The Letter – Warriors of St. Antoni – Chap 2

Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.

With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life.  To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.

 

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Chapter 2 – The Letter

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THE YOUNG runner looked doubtfully again at the letter he was being paid fifty copper chips to deliver. It was addressed to A. McCaffey, esq. The sign over the door simply read “McCaffey & Miller Range & Mine Detecting”. The messenger shrugged and opened the door. Inside the plain room were two wooden desks, a gun rack, and a wood burning stove with a battered coffee pot and two tables, one of which housed a stack of wanted flyers. The faded window shade that came halfway up the window fronting the street was drawn, but intense light glared in over the top of the glass panes.

The two desks had been positioned so that anyone entering by the door was automatically caught between them, but it wasn’t just the feeling of being trapped that made the messenger uncomfortable; it was the men. On the surface, this should not have happened. Outwardly, the two looked like prosperous townsmen, but the messenger could sense a faint edge of vulnerability when he entered the office and it made him nervous. On St. Antoni, you paid attention to things like that or you died. The young messenger had been living on his own for more than ten years and he was still alive.

The older man was tall and skinny with a grey beard and bushy eyebrows, dressed in a faded plaid shirt should have looked neat and tidy, but somehow didn’t. The younger man was a little below medium height with a tough wiry build and mild brown eyes in a wedge-shaped face. He was dressed in a neat dark suit with a white shirt and string tie. Despite their different appearances, they regarded the messenger with almost identical expressions of quiet watchfulness.

“Ah—which of you is A. McCaffey?” the messenger inquired looking desperately from one to the other.

“That would be me.” The younger man held out his hand for the letter.

The messenger thrust a clipboard at him in haste. “Oh, please sign here, sir.” A. McCaffey dipped a quill in an open inkwell on the desk and scrawled a signature. He accepted the letter pushed at him, and exchanged grins with the old man as the messenger fled without waiting for a tip.

“You suppose he’ll change his drawers after he gets back to the office?” the old man was trying hard not to laugh. “You really oughtn’t to scare the boy that way. It’s bad for business.”

McCaffey made a rude noise. “Shut up, Henry. Besides, maybe it was your sour puss that scared him.”

The return address was the Golden Tricorn ranch in River Crossing. He turned the letter over several times before he opened it and began to read. Afterwards, he shoved it at Henry and went to stand looking out the window although not directly in front of it, as Henry read.

Henry was a slow, deliberate reader. When he was through, he refolded it carefully. Thoughtfully, he tapped it on the desk.

“Well, now. This is quite a proposition. Going to do it?”

“How, the Hell should I know?” Alec demanded almost fiercely.

Henry tapped the letter again. “Don’t hurt nothing to meet her, check out the situation. You can always say no. Been awhile since we got out in the field.”

Alec gave him an old-fashioned look over his shoulder. “You think I should go find out, don’t you?”

“Son, you ain’t been happy for a while. Oh, we’re making money, especially since we started hiring men for fieldwork, instead of doing the tough jobs ourselves, but you been looking for something. Maybe this is it.”

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The Itch – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 1

Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough, or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.

With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life.  To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start  reading  Chapter 1 The Itch

  https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

 

1 – The Itch

 

FOLKS AROUND River Crossing described Michael St. Vyr as a big man, solid, with a thatch of greying red hair. He owned a silver mine and gold claims up in the hills above the valley, a cattle and goat ranch with a good house and twenty acres of orchards. His three pretty daughters, well he thought they were pretty, had recently come home from back east in Copper City.  He had just had a meeting with his lawyer and he had made satisfactory arrangements to divide his property equally between his three girls and their husbands in the event of his death.  None of his daughters had married or got engaged, an irritating fact the lawyer had pointed out, but St. Vyr considered that a minor issue to be resolved. He had plans to take care of that problem.

Such pleasant thoughts failed to remove the uncomfortable itch on the back of his neck that got worse the further away from town he rode. He knew better than to ignore the feeling. Because the Gateway to St. Antoni had never been officially opened, the planet wasn’t open for settlement so everyone who got there did so through an illegally ran Portal.

Young Michael’s family had only been in the emigrant camp three days before his father had been gunned down and robbed of the small number of gems he had been carrying.

His father’s death had taught Michael a lesson; he never again ignored the warning he got from his gut. He frowned now and carefully examined his surroundings. The road leading from his ranch the Golden Tricorn, to town was not heavily traveled this late in the afternoon, but it was traveled enough to usually be safe from bands of roving outlaws. He dismounted and fussed ostensibly with his cinch and loosened the gun in his holster.

Without warning, a savage blow followed by the crack of a high-powered rifle hit him in the lower back. His black and red stripped Tricorn had been trained not to flinch from gunfire and he stood like a rock until a second bullet burned him across the rump and he took off running.

St. Vyr slumped to the ground, still conscious but unable to feel his legs. He could feel himself passing out. He touched his waist and brought his hand away red with his own blood. The light wavered in front of his eyes and he knew he had to find cover before whoever fired the shots came to see if he had succeeded in killing him. Desperately, he used his powerful arms to try to drag himself into the drainage ditch at the side of the road, where he slid sideways. The ditch was dry this time of year and overgrown with prickly bushes. Just before he passed out, he managed to drag some of the dead bushes over himself.

Tricorns, like the horses they had replaced were herd animals. The stallion ran hard for a few miles, and then slowed to a more moderate pace as he made his way back to the ranch. Reaching the barn, Redbird stopped outside the corral where he had the remuda tricorns for company.

Michaels daughter Jeanne found him there when she arrived home several hours later. Her first thought upon seeing the red and black stallion was dismay. She hadn’t counted on her father being home and possibly asking her questions about what she had been doing, so as she rode up she was busy thinking up excuses as to where she had been.

When her father didn’t appear, she dismounted and breathed a sigh of relief. She tied her grey striped tricorn gelding up to the hitching rail in front of the tack room and began unsaddling him. Coming out with a brush and currycomb after she deposited her saddle on one of the racks inside, she was surprised to see that Redbird, her father’s mount had come up to the hitching rail where she had tied grayling and was investigating the feedbag she had dropped over her tricorns nose.

