base of operations. She’d been playing host to a group of tourists here to watch the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Until a gang of murderers gave them all a guided tour of hell.
Since the Enforcers had already determined Lolai wasn’t one of the victims downstairs, odds were she was this one.
But you couldn’t make assumptions. Not with these bastards; they were fully capable of killing a temporal native and putting her in Lolai’s bed. Though it was hard to imagine that dark lump had ever been human...
Play the file of Lolai's commercial trid again. Sometimes looking into the victim's face helped Dona see her as a human being. Helped her see evidence that wouldn't come into focus as long as she kept seeing the victim as a chunk of meat.
The comp made that little mental chirp that said it was acting on her last order. An instant later, the woman's three-dimensional image faded into view like a ghost.
The trid appeared perfectly solid, though Lolai seemed to be standing hip-deep in the bed, roughly where the corpse’s legs should be. There was a bit of nauseating irony Dona could have done without.
The temporal guide had been delicately beautiful, despite the fine lines that radiated from the corner of her blue eyes. According to her dossier, she was eighty-two, though someone from this time would have believed her no older than twenty.
Hardin wore an eighteenth-century walking dress in deep green silk, with a delicate lace apron and a matching kerchief tucked in the gown's low square neckline. A jaunty hat decorated with flowers tilted rakishly over one eye. She looked as comfortable in the historical garb as if she wore it every day.
Which she probably did. When not ferrying tour groups back and forth through time, most guides lived wherever they conducted their tours. It helped them blend in with the temporal natives and build relationships they could use to create more interesting historical trips for their clients.
"I’m Lolai Hardin,” Hardin said in Galactic Standard with a faint Colonial Philadelphia accent. “I have thirty-four years of experience as a temporal guide specializing in Colonial America, particularly Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Before that, I was a guide in Civil War Charleston, South Carolina.” Hardin’s smile was bright, her manner calm and confident. Dona tried not to wonder how she’d looked when she’d realized she was about to die. Had she sensed the horror her last hours would be? “If you'd like to experience life as our ancestors did, Hardin's Independence Tours will give you a taste of the past you'll never forget."
"I certainly won’t be forgetting this any time soon -- whether I like it or not," Dona muttered. She’d be having nightmares about this one.
She desperately wanted a bath.
"Goddess Mother, this is worse than the butchery downstairs," Chief Alerio Dyami rumbled as he strode into the room. Dona's far-too vulnerable heart leaped in reaction, though she managed to keep the pleasure off her face.
You weren't supposed to be that damned happy to see your commanding officer walk in.
He was a big man, tall and broad in his dark blue temporal jump armor. A Vardonese tattoo swirled down the left side of his face in vivid shades of green and gold, emphasizing the angular strength of his features. As he scanned Lolai’s pitiful corpse, glacial rage burned in those dark pupils, flecking them with crimson light.
Dyami wasn’t just Chief Temporal Enforcer for the North America Temporal Outpost -- he was a Vardonese Warlord. A genetically engineered warrior born and bred to protect civilians, Dyami had the superhuman strength and speed to do the job. His eyes glowed whenever his emotions grew especially strong, probably as a warning to the unwary. Everyone assigned to the Outpost soon learned that when the chief’s eyes went red, you’d better duck.
“Fourteen people dead,” he growled, looming at her shoulder, eyes blazing like laser sights. “And there’s not a single fucking thing we can do about it. Sometimes it drives me insane. God, I'd love to go back in time and just slaughter those bastards. Except it wouldn't do any fucking good because...”
“...You can’t change history,” Dona echoed his snarl.
Lolai would die because she had died. Somewhere she was still dying. Thirty years of time travel had proved that all time is simultaneous. Past, present and future were an illusion, which made the concepts of predestination and time paradoxes equally meaningless.
“So we’ll just damned well make sure we catch the bastards before they kill anyone else.” A muscle jerked in his broad, square jaw.
Dona rocked back on one booted heel. “With Lolai, that makes all fourteen victims accounted for. Hardin, the ten tourists downstairs -- one of whom is a fourteen-year-old boy -- and the three support staff who posed as Hardin's house servants."
The chief grunted, his brooding gaze drifting to what was left of the tour guide. "At least the bastards didn't kidnap anybody."
“No, you definitely wouldn’t want to be a victim they could take their time with.” Dona grimaced. “It was bad enough as it is.”
The woman's wrists were bound to the canopy posts with mag cables. Loops of the metallic rope-like restraints circled the posts at the foot of the bed, but the ankles they'd bound had vanished.
