Friday, December 19, 2014

Go Go Gadget Pre-order!

As some of you have heard, my usual editor is on holiday until the new year. Which is a bummer. So, I won't be putting out my newest book this year. Instead, it's available for pre-order here.

The official release date is January 20th, 2015. It will be automatically delivered to your Kindle device or App on that date.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

All's Well that Ends Well (And The Book is Done!)

The Catalyst is finished. I am both tired and excited.

It was a long twisting journey, and certainly did not end up where I thought it would, but ended up well all the same. I am really excited to release it this year. I had planned on getting it out in time for Christmas, but the holidays are always a hectic time.

The release date has been set for December 30th.

I still plan to post the first chapter, but I need to do a complete read through first. The writing was a whirlwind affair. No time to stop and read over what I had written. BUT, I will be doing my reading this weekend and sending the book off to the editor this week. Yay!

If the release date is moved up, I will DEFINITELY announce it. I will be posting the Amazon link here on my blog when it is available, as well as on my Facebook and Twitter feed. Those on my mailing list (sign up is on my website) will get the link with the announcement mailing.

I am still deliberating on which book cover to use. I am taking opinions! I had some great feedback on Facebook (thanks to all those who commented!), but I ended up with a 50/50 split. Bummer. I'm rather attached to both covers.

For those who haven't seen both covers, here they are:



So, go ahead and leave me a comment, send me a message, or post on Facebook/Twitter. I would love to get your opinion!

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Point of No Return (and cover blurb for The Catalyst)

In a journey, this occurs when you have gone too far to make going back seem logical. Maybe it's past the halfway point, maybe 3/4. Either way, what is behind you is gone and there is only what is ahead. I won't get all philosophical (even though I did minor in philosophy), instead I'll talk about the point of no return in writing.

I watch a lot of movies (too many...) and often a phrase or scene will pop into my head in daily life. In certain circumstances. As I hit the 75% mark on my newest book, I had one of those moments.

There is a scene in AVP (Alien vs Predator) at the very beginning when the team is flying in a helicopter. They are on the way to their base camp in Antarctica and a man turns to a woman and says they've passed the point of no return. They no longer have enough fuel to return to the ship. It's reach the base or...bust.

I feel like every book has that point. You've spent so much energy getting to where you are, it would be illogical (or impossible) to quit. Every once in a while, that is the point that you think about tossing the whole manuscript out the window. For one reason or another the flow of the story pauses, you're not getting the signal anymore.

According to Stephen King's memoir, he had a moment like that with The Stand. Now, most of us will never write a book as long as that one. Honestly, the thought makes me feel a little light-headed. But the fact remains that even people who have been writing for decades have issues sometimes. They get stuck at the point of no return.

At times like that (like many writers far greater than myself), I just let it go. Be patient. Go sit down somewhere and distract myself with movies or music or...cookies.

Because in writing (and life, but I won't go there...) there is always a point of no return. Sometimes it passes smoothly and other times you get turbulence. The main thing is to keep going.

I hit the point of no return in my new book, The Catalyst, a while ago. I paused for a few days, hit some turbulence, and then got on with it. I like this book. I like the way the story is moving along. In a way, it reminds me of No Light.

I just realized, I haven't given a cover blurb yet. Okay...

Dr. Robin Kay is the youngest professor at her university and she did not get there by lacking in ambition. When an archaeological dig in Siberia unearths something new, she is called on to study the pieces of DNA. But the deeper she goes into the genetic material, the more she realizes she is dealing with something completely new. A species not from Earth.

Driven by ambition and curiosity, Robin defies her superiors and the ethics board to give the species new life. Now, the clock is ticking. At any moment, the authorities could discover what she has done. Who she has created. But the greatest danger may not come from outside the lab, but within it. Because Dr. Robin Kay did not create an it. She created a he.


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Catalyst (or My Writing Progress and Procrastination Problem)

I've reached the halfway point in The Catalyst. Yay! It's written in two parts, just like No Light.

(No Light SPOILER ALERT!)

The first part took place in The Corridor and the second half was after the escape of the Dems. The Catalyst also has an event in the middle that splits the book in two.

I completed the first half a few days ago and plan to start the second half Tuesday (I've been brainstorming the past few days) and I'm pretty excited to be writing without an outline again. I haven't done that since No Light. 0_0

Along with pondering the second half of the book (and daydreaming), I've been binge watching a ridiculous amount of kid/family movies. Warm fuzzies (and tears) abound. This is following my marathon of The Walking Dead last month. I just randomly get on a kick and have to let it play out.