“Now how did you get loose,” she demanded of the tricorn, picking up his trailing reins. As she moved to re-tie him to the rail, she saw the wound, still oozing a trickle of blood, on his rump where the second bullet had grazed him. When she stepped back and looked more carefully at the tricorn, she saw a smear of blood on the stirrup leather.

Her first impulse was to back trail Redbird to see if she could find her father. He might be lying there hurt on the trail back from town. Looking around for help, she realized the stable area was empty. This time of day all the workers who normally would have been present were in the orchards, doing repairs either to the fences or out in the pastures with the stock. Jeanne finished tying Redbird to the hitching rail and ran for the house, shouting for her sisters and her grandmother.

“What is it, child?” Giselle, her grandmother asked in alarm.

“Papa’s horse came back without him,” Jeanne gasped out. There is blood on the stirrups and Redbird has a bullet burn across his rump. Where is everyone?”

“Margo went into town to do the weekly shopping,” Bethany said running up. “Did you say Papa was hurt?”

“I don’t know,” Jeanne said. “Redbird was loose by the corral when I got back. At first, I didn’t notice he was hurt. Where was Papa going today?”

“He went into town to see the lawyer,” Iris told her.

“Jeanne, go saddle us some mounts while we change into riding clothes,” Bethany ordered and Jeannine ran back outside.

Bethany looked at her grandmother. “You need to send someone out to the men working in Ruby Canyon and have them come in and help with the search. If Papa was shot on the way into or coming back from town, he’ll be found somewhere along the road to the Crossing.”

Giselle nodded her understanding and left quickly, calling for Macon, the man who usually tended the gardens around the house.

Coming downstairs a few minutes later, Bethany went to her father’s gun cabinet and began loading rifles and pistols for herself and her sisters.

“Oh, no,” Iris protested when she saw the weapons. “Surely we won’t need those.”

Bethany was buckling on the pistol belt. She checked to load on it and on the rifle, before slinging a similar belt over her shoulder for Jeanne.

“If something happened to Papa,” Bethany told Iris grimly, “It wasn’t an accident. Jeanne said Redbird had a bullet burn across his rump. Do you want to be helpless if we need to rescue Papa?”

Iris bit her lip, but picked up the third belt and holster and buckled it on.

“Where is mine?” Giselle asked, returning from her errand.

“In the gun cabinet,” Jeanne informed her have finished saddling the tricorns. She took her weapons from Bethany. “The Tricorns are ready to go.”

“Thank you, Jeanne,” Bethany said. She turned to Giselle. “You know you need to stay here in case someone brings Papa home wounded, Grandmother.”

The land between the Golden Tricorn and the town of River Crossing looked deceptively flat, but it was pocked with shallow dips and cuts in the earth, making searching for a wounded man who might be hiding slow and difficult work.

It was Iris who spotted the marks Michael had made when he dragged himself into the ditch for cover.

“Here!” Iris called, dismounting and sliding down into the waist deep ditch. Her tricorn smelled blood and pulled back nervously on the reins, nearly dragging her back up the embankment.

“Papa!” Jeanne called urgently. “Where are you?”

She too dismounted, and taking the reins of Iris’s tricorn, she tied the nervous animal to her saddle horn. She had no fear of her own mount running off because he smelled blood; she had spent hours training him not to flinch under more difficult circumstances than a smell he didn’t like. When Bethany dismounted, she handed the reins of the tricorns to her and joined Iris in the ditch, carefully lifting the bushes to see if her father had crawled under them.

Iris had just spotted one of Michael’s boots sticking out from under one of the bushes against the far bank, and she rushed forward, yanking the brush out of the way.

“Be careful. There might be a Sander under there. You know how they like the shade when it’s hot,” Bethany warned, referring to the areas large poisonous reptiles.

“So you shoot it with that damn gun you insisted we bring,” Iris retorted, dropping beside her father and picking up his wrist to feel for a pulse.

Jeanne had finished moving the brush out of the way, and she too dropped beside Michael. “He’s bleeding. It looks like someone shot him in the back. We need to get him out of here and back to the ranch.”

“The doctor’s house in town is closer,” Bethany objected.

“Should we move him?” asked Iris doubtfully. “What if it hurts his back?”

“His back’s already hurt,” Jeanne snapped.

“That might not be relevant anyway,” Bethany observed. “I don’t think the three of us can manage to get him back up the bank on our own. Here,” she pulled bandages, rags and a bottle of alcohol out of her saddlebag. “One of you see if you can clean the wound and bandage it. I— ”

Her head lifted sharply as she heard the unmistakable clop, clop of a buckboard driven by a team of tricorns coming down the road from town.

“It’s Margo,” she cried, waving frantically at the driver. Margo snapped the reins and the team broke into a gallop, coming to a sliding stop when they reached the girls.

“What happened, Nina?” Margo asked.

“It’s Papa. He’s been wounded and he’s down in the ditch. We’re going to need help getting him out of there.”

“Dios mio!” the woman exclaimed, tumbling off the wagon seat and coming to look down into the ditch.

“I think we’ve got that covered,” Jeanne said, pointing to a plume of dust rising on the road from the direction of the ranch. Shortly, about fifteen of the ranch hands thundered up on lathered tricorns, demanding to know what had happened.

With their help, it proved easy to move the wounded man into Margo’s buckboard, which made a slow turn and headed back into town, accompanied by Iris and three of the hands, who were just aching for someone to attempt to stop them.

Bethany turned to Jeanne. “You’d better go back to the ranch and let Gran know what happened. She’ll want to come into town. Take a couple of the men with you.”

Jeanne nodded and remounted.

Bethany remounted her own tricorn and looked over at the hands that had stayed with her. “Durango, who is the best tracker?” she asked a tall slim man with a wide brimmed hat.

“Red and I,” he replied. “You want us to find out who did this?”

“Yes,” she said grimly. “I’m putting you in charge. And Durango, when you find out who did this, we need him to be able to talk to the Sheriff.”

She turned her tricorn and kicked her into a gallop, following the wagon into town.