Dona's comp helpfully informed her that Hardin’s right leg was that red lump under the bed, while the left one had somehow ended up beside the washstand. She swallowed hard and told her comp, Do not let me toss in front of the Chief.
Beginning anti-nausea treatment. Her stomach stopped bucking. “You think the killers were priests?”
He shrugged. "Hard to say, though they were definitely Xeran, based on the DNA scans." Several of them had gang-raped one of the staff and a female tourist, leaving plenty of DNA behind in the process. They hadn’t even bothered to destroy the genetic evidence, as if they’d wanted the Enforcers to know who they were.
Dona didn’t much care for the implications. "This isn't normal behavior even for Xerans. I had my comp run a simulation based on the scene downstairs. The comp says the killers hacked at those people in some kind of frenzy. Maybe religious, maybe sexual. Either way, it was ugly.”
He nodded, only to stiffen abruptly, his head whipping around toward the form on the bed. "Seven hells!"
"What?" Her hand dropped to the shard pistol on her hip. He'd gone so pale, his facial tatt looked almost gaudy against his pallor.
What the hell could be bad enough to make Alerio Dyami go white?
"I just had my comp run a DNA scan on this woman's rapist. It says he was human.” He actually looked sick, an expression that looked utterly alien on a man who was usually so coolly professional.
Dona stared at him, feeling her stomach drop to her boots as she instantly realized why he'd reacted so strongly.
Technically the Xerans were human, being descended from the human colonists of Xer. But over the past couple of centuries, genetic engineering had changed them into something…else. Something faster and stronger and light-years meaner.
To the Xerans, humans were inferior primitives, heretics who refused to worship their "god," a lunatic they called the Victor. Dona could think of only one human they’d trust to help them slaughter a houseful of human civilians. “Ivar Terje.”
“Yeah, Ivar. Again.” The chief curled a lip. “I told my comp to rerun the scan. It got the same results. There's a ninety-nine-point-eight percent chance Terje raped and murdered Lolai Hardin.”
“Gods.” Dona’s eyes slid back to the dismembered torso. “How could he have done something like this?” And why in the name of all the hells didn’t I know he was capable of it? "I slept with him. Oh, Gods...."
"I didn't know what he was either.” Dyami shook his head, the beads of his combat decorations clicking among his long black braids. “I still can’t believe he sold us out for a handful of galactors."
Well, it was hardly a handful. The chief’s own investigation of Ivar’s finances had determined the Xerans paid him 1.3 million galactors. But Dyami wasn't the kind of man to turn traitor for any amount of money.
Ironically, it was that bedrock honor that had made Dona turn to Ivar to begin with. If Dyami hadn't been so relentlessly honorable--not to mention inhumanly handsome in that Vardonese way of his, all height and muscle and hard black eyes--she wouldn't have felt driven to seek a lover in self-defense. She’d known Alerio was every bit as attracted to her as she was to him. If he’d made a concentrated attempt to seduce her, she’d never be able to resist. And she was damned if she’d get involved with another CO.
So instead she’d become lover to a traitor and a murderer.
Oh, beefershit, Dona thought, suddenly impatient with herself. I wanted to believe I was in love with the sociopathic bastard because he knew just how to play me. I was willfully stupid.
Her sensors had warned her Ivar used his comp almost continuously, controlling his body's normal emotional reactions at all times. If he'd been a suspect, she'd have recognized that elaborate control as an indication he was lying every time he opened his mouth. But because he was her partner – and her shield against the temptation Alerio posed --she'd ignored the warning signs.
She hadn't seen the truth until his fist hit her face.
Her gaze slid back to his victim. And apparently I got off lucky. The thought of what he’d done to Lolai tied her guts in rolling acidic knots.
"Would these people be dead if we'd managed to capture Ivar six months ago?" She caught herself rubbing her belly. With an effort, she forced her hand to drop.
Dyami snorted. "I hate to interrupt your wallow in guilt, but Ivar is nothing to the Xerans." Despite his tart words, there was sympathy in his dark gaze. "They don't think much of traitors. These poor bastards would be dead whether or not they’d let the fucker come along for the ride."
"I'm not very fond of the dickhole myself," Dona muttered.
Dyami suddenly lifted his head and half turned away. Probably listening to a private com message. The dim light from the evidence bot rolled over the dark blue scales of his armored T-suit, making its silver piping gleam. Her eyes helplessly followed the rolling line of light as it played over powerful muscle barely concealed by the tight-fitting suit.
"Dr. Chogan just commed me. They’ve completed the evidence collection. Let’s take care of this poor fem and Jump for home." Turning his head, he caught her staring at his ass. One black brow rose.