(I usually get good ideas while most of my mind is focused on something else. I think my conscious mind is too loud at times, so I have to distract it with lights and noise. Like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.)

And since I'm old school and prefer actual video stores, I drove twenty minutes into town a few times this week to rent movies. Mostly animated (Disney's UP made me cry, again), but also a few live action. Like A Little Princess, Maleficent, and Old Yeller. Why do I do this to myself...? smh

Anyway, back on topic.

I expected to be able to give an extended blurb by now, but since the book is going to be about 30,000+ words longer than I had planned... I'm not really sure how it will end. What I can do is post the first chapter of the book. Which I will be doing around the middle of November.

If you would like to join me in watching tear-jerker movies, here's a random article to use as a starting point -> 56 Movies Guaranteed To Make You Ugly Cry



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ode to Chocolate (or Switzerland and Writing)

As most of you know, I love tea and chocolate. A lot. Tea with cream and sugar (or honey) and chocolate... Yeah, pretty much any way, shape, or form. But my post, while being about chocolate, is also about how to find chocolate (and clarity) in its native habitat. I suggest Switzerland.

I did a little traveling when I was a whippersnapper. At that age when you think you know everything about everything.

(I find there is really nothing like world travel to knock sense into a person.)

So, I went to Europe. On a tour for school.

My school, while not being the biggest, had a pretty decent arts department. Music, theater, art, etc. And part and parcel of that was the opportunity to join the state's music ambassador program. I was in band and choir, so I had two chances to get elected.

Junior year, I shipped out. Representing the school's choir department along with two members of the band.

It would be my second time leaving the country. The first was a trip to Ireland the year before. Even so, this trip was longer and I was not just on vacation. I was the sole representative for my school's three choir programs. No pressure, huh?

The trip started at a university in the state capital. A week of intense practice and sleeping in dorms and learning to sing in a choir of nearly two hundred. Back home, I was part of a four-part choir with less than forty members. I was a little overwhelmed. Even so, it still felt the same. Just...louder.

The trip started in London (which is beautiful, by the way) and ended in Vienna (also beautiful) about three weeks later. It was like an extended sprint. Hitting a major city every couple days to perform and doing the tourist-y thing when we were not sleeping or practicing. It was awesome and so tiring I thought I would pass out half the time.

By the time we hit Switzerland, about a week and a half into the trip, I was running on fumes.

Enter the exceedingly picturesque village of Champery. 


So, that is Champery. Which leads me to the topic of this blog. Chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

I would like to say I did not head straight for the store's chocolate shelf and pretty much clean them out, but that would be a lie. I sure did buy enough chocolate to feed a small army.

In fact, I bought so much chocolate I ate nothing but chocolate from the day we left Switzerland to the day I returned to the U.S. About a week and a half later. Yeah. That happened.

But Champery has more than just awesome Swiss chocolate. They have what I called the village water trough.

(I don't think that's what it's actually called, but it seemed to fit.)

In the center of town, at the top of the hill, there is a large stone trough full of the coldest, cleanest water on earth. (I feel pretty comfortable saying that even though I haven't been everywhere on earth.)

The water comes out of a spigot that is fed from the mountains. The trough water is mostly used for watering plants and animals. Humans get drinking water from the spigot. Bottled water has nothing on that little well.

But the best part of Champery is not the water, or the cute little village, or the chocolate. Nope. It's the view. I went in summer and it looked something like this.




I swear they could have filmed LOTR there. The entire village of Champery is surrounded by towering mountains on all sides. It goes a long way toward knocking a teenager down a peg or two. You can't be in a place like that and not feel small.

Where I'm from, we have rolling hills and valleys filled with wildflowers, but no mountains. You have to drive at least eight hours to get more than foothills.

So, standing on the back porch of a chalet and looking out at the mountains, I admit to feeling pretty in touch with reality. And the reality was that I was really, really small and the world was really, really big.

The only other time I've had that exact feeling was the first time I saw the ocean from somewhere other than American soil.

My first day in Ireland, I went to the ocean alone to watch the sunrise. At five in the morning, it was just me sitting on a bench looking out at the endless expanse of blackness. Then, the sky lightened and (silly as it sounds) I swear it felt like watching the beginning of the world.

But that's how some places make you feel. Small. Which is good, especially if your job is to create worlds. If you don't know how it feels to be small, you can't write it. Worlds are big, people are small. Problems are big, characters are small. It's important to keep in mind.