Unlike his father, Michael St. Vyr lived, but he would never walk again.   He was still bedridden when he was forced to overhear Emory Johnson attempt to coerce his eldest daughter Bethany into marrying him by telling her if she didn’t accept is offer, she and her sisters would soon be out in the street. Now he knew he desperately needed to start his plan for taking care of his daughters. Accordingly, wrote a letter detailing an interesting proposition, and addressed it to McCaffey & Miller Range & Mine Detection in the City of Bitterstone.

 

Chapter 15 – New Beginnings & Historical Notes

The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet. In Book 1—A Year And A Day, A witch from the right side of the tracks finds herself paired with a hard-bitten soldier handpicked by a computer program. In Book 2—Forever And A Day, a marriage of convenience between two determined, strong-willed people sparks a planetary war and puts at risk everyone they love. In book 3 — All Our Tomorrows, A warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction. Book 4—From This Day Forward, When she finds the body of a retired shopkeeper on the beach, a series of mysterious events draw the new owner into a web of passion, terror and murder.  She must find the killer and discover what he wants before he gets her too. (still in production. Expected release date April 2017)

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays

Download a PDF copy and read Chapter 15 – New Beginnings and Historical Notes on Vensoog

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This is the last chapter of the serial. If you would like to read A Year And A Day in its entirety, you can find the whole book in either e-format or a soft cover trade paperback on Amazon at

Gail Daley A Year And A Day- Science Fiction Romance http://www.amazon.com/Year-Day-Handfasting-Book-ebook/dp/B01DH60RJM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1462033094&sr=8-1&keywords=gail+daley

 

15 – NEW BEGINNINGS

 

CORA insisted that Katherine remain in bed to recover from her leg wound. Once her children and all the extended clan had walked through her room in the infirmary to make sure she would live, Zack ran everyone out and shut the door.

Katherine looked him over. “Well, you look as though you didn’t even get a scratch,” she observed.

“That’s because I know what I’m doing,” he retorted. “What in the Hell is wrong with you — taking on a combat-trained veteran in a knife fight? I nearly had a heart attack when I realized what was going on. I knew I was too far away to help you.”

“She was going after Juliette. Did you think I would stand for that?”

“Why didn’t you shoot her? You had a gun, and I know you can hit what you aim at.”

She looked at him a little sheepishly and said, “I’m sorry, I guess I was just so angry—”

“I think we made a mistake in the Handfasting Ceremony,” he remarked off the cuff.

“What?” she cried.

“Yes,” he continued. “We should have done the Forever and a Day one, not the Year and A Day. It’s obvious you need a keeper and I’m elected.”

Katherine gave a gasp of relief. “Damn you Zack, what did you scare me like that for?”

He smiled sweetly at her. “Payback’s a bitch isn’t it?”

Katherine threw her pillow at him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HISTORICAL NOTES

 

WHEN opened for colonization, the Founders considered themselves fortunate because Vensoog was a semi-tropical paradise.  The Islands of various sizes connected by water channels (although of a slightly higher saline content than oceans on Old Earth) were strung around the equator between five larger landmasses. Two ice-covered regions were found at each of the magnetic poles.

Every year the Islands and the five semi-continents were subject to swarms of insects that pollinated the entire planet. The double moons in a close orbit created heavy tide surges during the storm season that followed the swarms and cleared out the insect population. Abundant mammalian and avian life populated the planet; a variety of edible fish lived in the sea. The planet boasted several species of mammals the settlers dubbed Nessies and Sandies or Water/Sand Dragons because of their resemblance to the fabled mythical beasts of old earth. Some of the native species were found to be slightly empathic with chameleon abilities; the Water/Sand Dragons.  The settlers dubbed a small empathic and chameleon-like vermin predator Quirkas. Because the Quirkas were small, cute, and soon seen to bond with humans, they were quickly adopted as pets. They proved adept at hunting the varieties of small vermin and insects that infested homes and animal enclosures. There was a variety of furred mammalian flyers bearing a resemblance the Old Earth Legends of the Pterodactyls. These Dactyls shared the mildly empathic and chameleon characteristics of the Sandies and Quirkas. Dactyls were found in all sizes from large enough to prey on the Nessies to small enough to fit in a human hand.

The temperate climate of the islands was hospitable to both man and the animals the settlers brought with them to suit their agrarian lifestyle. A spaceport was developed on an island next to the largest continent. Unfortunately, the settlers had copied other spaceport designs without taking into consideration Vensoog’s weather. The high winds generated by the first storms toppled the Space control tower and the settlers were forced to rebuild, wisely adopting a dome architecture style for the remaining buildings.  The new colonists settled first on the Islands closest to the spaceport for convenient access to the supplies being brought in and had started spreading out onto the major continents when the Karamine Wars had broken out.

The society the colonists created was one of the social experiments designed on Old Earth after the last planetary war when space exploration had become cheap because of the discovery of an efficient faster than light drive. It had become easy to colonize a planet and carry on sociological theories undisturbed by conflicting viewpoints. All it took to develop a colony was enough money to register a claim to a planet with the Confederated Worlds and buy ships and supplies to launch out into space with like-minded colonists.

Vensoog’s founding colonists had been led by a cadre of wealthy women who decided the male-controlled society governing most of the Old Earth caused most of the wars that continually afflicted it. Recognizing the struggles for power had produced most of the strife in the past, the colonists theorized that changing how political power was handled would change how society reacted to resolving conflict. The colonists blamed the breakdown of the extended family on a lack of responsibility felt by both men and women for the children they created. To counter-act these influences, they designed a planetary government loosely based on clan structures copied from Old Earth with a ruling parliamentary body made up of representatives from each clan, with provision for additional seats to be created as the need occurred. Inheritance of titles, ruling offices and property would descend through female lines instead of the male.

Recognizing the need for planetary cooperation, representatives from each clan met several times a year to make major decisions concerning planetary welfare. This body regulated laws in areas outside of immediate clan control, such as River and Ocean navigation or joint Clan ventures. Since the clans all came from different ethnic groups and ancestry on Old Earth, they each had different ideas of how they wanted their clan to be run. It was agreed that inside their own jurisdiction, each clan was free to set up different sets of laws to reflect their ancestral traditions, providing those laws adhered to the principles set down by the colony designers.