If not for her computer, her cheeks would be blazing beet red. "Uh, yes sir."
"Good." He gave her a decisive nod, beads clinking. "We need to finish the cleanup before one of the temporals decides to investigate."
No, they definitely didn't want some eighteenth century good Samaritan walking in on an Enforcer team in all its armored glory. "I checked before we left the Outpost, but I didn't see any record of a mass slaying on this date,” Dona told him. “If somebody’d found this mess, they’d have talked about it.”
Dyami snorted. "Assuming any reports survived the ensuing five hundred years."
That was the trouble with time travel. You might think you knew what happened, but you really didn't. Records were lost, to fire or mold or other ravages of time. Those who reported the events at the time could have lied to protect their reputations, to make a political point, or just for the hell of it. Ever since temporal exploration began thirty years ago, humanity had been shocked to learn how much "history" was pure beefershit.
You never really knew what had happened during historical events until you went back and watched them occur. Otherwise, the past might as well be the surface of an alien planet.
"Make way. Body tube coming in." The stasis cylinder floated through the door, the blue glow of its antigrav field lighting up the room. Dr. Sakuri Chogan followed, her face grim and pale under her topknot of iridescent green hair. A swarm of evidence bots trailed her, ready to process the scene.
Chogan stopped in the doorway and stared around at the arching patterns of blood splatter. "Seven hells!"
Dona automatically took a step closer, concerned by her friend’s sickened expression.
"Oh, back off." The Outpost’s doctor shot her an impatient glower. "I do autopsies for a living.” Then, as if against her will, her gaze drifted around the room again. “Though judging by the scene, I can already tell you this bastard’s crystal is seriously cracked."
“DNA scans say it was Ivar,” Dona told her.
“Oh.” Wincing on her behalf, Chogan promptly changed the subject. "We’d better get this poor woman tubed." Revulsion crossed the human’s expressive face. "As soon as we can find all of her…”
Grim, unspeaking, Dona, Chogan and Dyami went to work at the gory task. Luckily temporal armor was as effective at blocking biological contaminants as it was at protecting the body from time travel.
As they worked, faint slurps and thumps signaled that the evidence bots were equally busy, removing every last blood cell from the plastered walls, every hair and bone fragment and stray bit of tissue from the bed and floor. Every last alien anything that didn't belong in the eighteenth century. By the time they were through, you’d never know anyone had died here.
Dona lifted the stiff brown pillow that had lain under Hardin’s head. A courier bot popped out from beneath it, darting into the air in a blaze of blue anti-grav light. She jumped, barely managing to bite back a startled yelp.
"Alerio Dyami!" the bot thundered in a surprisingly deep voice. "I seek Alerio Dyami, Chief Temporal Enforcer of the North American Outpost."
"I'm Dyami." Alerio studied the device with narrow-eyed intensity. “My sensors say it’s a Xeran ‘bot,” he murmured to Dona.
She backed off, one hand falling to the shard pistol holstered at her hip. Luckily, the fact that the courier had traveled in time meant it was unlikely to be armed with any really interesting energy weapons. Anybody or anything attempting a temporal jump armed with a tachyon beamer would blow itself straight to the seven hells.
Unfortunately, there were a lot of other ways to kill, even a target as formidable as Alerio Dyami. Dona locked her sensors on the ‘bot, ready to fire if it tried to power up a weapon.
"I have a message for you," the courier announced. "Would you like to take it privately?"
"Chief, don't!" Chogan began urgently.
Dyami shot her a cool look. "Give me a little credit, Doctor. I'm not stupid enough to smear anything from that thing on my skin." To the bot, he said, "I'm not concerned with privacy. If you've got a message, play it."
"As you wish," the bot said cheerfully.
And just like that, Ivar Terje stood in the middle of the room.
Dona damned near drew her pistol before logic kicked in. It’s just a trid, idiot.
"Don't shoot the 'bot, Dyami," the three-dimensional recording said with a smirk. Being genetically engineered, Ivar was inhumanly handsome—at least until you realized his eyes were as cold and gray as the ice on a frozen planet.
And why didn’t I notice that when it could have done me some good?
He’d cut his hair since she’d seen him last, buzzing it so short it covered his head in a red bristle. The style was apparently designed to call attention to the silver implants jutting from his skull.
"Look who's wearing horns!" Chogan curled a lip. "Terje’s pretending to be a priest of the Victor now."
"What do you think of my handiwork, Chief?" Ivar's image flashed a vicious white grin. "Hells, that Lolai was a squealer. If not for the mute field, every primitive for miles would have come running." The grin widened still more. "It'll take a lot more work to get a scream out of Dona, but I'll manage--eventually."