Also, chocolate. Always chocolate.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Green Eggs and Ham

This is the last in my How, How, How, Where series of posts.

Where I Write

From what I've read, most everyone has their own idea of what place is best for writing. Some need an office, some write in a cottage, some write in coffee shops or pubs. There really are no hard rules on where you can write. It's one of the really great freedoms of the craft.

Honestly, I feel like Dr. Seuss when I discuss writing locations...

Do you write in a box?
Do you write with a fox?

Do you write in a house?
Do you write with a mouse?

Do you write here or there?
Do you write anywhere?

So, yeah. I write anywhere. 

My favorite place is in the den on my dilapidated old couch. It was a gift. From my grandmother. So, I'm obligated to keep it forever. 

She found it at a garage sale for ten bucks. I think it might have been in a frat house at some point.

It is also a faded, purple, tan, and blue paisley. It's just as hideous as it sounds, I assure you. I would post a picture, but I don't want to frighten you.

My second favorite place to write is in the car. Not when I'm riding. Nope. When I'm sitting somewhere, usually waiting to pick someone up, and I have time to roll down the windows and open the sunroof. Just chillin'.

Beyond that, anywhere is fine. I've written on crowded planes, in cramped hotel rooms, on the bus (and subway), in Starbucks during the morning rush, and on a park bench at several different parks. And a few dozen other places. It really doesn't matter. If I'm in the writing frame of mind, I tend to tune out the world anyway. 

So, for the moment, I am without a desk. I may get a desk one of these days (and an office to put it in), but for now I'm diggin' the Dr. Suess writing lifestyle. 

Do you write here or there? Do you write anywhere?

How about everywhere?


Friday, October 17, 2014

The Joy of Having Pets

This post isn't related to writing. Nope. Today's post is about my dog, Priya. Who eats everything.


She likes to wait until I have my back turned before she steals (and sometimes chews/eats) hairbands, socks, cell phones, pens, pencils, water bottles, sticks, rocks, clods of dirt, rolls of tape, etc. Basically, if she can lift it or drag it, she's taking it. She doesn't always eat or chew what she steals, but it happens more than I would like.

The issue today involved her eating something. Claritin to be precise. I'll set the scene.

My piano is in the corner of the room by the window. It's great for natural light, but leaves me with my back to the room. The dogs (Indra and Priya) like to hang out in the room with me while I practice.

It's going great. I'm totally in the zone. When I stop to take a break, the room is quiet. Too quiet. The way it is when kids (or dogs) are doing something they should not be doing.

So, I turn around. Yep. Priya has a chewed-up pill packet in her mouth and a guilty look in her eyes. After staring at her for a second, the panic hits. I leap into action, calling the vet (closed), my mom (not a vet), and finally the Animal Poison Control Hotline.

Did you know the call is $65? Me neither. Though, honestly, I would have paid $100 to talk to a licensed veterinarian.

Anyway, I get on the phone and get the nicest southern lady in the country. (I can't be sure, but it seemed like it.) She's very matter-of-fact and, after getting all the info, puts me on hold to talk to a vet.

Did you know some companies pay for any poison control calls made for their products? Me neither. Claritin is one of those companies. If I wasn't already using their products I would start after finding that out. For real.

Anyway, so I get the recommendation I had been dreading. Hydrogen Peroxide. Dum dum dum. I swear, I take one look at Priya and her ears go back. She knows what's up. After I get off the phone, I gather my supplies, tuck Priya under my arm like a football, and head for the bathroom. Seems like the best place to be for a dog revisting her last snack.

I sit on the floor by the door and wedge Priya into a semi-sitting position. I struggle to fill a teaspoon while she is flopping around like a landed fish, trying to take out me, the bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and the rest of the bathroom. Finally, I dump the spoonful into her mouth. She spits out about half of it and has to swallow the rest. I get the stink eye.

When I let her free, she wastes no time turning tail and fleeing in the opposite direction. After repeating this horrible scene two more times, she gives up the goods and gives me a downright lethal glare.

At the moment, she is sleeping by my feet, but still unhappy with me. She made sure to ignore me even as she laid down. I am not on her Christmas list.

That'll teach me.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Don Quixote

This is the third entry in my How, How, How, Where series. The blog title comes from one of my favorite musicals. Man of La Mancha. It's based on the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. My favorite song from the musical (probably from ANY musical) is "The Impossible Dream". 

A little like Les Miserables', "I Dreamed a Dream", but with a positive ending. We sang it (The Impossble Dream) when I was in high school choir. Great song. Okay, I can't resist. I'll post the lyrics before I start today's topic. 