The discovery of valuable deposits of Azorite crystal power stones on Vensoog became highly prized as an export and made possible many of the non-mechanical solutions to the difficulties facing the new colony.

The group of “wise use” ecologists who colonized Vensoog preferred non-technical or non/industrial solutions to planetary problems but they were not averse to using gene manipulation to achieve the “non-mechanical” effects they wanted. Many times they genetically enhanced abilities already found in the domestic animals and plants they brought with them from Old Earth to suit their needs.

The Clan based culture was supposed to provide a stopgap when individuals fell through the cracks of society. The founders reasoned there would be less violence if everyone felt they had a place in the social order, and the loose makeup of a clan would provide room for individuals who wanted to improve their lot in life or move up the social scale. It had been determined that a factor causing trouble in the past was the power holders (males) wanted to ensure their families kept what had been earned, but they had no real way of guaranteeing it was their own descendants who inherited since they could not be sure if their progeny really belonged to them. A woman would always know to whom she gave birth. Vensoog was not a true matriarchy (men were allowed hold positions of power, but could not pass along those positions or property except through their daughters). Allowance was made for those individuals who didn’t want to join a clan; they fell under the authority of the clan’s joint Security Council.

To make sure their plan for establishing a society was not tampered with, rigorous psychological testing had been given to the original prospective colonists to certify they would be flexible enough to adapt to the new power structure. Additionally during the voyage, the new colonists were subjected to sleep training and mental manipulation to accustom them to accept the changes.

The prospective colonists, had been tested for “special talents” and high aptitudes with psychic gifts. The overt reason was allegedly that greater empathy should encourage group consensus. A covert reason was several of the clan bloodlines had always had the talent to perform what could have been termed “magic” by uninformed persons.

The founders were mistaken on several assumptions. The theory that greater empathy would provide group harmony had not proven out. While inbreeding had produced high levels of certain types of psychic ability, it had not improved either communication or willingness to heal areas of disagreement. Human women were just as susceptible to jealousy, envy and downright cussedness as were human men.

The Karamine wars between the Confederated Worlds of which Vensoog was a member, and another star-faring race with whom humans had come into conflict, wreaked havoc on both sides.  It left some planets in radioactive ruins and others devastated by Bio-genetic weapons. Economic disaster, starvation and anarchy now stared many planets in the face. After nearly fifteen years of sustained warfare, the humans and their allies finally pieced together a truce of sorts. The truce came about because both sides had used up so much resources they could barely feed their populations and maintain communication within their sphere of influence. In the Confederated Planets, outlying planets like Vensoog now fought off onslaughts from pirates who preyed on them using captured ships, and subsisted on meager alliances with the few Free Traders who had held aloof from the conflict.

Unless it had strategic importance or resources, The Karaminetes policy was to use atomics to burn off a planet opposing them. On planets they deemed too valuable to destroy, biogenetic weapons were employed. The Karaminetes noticed the large deposits of the valuable mineral Azorite that Vensoog had in abundance so instead of using atomics, they attacked it with a devastating bio virus. On planets they didn’t burn off, the Karaminetes used conquered native populations as slaves. A study of human societies had convinced the Karamine Legion that in human society the males were traditionally the most rebellious so the Bio-weapon used on Vensoog targeted males. As a result, all the men and boys on the planet who didn’t die outright from the virus were rendered sterile. The virus had no effect on the female reproductive system since the Karaminetes planned on harvesting ova from captured females and creating more women slaves.

Happily, the virus had a very short life span and dissipated after a few months, which would have allowed the Karaminetes to settle on Vensoog themselves in time.

Fortunately for the colonists, the truce was declared before the Karaminetes took possession of the planet. Although no more bio-genetic attacks would come, the colony was still in deep trouble. The reserves of viable sperm from the lower mammals brought along for colonization and periodically replenished by the colonists, had been protected in the freezers at the original landing site. Unfortunately, in the two hundred years after making landing, to ensure the colony remained biologically diverse the Vensoog colonists had used all the frozen human eggs and sperm they had brought with them. With no new children being born, the colony faced extinction. The planet’s population would die out within three generations, unless something could be done to re-introduce new viable human sperm to allow more children to be born. Each of the clans worked frantically to come up with a solution.

After studying the political and physical mess left by the war, Lady Katherine O’Teague had come up with a plan to restore biological diversity among Vensoog’s human population. She concluded new male colonists were needed. The best candidates for new colonists would probably be found among returning soldiers. In theory, the Confederated Worlds military force was composed equally of men and women, but, most those choosing a career as soldiers were still male, and the men whose worlds had been destroyed would need new homes. While Vensoog wasn’t the only planet to suffer from the bio-bomb virus, thousands of people had been left homeless when planets been burned off.

The Clans agreed to present proposals adopting the displaced soldiers in their sector of space to military commanders. Vensoog would accept new immigrants providing anyone who applied could pass the immigration screening and was willing to either take part in a temporary Handfasting agreement with suitable Vensoog women or was willing to provide genetic material. Clan representatives traveled to Fenris, Camelot, and Avalon where many of the returning soldiers would be decommissioned. After the first wave of ex-soldiers had been assimilated on Vensoog, the clans had agreed the screening program would remain in place on Fenris and the other planets for other potential new immigrants to use. A joint clan undertaking with Vensoog volunteers from each clan willing to take up temporary residence on these planets would have to be found to administer the screening programs.