To Dona’s surprise, Dyami stiffened, his eyes going solid red, his lips pulling back in a snarl. "You won't get the chance, ‘botfucker.” He took a gliding step closer, as if he’d forgotten it was only a recording.
Ivar chuckled, almost as if he'd heard the chief. "I'm sure you're growling manly Warlord threats right now. I'd be impressed —if I were there. Instead I'll just give you a choice. Surrender yourself to the Victor’s...justice. Along with Dona, Galar Arvid, Jessica, Nick Wyatt, and his whore Riane."
Every trace of humor vanished from his face, leaving nothing but vicious intent. "Otherwise, my team and I are going to butcher every temporal historian, every trid crew, every tourist and guide we can get our hands on. And that's a long list. Your choice, Dyami. Surrender now like the hero you are, or let innocents pay for your cowardice."
The image winked out.
Dyami lunged for the 'bot in a blurring surge of Warlord muscle, but before his fingers could close over it, the thing darted away. A flare of blinding light and a thunderclap sonic boom signaled the ‘bot’s Jump back to the Xeran home world.
When Dona's ears quit ringing, Alerio was still pacing and cursing. "Courier probably recorded our reactions to Ivar's little ultimatum. He'll want to gloat." He bared his teeth in something light years from a smile. "Glaciers will claim the Seven Hells before I surrender any of my people to those Xeran dickholes."
That reaction didn't surprise Dona in the least. "He meant it about the civilians, sir. They'll slaughter every tourist and historian they can."
"Then we'll just have to make sure they don’t get the chance." His eyes were solid sheets of flame now, damn near bright enough to cast a shadow.
And she was staring at him again. Her longing was probably written all over her face. Fool, Dona thought, dragging her eyes away. Never mind what happened with Ivar – what about Kagan? Wasn’t it enough getting your heart ripped out by one commanding officer? Do you really need Dyami to repeat the lesson?
The temporal journey back to the North American Outpost was as grueling as always. The Enforcers Jumped from the house's great room in teams of two, accompanied by body tubes.
Alerio kept watch as was his habit, covering his team's retreat. As much as he could, anyway, having gone half-blind and deaf from the temporal flares and their accompanying sonic booms. Luckily the suits' dampening field kept anyone more than ten meters away from feeling the effects. No temporal natives would wonder why there was a thunderstorm inside the house next door.
Finally only he and Dona were left. For a moment, Alerio let his gaze linger on the cool purity of her profile, with its high cheekbones, striking violet eyes, and the mouth that seemed gene-gineered for sin.
He looked away just before she Jumped. His ears were still ringing as his comp started reciting the familiar string of coordinates back to the Outpost.
Coordinates confirmed. Engage temporal warp, he told it.
Engaging temporal warp in three...two...one.
It felt like being hit by lightning. His mind blinked out…
…And… he was back again.
Temporal warp to the Outpost successful, his comp announced.
Alerio made no answer, half-blind, stomach knotting in violent rebellion, his muscles jerking from the temporal warp. Bracing his knees, he stayed upright by will alone until his comp could compensate. My team?
All members of the investigation team present and accounted for.
Alerio breathed a silent prayer of thanks to whatever Vardonese goddess happened to be listening.
He'd lost a Jumper once. Riane Arvid's sabotaged T-suit had bounced her back and forth across Terran temporal space before finally dumping her in the twentieth century. Her suit was dead as a stone by then, unable to Jump at all. Unfortunately, a team of Xeran assassins appeared minutes later. She’d have died then and there if not for a timely rescue by Nick Wyatt, half-breed Xeran and superhuman guardian of an alien race called the Sela
Nick and Riane had returned to the Outpost desperately in love.
Still, almost losing an Enforcer was an experience Alerio had no desire to repeat. Especially considering Ivar's threats.
It'll take a lot more work to get a scream out of Dona, but I'll manage—eventually.
Like hell, ‘botfucker.
Blinking the spots from his eyes, Alerio glanced around the cavernous room that was Mission Staging. Heavily shielded for Jump traffic, it was lined evidence and equipment lockers as well as regeneration tubes for treating the injured. Most temporal missions began and ended here, especially those featuring a large Jump team.
Alerio spotted Dona deep in an animated conversation with Riane. The young Warfem and her cyborg wolf partner had been with the crew working the house's ground floor. His gaze drifted slowly down Dona’s clean, lovely profile, then along the curving contours of her body. There was something about her that had the power to stop him in his tracks every time.