To dream the impossible dream

To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

How I Decide What to Write About

This question is a little more complicated than the first two. Theme, genre, characters. All fall under this entry. 

Theme: The central idea of a story

The main theme for the Dems Trilogy is redemption. Coming back from the brink. 

In "No Light" Farran has lost himself. He has become dark and jaded, miles from the person he was in the past. Sarah, the epitome of what he has come to hate, becomes who he loves the most. She is his way back. She frees him before he ever escapes from The Corridor. 

In "Darkness Blooming" Lonan is the one seeking redemption. His brother, who once loved and protected him, has come to hate and distrust him. Most of Lonan's actions are done to regain the esteem of his brother, Farran. In his quest, he falls in love with Rissa.   

His past (and Farran's) is explored in greater depth in "Shadows Fall", the third book of the Dems Trilogy.

Aside from redemption, I also explore love, family ties, corruption, and prejudice. I don't select themes before I start writing. I just let the story choose the theme. But those are the ones I see reoccurring most often. 

Genre: The category of writing

I write dark fantasy and science fiction romance. Mostly. I also blend adventure, suspense, and a teeny bit of horror. 

I write what I like to read. As a reader, I like reading about alternate realities and dystopian futures. Solving mysteries, winning battles, falling in love. I've always been partial to reading horror, but I don't write it. I prefer writing what my ten-year-old cousin calls "kissy face stuff". 

Characters: People portrayed in literature

I like to write flawed characters. I like my hero and heroine to be good people, but also dealing with a personal battle. Maybe it's their situation or maybe it's internal. Either way, they need to make mistakes so they can learn and grow. I also like to balance my couples. Alternating strengths and weaknesses.

I love strong characters, but I think there are different kinds of strength. In "No Light", Sarah is strong in her defense of her brother, in her love, and in her loyalty. She won't be fighting any great battles, but she has strength of character. 

Abby, from Kingdom Come, is completely different. She is willing and able to fight for herself. When she realizes how bad the situation is, she throws aside her fears of losing her job to do what she believes to be right. She has confidence in herself and she is outspoken.

I also prefer to write complicated villains. I think it is scarier to have a villain who believes he or she is in the right than one who is simply evil for the sake of being evil. 

In "No Light", Lonan truly believes he is doing the right thing. He is driven by love to commit a horrible act. I think it makes him both easy and difficult to hate. 

Now, having said all that, I mostly just write whatever comes to me. Writing for any length of time you will notice patterns. Character traits, word choice, story theme. 

So, feel free to leave a comment about what you have discovered in your own writing or in the writing of your favorite author. What do you like to read about? Write about?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Journey to the Center of the Earth

This the second in my How, How, How, Where series. Today's post is about research. Yay!

As you will no doubt come to realize, I love to research. Everything. Seriously. I have so much useless information crammed in my brain, I can't even start to catalog it. Having said that, conversations with me are usually long and meandering. I like to go off on tangents whenever I'm reminded of something I've read. As my grade school teachers would say, "She likes to talk." 

But their version was much longer. Tedious. Very tedious.  

Anyway, here is a basic break down of how I roll. Research-wise, that is.


How I Research


Where do I start with my research?

With the story. I take the bare bones of the story and poke at it until I figure out where the gaps in information lie. Then, I go and look for more details.


For "The Catalyst", I had to do research into biotech, archaeology, and biology. It was really fun. With my writing, I like to put a decent bit of science with my fiction. I also blend from a variety of sources. I remember doing a few days of research into future technology a little while ago. It was fascinating, to say the least. Anything I don't use in one story, will eventually pop up in another one later.

Do I travel to the locations in my books?

Yes and no. I usually use places I have been for inspiration, but I don't actually use the places in their entirety. Just bits and pieces.

For example: The layout of Ameritat, the city in "No Light", is loosely based on Clinton, Missouri.


The stairwell into the earth is based on a tour I went on to Bonne Terre Mine. Yes. That stairwell from "No Light" exists. The horror. Most of the mine is underwater, and you can take a boat ride through the massive underground cavern. The water is extremely clear, so three hundred feet looks like ten. Very cool. Or nightmare inducing. Depends on your opinion of deep water.


Have I ever worked at the jobs any of my characters have, or have I shadowed people in those jobs?

Not Sarah, that's for sure. But seriously, I did do a bit of research into prisons. Both modern and historical. I wanted an idea of what a day in prison would look like. I interviewed several people who had been to prison, watched documentaries, and spent a few weeks at the library. Not to mention the amount of Googling I did.