 

 

ALIEN WORLDS ROMANCES

 

 

THE HANDFASTING SERIES

A Year And A Day

Forever & A Day

All Our Tomorrows

From This Day Forward

 

PORTAL WORLDS NOVELS

Warriors of St. Antoni

Spell Of The Magi

 

NON-FICTION

The Modern Artist’s Handbook

Chapter 14 – Passover

 The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet. In Book 1 – A Year And A Day, A witch from the right side of the tracks finds herself paired with a hard-bitten soldier handpicked by a computer program. In Book 2 – Forever And A Day, a marriage of convenience between two determined, strong-willed people sparks a planetary war and puts at risk everyone they love. In book 3 – All Our Tomorrows, A warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction. In Book 4 From This Day Forward – When she finds the body of a retired shopkeeper on the beach, a series of mysterious events draw the new owner into a web of passion, terror and murder.  She must find the killer and discover what he wants before he gets her too. (still in production. Expected release date April 2017)

 Start reading Chapter 14 Passover

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays

 Download a PDF copy by clicking on the link

 https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

Check in next Friday for the next chapter of A Year And A Day – book 1 of The Handfasting

Chapter 14 – Passover

THREE WEEKS later Clan members who weren’t permanent residents had moved into the living quarters on the second floor of the massive dome.  During Passover, most Clan residents rode out the storm in their own quarters. Passage from one dome to another was done through three underground tunnels. Most of the herds and flocks brought in were confined to a series of corrals around and above the lake. The rest were kept in the sheltered ravines of Blue Talon Canyon.

Katherine was giving the children and Zack a tour of the Lodge’s Command Center on the top floor of the dome above the cavern. Katherine  and Corrine had flipped a coin to decide whi would handle their official duties during the day and who would take over at night.

“This is our command center during the Passover Storms,” Katherine explained to Zack and Juliette, showing a tier of virtual screens, each with a person monitoring it.

“It’s a little old-fashioned compared to what you probably used in the military,” she added to Zack, “But they still work.” She moved to the first virtual screen. “This is Joyce; she handles our storm watch so we can know exactly when the leading edge of each storm will reach us.”

A tall, light-haired woman glanced at them, nodding a greeting before returning her eyes to the screen in front of her. “I estimate we have about three hours before the first one hits,” she told them, gesturing to an arc line with a ragged edge on the screen. “This one looks like about a Class seven. It will be rough.”

“Thanks, Joyce,” Katherine nodded and moved on to the next screen. “This is Karen. Karen looks out for our various animal sections, to make sure no trouble starts. How does it look, Karen?”

The woman with the short black hair and friendly smile turned to face them. “Well, the Ostamus are antsy, but everyone else seems calm. Your little Sand Dragon settled right into sleep, so I reckon she’s down for the duration.”

“That’s a relief,” Katherine grinned at her, remembering how difficult it had been to get Violet to agree to allow Jelli to take her place in the subterranean cavern. Then Violet had panicked when Jelli started to hibernate and it had taken the combined efforts of Katherine, Mistress Leona and Karen to reassure the child that Jelli’s ‘sleep’ was normal. Karen touched a section of the virtual screen and it revealed Jelli snuggled into a rock alcove with a sandy floor, away from the warm underground lake that served the Lodge. Violet was leaning back against the rock wall next to Jelli with her study tablet in her lap. A closer look showed she too was asleep.

An older, woman was handling the next station which showed a view of the busy medical center. Cora was apparently checking out a strain on the arm of a man whose feather spattered pants showed he had lately been in the bird section. “This is Myrna; she coordinates with Cora, our senior medic about injuries during Passover.”

The woman looked up and smiled. “So far, nothing serious. Mason there pulled a muscle breaking up a squabble between two Ostamu groups. We’ve had injuries come in with some fishers, but nothing to worry about.”

The next virtual station showed the sheltered cove below the Lodge and the marina docking area. The water had already risen to cover the wharf where they had tied off the day they arrived. Several fishing vessels were already moored, with masts fastened down and their decks sealed. The last one was still unloading men and hauling supplies up the steps toward the safe room. As the crew from the fisher entered, Zack noticed the room door looked very much like an airlock on a ship. “Does that seal?” he asked the young boy monitoring the viewer.

“Yes, sir,” the boy, Joseph, replied. “It has a double seal in case the rising storm water breaks past the first one. The second door leads into a tunnel running down into the cavern. That way late arrivals won’t have to risk traveling overland in the storms. Those storm winds can blow you away.”

The crews passed swiftly through the room and headed down into the tunnel with their cargo. The Fleet Captain, Joel Margron, stopped at the room’s console, tapping the screen. A close-up of his bearded face came onto the command center screen. “Greetings Milady,” he addressed Katherine “On the way in we got a request from two Independent ships to take shelter in our harbor from the storm,” he said. “I Okayed it, but I have a bad feeling about them.”

Zack tapped the boy on the shoulder and gestured for him to move over. “Any reason for that feeling Captain?” he asked.

Margron looked at Katherine who nodded. “Captain, this is my new husband Zack Jackson. He has taken over security for us and he has a lot of experience with hostile situations. Please give him your full cooperation.”

The Captains face relaxed. “Glad to meet you sir. They’re Independents with no Clan affiliation and when the Captain who contacted me was speaking, she was nervous as Hell. I had the feeling maybe she wasn’t in command of her ship any longer.”

“Are all your people safe inside the tunnel?’

“Well, except for the three on each ship who volunteered to man them during the storm.”

Zack turned to Katherine. “Can we communicate with the ships directly from here?”

She nodded, and Zack turned back to the Captain. “Okay. Give us the frequency of the ships you spoke to and get yourself into the tunnel. I will seal it after you. Before we let these people inside the Lodge we need to find out a little more about them.”

The Captain nodded and headed into the tunnel. Behind him, the airlock door hissed as it slid into place.

Zack opened a channel to the two ships that had asked for refuge. The woman who answered after a short delay looked a little battered. The Captain’s shirt was torn and blood showed around the edge of the sleeve. A bruise covered one whole side of her face. Zack was unfamiliar with ship type injuries, but he was very familiar with the wounds coming from combat, and the Captain’s wounds looked like fighting injuries to him.

“This is Lord Zackery Jackson, head of security for this Lodge. Captain, I understand you need to take refuge from the storm?”

The woman slid a nervous glance over to the left, outside the viewer. “Yes. We need to get under cover from the Storm. We also have injuries—”

“Very well. May I have your name and your ship’s name?”

She licked her lips, took a deep breath, and said formally, “I am Marga Logan. This is the Ship Sea Runner and her sister ship, the Aphrodite. We are Independents and request shelter from the storm and care for our injured under the Sailors Covenant.”

Zack nodded. “I understand. Have your ships arrived at our port?”

“We are making landfall now.”

“As soon as your ships have been battened down for the storm, take the steps to your left. There is a safe room and a medic station there where your injured can be treated by our robo-doc with assistance from our Chief Medic.” As he spoke, Zack had been doing a quick review of the plans for the Safe Rooms. “There is food and dry clothing in the room to the right. As soon as all your people are inside the Safe Rooms, the outer door will seal. We will send an escort to take you to a more comfortable area as soon as we can spare them. The Medic will contact you as soon as you enter the medic station.”

He shut down the two-way viewing and motioned for the boy to take his place. “Keep an eye of them,” he instructed. “I want eyes covering all corners and sound as well. If they contact you again, have them wait and send for me.”

The boy nodded, his eyes as big as saucers.

The refuges entering the Safe Rooms seemed to be two groups. One group  looked to be in rough shape. This bloody and battered group staggered into the Safe Rooms and headed into the Medic station. The other grouplooked tough, were carrying weapons did not try to help their supposedly wounded comrades. Several people passed by the door, but didn’t enter the safe room. Katherine suddenly leaned in so she had a better view of the screen.

“Zack! Look who it is,” she exclaimed.

He too leaned in and they he nodded. “Looks as if you did see her that day in the channel,” he remarked.

“That was Lister!” exclaimed Juliette. “What’s she doing here?”

“Up to no good, probably,” Zack’s voice was dispassionate. Lister handed a knapsack to a man in the doorway as she passed.

“Where does she think she’s going?” wondered Katherine. Even as she voiced the question, the screen monitoring the Top Side Landing Room came on. They could see Lister and about twenty others settling into the dome as if preparing for a long stay.

“I would guess she doesn’t intend to be trapped in the safe room,” Zack thoughtfully stroked his chin. “If I was planning something, I sure wouldn’t.”

He turned to Lolli, the sub-security chief, “How secure from the storm is the Top Side Landing Room?”

She looked contemplative. “Well, it’s fairly uncomfortable during a storm, but as long as the water doesn’t come up into it, it’s reasonably secure. There’s a good foundation and minimal power so they’ll have light and enough heat to keep from freezing, but that’s about all.”

“I don’t like it. They’re planning something. If I wanted to attack this place, I’d wait until there was a lull in the storm, and then try to break in through ground level doors at either the main house or the barns where it’s easier to access.”

“But if they really are planning an attack, why did she let any of her men get trapped in the Safe rooms?” the security officer asked.

“I know!” Roderick exclaimed. “She handed off a knapsack to one of the men who stayed behind. I bet there are weapons in that knapsack!”

“I bet they’re planning to blow the door into the tunnel!” Rupert finished excitedly.

Zack smiled proudly at the two boys. “If that’s the case, what do you think we should do about it?” he asked seeing a tactical teaching moment.

“That’s a small room,” Roderick said. “if they set off a bomb in there, the concussion will get them too. Maybe we should just let them try it and hurt themselves.”

“If they set off that blast it might collapse the roof and they aren’t the only people in there,” Juliette protested. “Some of the fishers might get hurt too.”

“Look at those other doors, they’re thick. I bet they wouldn’t get hurt too bad if they lock themselves in one of the other rooms,” Rupert argued.

Zack had been examining the schematics of the tunnel just outside the Safe rooms. “Okay, that’s one strategy that might be tried, can you think of any others?” he asked.

Lucinda had been looking at the map too. “They only left about six of them. Why don’t we open the door?” she inquired.

“What?” squalled the boys. “You can’t do that! I bet they’ve got weapons and explosive charges! If we let them in, they can set them off in here. People will get hurt. Our people.”

Lucinda made a rude noise and pointed to two access tunnels beside the door. “You don’t listen! I didn’t say let them come down into the cavern. If we open the door pretending we’ve come to get them, they should let us in. If they don’t we can wait there for when they come out. Like we did that time Grouter sent us in to get—” she stopped and looked guiltily at her parents. “—Stuff. And we got trapped in that alley, remember?”

“We could ambush them!” Rupert and Roderick said in unison.

Zack looked over at Katherine and grinned. “Good little strategy session, huh?”

She punched him playfully in the arm. “They have a good teacher.”

“Do you think they’ll try anything right away, sir?” Lolli asked.

“No, my guess is they’ll want to coordinate any attack with Lister’s crew. Lister will need to wait for a lull in this storm before her crew can operate up top, so we have plenty of time to get our men in place.’

“Um, Zack?” Katherine asked. “I think that it would be just like Lister to use those fishers as hostages when the fight starts. Most of the fishers are already in the infirmary, so when the attack starts, we could isolate them by closing the infirmary door from here.”

“Can you handle that?” Zack asked the screen operator.

“Sure,” the boy replied. “I have auxiliary control from here. I can override any command they input.”

“How soon will there be a break in the weather,” Zack asked the meteorologist.

Joyce frowned. “From the size of this one, I’d say we’ve got about twenty-four hours before the eye gets here.”

Zack nodded. “Okay, Lolli assemble a security team to meet me in those tunnels just outside the safe room door. Do we have gas masks?”

“Yes,” Lolli answered. “Do you think they are planning to gas us?”

“It’s been done and we don’t know for sure what is in that knapsack,” he replied. “I’m thinking better safe than sorry. I also want two teams to guard the access tunnels to the Lodge and the animal shelter.”

“While we have time,” Vernal who had not yet gone to bed suggested, “I think we might cut down our casualties by setting a few traps inside the Lodge and at the tunnel entrances.”

He looked over at the boys. “I think you can help with that. We will need pressure plates and some netting. And I think maybe a quick release trigger on some of the animal pens. Particularly those feisty birds.”

Twenty-four hours later Corrine and Katherine sat tensely in the command center watching their men prepare to go to battle. On screens the two women could glimpse the various groups moving into positions of defense. For safety, everyone who had stayed in the Lodge had been temporarily moved into the dorm section of the Barn Dome. Vernal commanded the squad protecting the access from the Lodge and had already met with his team. Zack would join the clan fighters in the Tunnels after he had given his final instructions. Lolli and more secutity were guarding the doors to the Barn Dome.