What are the fun parts of research vs. the tedious parts?

It's all fun to some degree. I like science, especially biology, so researching the science-y bits is interesting and I get to wander into all sorts of things I would not have discovered otherwise. I get to do a lot of research into body armor, weapons, predators, psychology, attraction, love, romance, etc. All sorts of things.

I really can't think of anything I've ever had to research that was boring. I have a harder time trying to figure out how to blog or update my website. Sad, but true. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Importance of Being Earnest

I've decided to give blogging a try (again). 

Turns out my writing is either in book form or way too heavy. In anything other than novels, I end up waxing poetic and lamenting about the state of humanity. Which is a drag. 

(I actually giggled just now thinking about it. Weird sense of humor, sorry.)

By the way, the blog title comes from the definition of the word rather than the play by Oscar Wilde. Though there was a decent movie back in...2002, I think. Really funny. 

So, the definition of earnest (sincere or intense conviction) seems to fit with my attempt at blogging. Okay. Maybe not. But it does fit my feelings on writing stories. Which is why I've decided to do a short series on writing. 

I call it a who, what, when, where, and how. In reality, it's basically a how, how, how, where. But that doesn't sound as cool and well thought out, so... 

This is part one. Part One. I feel like it should be capitalized. You know. To give it a bit of weight. Without further ado- Every time I say or type 'ado' it makes me think of "Much Ado About Nothing". Which makes me think about one of my favorite actors, because his name is similar to one of the characters' names. But I digress. Back on topic. 

How I Write


Long Hand or Computer?

Both. I carry a notepad everywhere with me, which is why my purse is massive. It's basically a black canvas bag I found at Walmart for five bucks. Oh, yeah. I'm rockin' big time style over here. It looks almost exactly likes this.


It's also big enough to fit my laptop. Quite convenient. :)

Detailed Outline or Just Jump In?

Usually (like with most things) I just jump right in. I sometimes do a version of an outline. It's just a blob of random thoughts and dialogue for the coming chapter. It makes no sense out of context at all. I've found that outlines make my writing seem forced or stilted. People do things that are out of character or (more often) characters show their metaphorical 'hand' too soon. 


How Do You Know When a Book is Finished?

When the story ends. No, really. I've always felt like the story is fully formed out there in the wild, blue yonder somewhere (ether, if you will) and the writer simply plucks it out and puts it down on paper. So, the story is done when there is none left to write. 

A series is a little more complicated. For example, in "Darkness Blooming", seven hundred years have passed since the end of "No Light". I started it there because, in all honesty, nothing super amazing happened in that time. I'll talk about it in another post, but it was a time of peace. For the most part. A little upheaval, but I'll cover that later.


Do I Imagine Movie Stars in a Film Version of the Story?

Yes and no. I don't write with certain actors in mind. Mostly, because I haven't written many characters that could be played by my favorite actors. 

But at the same time, the story plays like a movie in my head as I'm writing and it is tempting to imagine it played out the same way for others. Especially the really big fight scenes and explosions. That might just be the Rambo, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard lover in me. I blame my parents. :) They raised me on action movies and romance novels. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Darkness Is Blooming on Amazon!

Darkness Blooming (The Dems Trilogy #2) is being released on August 11th (only 2 more weeks!), so here's a bit of the rough draft. 

“Rissa D’ar.”

She raised her head from the book in her lap.

“He’s ready for you.”

Rissa nodded and slipped the half-finished book into her bag. The other applicants watched her with bored stares, as she crossed the room and slipped past the woman to the office beyond. Mr. Jakory Thames sat behind his desk, looking exactly as he had been described to her. He was a squat man with a beard that over took the bottom half of his face. He eyed her appreciatively as she approached him.

“Ms. D’ar, Rissa, have a seat. Can I get you anything? A drink after this, perhaps.”

She faked a smile. Smarmy little man. “I don’t need anything, but thank you.”

His smile did not fade. “Let’s get on with it then, hm? Now,” he said, flipping through the pages of her fake school and work history, “You’ve just come from Brigitham, is that right?”

Rissa nodded. “Yes, I studied human interaction for three years there.”

“And your parents? They are Brigitham graduates and serving as professors.”

“Yes.” 

“So, tell me. What brought you here? By all accounts, you are overqualified for this position. I would think your parents would expect you to follow in their footsteps.” He gave her an expectant look.

She smiled shyly. “I am taking a short break from education.”

He clearly believed her. “Well, I do like to expand horizons.” She did not miss the way his eyes moved over her petite body. “I see no reason you can’t start immediately. Unless, you have other plans?”

She shook her head, dropping her eyes demurely. “No, sir. I am eager to begin.” She had to hide her smirk when his eyes turned interested. “Who will be training me?”

She could tell from his face, he wanted the job, but he said, “Sadly, I am needed here, but I will make sure my best shows you around the facility.”

Rissa nodded and allowed her lips to downturn into a disappointed frown. “That’s unfortunate.” She looked up at him from beneath her eyelashes. “I’m sure we will have a chance to visit some time.”

He grinned eagerly. Too easy.

She followed him from the large office, passing the annoyed faces of the other applicants, and slipped to the distribution center. She was not sure what to expect, her information had been vague, but the bustling room full of burly men and shouting was not it. As the only messenger service in the city, she expected something a little more organized, but everywhere she looked there were piles of packages and trash.

Jakory Thames waddled along ahead of her, glancing over his shoulder at her often. She mostly ignored him, more focused on taking in the layout of the room. The beams of the high ceiling were covered in several inches of dust and it floated down in clumps every time the wide garage door opened. The familiar red of the delivery scooters drew her gaze. Over a hundred lined one wall, more coming into the garage every few minutes as others went out.

She turned her attention back to Jakory Thames when he stopped at one of the waist high tables scattered around the outer edge of the room. A man, nearly three times her width, turned at the sound of his voice. His watery, brown eyes looked first at Jakory and then her. He scanned her quickly, his eyebrows drawing together as took in her small stature and delicate features.

“What’s this then? A clerk?” His voice was as rough as he looked.

Jakory sent her a small smile. “Timin, this is Rissa D’ar. She will be taking over the palace route.”

Timin gave her another unimpressed look. “If you say so.”

“I say so,” Jakory shot back, a bit of bluster in his tone.

The larger man nodded, holding up his hands in surrender. “You’re the boss.” He turned his attention back to her. “So, you want to deal with the big nasties, huh?”

She gave him a shy smile. “I suppose someone must.”

The two men nodded.

“Well, I will leave you in Timin’s capable hands. He can teach you all there is to know about this route.”

She nodded, careful to keep her expression mildly apprehensive. “Thank you, sir.”

“Jakory, please,” he said.

“Jakory,” she dutifully parroted.

He beamed. “Until tomorrow.”

She nodded and watched him walk away. Precisely as her report had said. She mentally shook her head.

“I’ll show you the locker room and then we’ll deliver the days packages.”

“When will I see the facility?” she asked quietly, as she followed him to the door along the wall.

“Later.”

She scowled to herself. No time to check her copy of the plans, then.

“This is it,” the large man said. He gestured to the dingy grey locker room.

The floor and walls might have been white at some point, but that time had long since passed. It was just a moderately large room with dented, red lockers around the perimeter. One of the two benches was snapped in half. No one had bothered to fix or replace it. She turned to face Timin and gave him what she hoped was a bright smile.

“Which one is mine?”

He pointed to a nearby locker. “Kesk died yesterday, so you can have that one.”

She fought the urge to raise one eyebrow. “Thank you.”

He just grunted in response.

She yanked on the locker handle three times before the dented door swung open with a loud groan. A faded red uniform hung on one hook, a utility belt on the other.

“It’s not the one he died in. That one’s beyond any form of salvage,” Timin said.

She glanced at him. How charming. She gave him a small smile. “Thank you. Where can I change?”

He gestured around the room. “This is it. I’ll just turn around.”

She expected as much. She waited until he turned around to slip out of the dress suit. Her civilian clothes hid her body armor. The uniform being far too large was a convenience she had hoped for, but not expected. She quickly slipped it on and fastened the front clasps. The sleeves completely covered her hands and she had to roll them back half a dozen times, before she turned her attention to folding up her pant legs.

“I’m ready,” she said when she had straightened.

The uniform hung off of her, the shoulders near her elbows, but it perfectly concealed her armor and the blades tucked away for emergencies.

Timin turned around and looked her over. “Fits fine.”

She smiled. “Yes.”

“Let’s go. We have a lot to do.” He walked toward the door, clearly expecting her to follow.

She was not accustomed to following, but she fell into step behind him. Her eyes moved over the other workers as she passed them. All were men, most rough looking with multiple scars and questionable bathing habits. She was careful not to make eye contact. It was best if none of them took an interest in her. Timin stopped next to a rundown scooter and waved her forward.

“Do you know how to ride one of these?” She could tell from his face that he doubted her abilities.