Rupert and Roderick had put up a fuss at not being able to accompany Zack and his fighters.

“No,” Zack had said quietly. “Much as I would enjoy your company everyone has an important part to play, including you two. I want you boys  in the second defense. Report to Security Spec Nigel and he will give you instructions. Lucinda, I need you to take a weapon, go down and wait with Violet and Jelli. You’re in charge of you and Violet. Report to Master Drover Brinna who is in command down there for orders.”

“Take a weapon for Violet, also,” Katherine instructed. “Juliette, Corrine and I will need you up here. Go to the armory and draw weapons for everyone here, including yourself and bring them back here. Joseph, go with her.”

“The eye of the storm is making landfall,” Joyce warned quietly. “We’ve got about twenty minutes left.”

As the group disbursed, Katherine reached for Corrine’s hand, squeezing it for comfort.

Juliette and Joseph had barely arrived back with weapons for the command center crew when Norrine, the tech monitoring the Top Side Landing Room exclaimed. “My screen’s dark!”

“They’ve found the console. I wondered if they would,” Katherine said. “Do you still have audio Norrine?”

At the woman’s nod, she instructed, “keep monitoring it. We may get some inkling as to their immediate intentions.”

“Mia,” she said to the Clanswoman who was acting as com coordinator for the entire dome area defense, “notify everyone about losing the visual on the screen in the Top Side Landing Room.”

“I can’t see how attacking us can be a part of Lewiston’s plot,” she murmured to Corrine. “She has to be doing this on her own.”

“I wonder,” Corrine said thoughtfully. “I wonder if Lewiston expected us to recognize her and refuse to give her group refuge. He could claim we violated maritime law by our refusal. It would be a lever to use against us in Parliament.”

“Lewiston has no voice in Parliament. The complaint would have to come from the DeMedicis and Donna DeMedici wouldn’t start something like that unless she was ready to go to war,” Katherine objected.

“They’ve opened the tunnel door, Mi’Ladies,” Mia informed them, diverting Katherine’s attention from Parliamentary plotting to more immediate concerns. She covered her mouth with her fist to keep from crying out as she watched Zack approach the open doorway. At least no one shot at him right away. His fighters were lined up on either side of the door so they couldn’t be seen by the rooms’ occupants.

“We’ve got an open door in the Lodge,” Joseph said. “I read ten heat signatures.”

“I’ll notify Lord Vernal,” Mia replied.

“Sorry for the delay, folks,” Zack said, attempting to look as harmless as possible. “If you’ll gather up your stuff, we’ll get you into more comfortable quarters as soon as we can.”

As he spoke, he moved slowly toward the infirmary door. The six men gathered on the other side of the room eyed him suspiciously before one of them spoke.

“Hey!” he exclaimed, “I know you. You were on Loki with the unit that saved our butts when the weasels had us pinned down. Jackson, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I was on Loki. Weren’t you with Lewiston’s unit?”

“Yeah, that’s right. I’m Thompson.” He swapped looks with the others and a decision seemed to pass between them. “This here wasn’t our idea, sir. When we took service with the DeMedici’s we thought we were mustering out and becoming civilians. Then we hear Lewiston’s taking over and suddenly we’re back in service again, only there’s no uniforms and we’re attacking civilians. We don’t like it. Do you know what’s going on, sir?”

“Yeah, I do soldier. If you six will give me your word not to take any further action, I will explain it to you.”

They swapped looks again. “You’ve got it sir,” Thompson, who seemed to have made himself spokesman, replied.

Zack nodded. “Okay, give me a minute.” At the other’s nod, he spoke into his com. “Stand down guys, we’re okay here. You can come in and move out the fishers in the infirmary.” He touched his com again. “Katherine, Vernal, we have a truce here, but it’s only for these six. I have to settle a few things here, and then I’ll join Vernal. In the meantime, tell Cora to get beds ready for some of the injured fishers.”

“Okay. Stay safe, love,” she responded. His com beeped Vernal’s acknowledgement.

Zack turned to the waiting ex-soldiers. “Well boys you were right to suspect a rat in the woodpile. First, the DeMedici’s really were looking for immigrants to replace the males who were lost or sterilized during the war. I don’t know what kind of deal they offered you, but whatever it was may not be what Lewiston told you, because he has a different agenda. From what we learned, he apparently has a worldwide coup planned. I suspect it’s similar to that failed coup on Janus, just as the war ended. Michaels, our Colonel told me he suspected Lewiston was a part of that. We also discovered that Lewiston is using some kind of drug on Donna Sabina to make her compliant. When this is over, you have my word I will ask O’Teague to speak for you to your Donna.”

“What if she won’t take us back?” Thompson asked.

“Then I’ll speak for you to the O’Teague about switching clans,” Zack promised. “You understand I can’t guarantee anything, because it isn’t really my decision, but the Laird’s a reasonable woman. In the meantime though, I will have to ask you to leave your weapons behind and we must put you under guard until this is finished.”

The men exchanged looks again and then removed weapons. “Thank you, sir,” Thompson said.

In the command center, Katherine breathed a sigh of relief.

“I do like a man who can talk his way out of a fight,” Corrine said approvingly. “Now, if only Vernal can be as successful…”

“That may depend on which group Lister is in,” Katherine reminded her. “Somehow I don’t see her as being willing to give up world dominance.”

“We’ve got more heat signatures, this time on the front and back doors to the barn dome,” Mia reported. “I’ve notified Lolli and Lord Vernal.”

“Do we have any visuals yet?” Katherine asked.

“No. No audio either. They seem to have been able to jam the vid signals,” Mia reported.

Corrine nodded. “I’m afraid we will have to send out some scouts and have them report back. Mia, while we still have internal communications, notify Lord Zack, Lord Vernal, Master Drover Brinna and Security Spec Nigel that the coms will probably go down as soon as the attackers enter an area. They’ll need scouts and messengers. We will need a few messengers here too.”