She forced her face to stay calm and pleasant, as she nodded. “Yes. I have a bit of experience.”

He huffed. “Follow me.” He climbed on the scooter next to hers and it came to life with a dark cloud of smoke.

She swung her leg over her bike in one smooth move and the scooter started after a couple tries, belching its own smoke. Timin did not wait to see if she could ride, before he roared out of the garage. She glanced around to see the other workers watching her with looks of varying interest. She rode out of the garage before one of them could summon the courage to approach her.

Timin rode straight for the palace, not stopping to look back at her once. She was sure it had nothing to do with him having confidence in her abilities. He appeared mildly surprised when he stopped at the back entrance of the palace and she pulled up next to him. She barely fought the urge to send him a smug smirk.

He got over it quickly, turning off the scooter’s ignition and stalking toward the crate to the right of the palace door. She followed him at a more sedate pace, taking the time to scan the entrance. The back of the palace was broken by only three doors. One, she knew was used for when members of foreign governments visited. The second was for the royal family. The third, the door nearest to the crate, was for the delivery of packages.

She picked up her pace when she heard the hiss of the crate decompressing. By the time she reached it, Timin had folded the four sides down to lay flat on the ground and he was organizing several dozen packages of varying sizes into piles based on their location in the palace. She noticed the majority were going to medical section on the second floor.

“Start from the top and work your way down,” Timin said, grabbing an armload of packages and turning to face her.

Before she could blink, he was dumping them into her arms. When she could hold no more, he grabbed as many as he could carry and walked toward the door of the palace. It opened when they were still several feet away, Dems in full armor spilling out to bracket the doorway. She scanned their armor with an appreciative eye.

It was far different from what they had used even a century ago. The large, metal plates had been replaced by a metal alloy. It was a combination of Sinmer steel and a precious metal from Democlaste. The result was a midnight black suit of what looked like scales. It was said to be impenetrable and the Dems rarely left the palace without both suit and helmet.

As she passed the guards, their helmets turned to watch her progress. She had only seen a handful of Dems in her life, but from what she remembered, all of them were of the same basic body type. Tall, broad shouldered, and athletic. It was debatable whether it was the result of their constant warfare or genetic engineering.  
 
The moment she was inside, the doors slammed shut behind her. It was only her self-control that prevented her from jumping at the loud bang. Timin continued walking as if nothing had happened. She quickly followed him, glancing in the rooms as they passed. The hallway was wide enough for at least a dozen Dems to walk through at once and lined with intricate marble carvings inlaid with gold.

Near the end of the hallway, the opening to a large staircase broke up the wall. Timin immediately began to climb. Rissa glanced around. She had yet to see a sign of life inside the palace. All of the rooms were beautiful but empty. According to her plans, the throne room was on the second floor with the medical facilities. Maybe, they were there. 

Timin turned right at the top of the stairs, the opposite direction of the throne room. She only paused for a moment, before following him. The plans were vague on the placement of the medical section in the palace. As they walked, she counted her steps to gauge the distance from the stairs to the massive doors that blocked the entrance to the ward. Four Dems stood just inside the doors and they watched them pass, their helmets giving away none of their thoughts.

The front of the medical facility was a surprisingly plush seating area. The large space was full of soft pillows and cushioned chairs. In the corner of the room, a dozen humans sat together chatting comfortably. They smiled and laughed, as they played a game of some kind. From her position she could not tell what it was, but the console they used looked Demmade.

“Disgusting,” Timin muttered under his breath.

She forced herself not to glare at him. She pasted a sweetly confused look on her face. “What is?”

“That,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of the humans. “It’s disgusting what they do. Helping these monsters.”

“You mean donating blood?”

He nodded and glanced at her. “Don’t you think it’s unnatural how they are? Look at them. Not a brown eye among them. Bunch of pale freaks if you ask me.”

She had to clench her teeth together to bite back her reply to his venomous words. After a moment, she formed her expression into a look of indecision.

“I suppose, but they are born recessive. It’s a collection of recessive genes that makes them pale with blonde hair and light eyes.” She gave him what she hoped was an innocently confused face. “They cannot control it, can they?”

He glanced at them. “It’s still an abomination. We should drown them at birth.”

Her fists clenched, but she gave him a small smile. “I suppose.”

He clearly assumed the topic was closed, as he continued down the hallway. She looked toward the recessives happily playing their game and smiled. A woman looked up and smiled back. Everything she did was for them. She nodded to herself and followed Timin to the next door.

The doors opened silently, revealing a vast laboratory behind a wall of glass. Dems in white one-piece suits filled the space, some working at tables full of equipment and others hurrying from place to place. She noticed many carried data pads, those at the tables scribbling what she assumed were notes into the devices. Timin huffed from his place beside her.

He did not dare to make even a quiet comment with a group of Dem guards just a few yards away. She glanced at the silent Dems and noticed every helmet was facing them, the guards completely focused on the two humans. Timin nudged her hard and stomped toward the entrance to the lab. He pressed his hand to a scanner and a moment later the doors slid open.

She noticed the main door to the lab stayed tightly sealed, leaving them in a square room ten feet long and half as wide. Timin ignored the guards watching them and roughly stacked the packages in his arms. He turned to her and gestured for her to hand over her own, pulling them from her arms when she was not fast enough. Rissa barely held back a scowl.

“There are about ten more in the crate. I’ll wait here.”

She dropped her gaze to hide the spark of irritation in her gaze. “Very well.”

“Hurry up. I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to.”

“Of course,” she said pleasantly, internally seething.

She turned away and traced her steps back to the ground floor. Down the hall from the door she had entered through, the entrance reserved for the royal family swung open, over a dozen guards spilling into the empty hallway. They were not dressed the same as the others. Their armor was the same style, but the scales were silver instead of black. It had the effect of the making the guards look like liquid mercury as they moved.

She watched the soldiers form a protective wall around the royals, those in the center of the Dem barrier hidden from her view. As the group hustled down the hallway toward her, she moved to the side respectfully. The Dems slowed as they approached her, as if waiting to see if she posed a threat. They seemed to decide she was harmless, continuing past her at a faster pace. The wall they formed was not completely impenetrable and she caught a flash of bright red hair, before they were past her and ascending the stairs.

She stared after them for several seconds, frowning thoughtfully. It was only a glimpse, but the small, red-haired figure had to be a recessive. But the recessives were blond, a redhead had not been born on the planet in nearly eight decades. Still pondering the conundrum, Rissa strolled down the hallway and out the delivery door. The crate was where they had left it, still mostly full.

She quickly scanned the labels until she found the ten packages for the medical lab. She gathered them into her arms, muttering when they obscured her view. Bending her neck at an uncomfortable angle, she managed to peek around the tower of boxes and make her way back to the staircase.

At the top, she started to turn right when someone bumped into her. She stumbled to the side, the packages falling from her arms to thud on the stone floor. She whirled around to face the culprit, an angry rant already forming, when she caught sight of the guilty party. A petite, red-haired woman, the same height as her, stared at her with wide green eyes.

“I’m so sorry! Are you okay? Did I hurt you?” She moved toward her with her hands outstretched, her gaze moving between Rissa’s face and the dropped packages. “I hope nothing’s broken…”

Rissa blinked. “I am unhurt,” she said in the educated tone she had practiced.

The redhead still appeared worried. “Are you sure? I could get someone…?”

Rissa shook her head. She started to look away, when the way the woman’s cloak hung drew her gaze. She frowned in confusion. A pregnant recessive. Her eyes returned to the woman’s face.

“I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, at all. I was looking for my brother, John, but I guess he’s still downstairs.” The woman continued to chat pleasantly, her hands resting over her swollen belly as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“You-you seem to be-are you pregnant?” Rissa finally blurted.

The woman looked at her oddly. “Yes…”

“How?”

The woman’s lips quirked up into a small smile. “The usual way.” Her smile vanished when Rissa frowned.

“You are a recessive,” she said bluntly. The recessives did not have children. Ever.

“Oh.” The woman appeared disturbed by her comment. “I forgot.” She glanced back over her shoulder, as the door to the throne room slammed open.

  A blond Dem stalked toward them, his gaze fastened on Rissa with blatant hostility. Rissa tore her eyes off of his furious face to see the redhead smiling serenely. She sent Rissa a pleasant smile, seemingly unafraid of the Dem bearing down on them. Rissa did not fear them usually, but she was wise enough to know to avoid them when angry. She started to back away from the redhead.

“You!” the Dem boomed. “Who are you? What is your business here? Why are you accosting—”

“Farran,” the redhead said quietly.

The Dem immediately fell silent, but he continued to glower at Rissa. After a moment, he dismissed her and turned to face the small woman. She watched the two of them in confusion as he fussed over the redhead, gently taking her hand and brushing her hair back from her face. There was something very odd going on. Then, like a bolt of lightning, the Dems name struck her.

“You’re the king,” she said in shock.