“Yes, Mi’Lady,” Mia responded and began give low-voiced instructions on her com and shortly thereafter, Rupert, Roderick and two other teenagers appeared in the Command Center.

“Reporting for messenger duty ma’am,” the oldest of the girls told Mia who nodded acknowledgement.

Corrine turned to Juliette. “First Daughter Juliette,” she said. Juliette jumped and looked at her. “You will be giving instructions to our messengers. Please see they have a place to wait until we need them. You can also make sure that everyone here has food and something to drink. The robochef is over there,” she said pointing to the back wall.

Zack saw to the disposal of the six DeMedici solders before touching bases with Vernal, who reported that before they lost touch in the Lodge, he heard two of the traps set in the doorways go off.  Since the net traps were designed to be non-lethal, there was no way to know if those they had caught had been released when their comrades had entered behind them.

“Whatever group Lister is in probably won’t stand down,” Zack told Vernal grimly. “She seemed to be high up in Lewiston’s plans, but maybe the others will. Take no chances though. If you have to shoot, use deadly force. We’ve got heat signatures at the other doorways in this dome, so I’ll be handling the other side. We’ll coordinate through Katherine in Command since she’s in the central position. Remember, the only easy day was yesterday,” they repeated together.

Darla Lister had instigated a quick but through search of the Lodge, which to her surprise had turned up no people but had sprung several of Vernal’s traps.  However, they had discovered the three tunnels to the Barn Dome. “Bitch must be over there,” she muttered to herself, before splitting up her team into three groups. After rescuing the four men who had as she told them ‘been stupid enough to fall into a trap’, she elected to take one of the end tunnels herself.

Unfortunately, the tunnel Lister chose opened out onto the lowest level. She was in no mood to admire the beautiful warm lake with its blue sand beach.  To her disgust one of her ex-solders tripped a net trap as they exited the tunnel. Lister left her hanging there in the net to cut herself free. She headed for the screened door leading up a lighted stairway. The pressure plate that triggered the net trap also unlocked the Ostamu pen and a loud bang startled the birds into charging into the area where they attacked anything that got in the way. Two of Lister’s men were taken out of the fight by the birds’ talons and beaks. A third only saved himself by running back into the tunnel toward the Lodge. The one she left in the net wisely decided not to free herself.

Not wanting to draw attention to herself, Lister slashed out with her knife cutting off the heads on a couple of too-aggressive birds causing them to run all over with blood spurting from their necks. While this was distracting the other birds and the Drovers, she slipped over to the wall behind the pens where she hid in the shadows. From her vantage point, she could see a lighted doorway leading up to the next level. As she watched, the Master Drover and her crew drove the angry birds away from the base of the stairs and the wounded attackers and took the woman caught in the net prisoner.

“Is this all of them?” she asked.

“Brinna, I think I saw one of them running back down the tunnel,” a boy about sixteen told her.

“Well, tie up these guys and lock them in the veterinary compound. Joel, I need you to run upstairs and report our catch. Be careful, there may be more bad guys on that floor too. This isn’t the only access tunnel.”

Lister smiled to herself as she watched the young messenger key in the code to unlock the gate before heading up the stairs to report.

Once the fierce birds had calmed down they ignored the dead birds and wandered around their new space. Brinna ordered a couple of her crew to keep an eye on the live ones, clean up the dead birds, and sent most of the rest to search for any escapees. She left one boy to keep an eye on the tunnel.

The guard securing the tunnel access could also see the door to the upper level. Lister waited until everyone else had left before slipping around behind him. Lister had been a trained recon soldier during the war. The young guard was alternately watching the tunnel mouth and the birdsdidn’t hear her behind him until her knife drove into his back, piercing his heart. She hauled him back into the tunnel mouth and casually cleaned it on his clothes before shoving it back into the sheath.

Peering around the door, she could hear the noise of fighting on the floor above her. Silently she coded the gate to open and slipped up the stairs. Luck was with her. Only one man was guarding the top entrance, and he was looking off towards where the noise of the fight was coming from. Like the man below, he never knew Lister was near until she stabbed him.

Vernal was exchanging pulse blasts with the invaders pinned down in the tunnel entrance. Briefly, Lister debated helping out the attackers by taking a shot at Vernal’s crew from the rear, but changed her mind. She had her own reasons for leading this raid and she had convinced Lewiston the primary purpose of this raid was to take out Katherine and Corrine. What he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him; he didn’t need to know she also wanted Juliette. Murdering the child would look bad with the other clans, but it was necessary. With Katherine and Corrine gone, the rest of the clan would have no clear leader on the Island. They should surrender and then Lewiston would have a base to from which to attack Glass City. Then they would have two clans under their sway.

Upstairs in the command room, Katherine reminded herself not to show outwardly how tense she was. She repeated the mantra silently ‘A good leader must seem calm and in control or her fear could infect her people’. She looked over at Juliette, who met her eyes and gave her a tight smile, as she made sure that everyone had food and drinks. Katherine nodded back at her and turned back to the screens.

“Hey,” Joseph exclaimed, “we’ve got visual back in the Lodge. Look there’s someone coming back down the tunnel from the Animal pens.”

“Not one of us,” Corrine said after taking a look. “We need to warn Brinna and the others. Juliette how many messengers do we have left?”

“We have three—and me,” she replied. “Uncle Vernal is closest. If I take the one to him, the others can go to Papa, Brinna and Lolli since they know the barn better.”

Katherine frowned. She would have to let her go. Juliette had cleverly cut off her objection about not being familiar enough with the Barn to sneak around.

“All right, but take this with you along with your Force Wand.” Katherine pulled a short knife out of her boot and showed her how to attach the sheath to her belt. Juliette nodded and slipped down the stairs with the other messengers.

“You have to let her go, Katherine,” Corrine commiserated. “I know it’s hard but she can handle it.”

“How did you do it? You didn’t have you to say it was time to let go.”

“Sometimes I didn’t,” Corrine retorted, “when I should have, I suppose. You will too.”

Suddenly all the screens came back to life, and a cheer went up from those watching them. “Somebody’s found the jammer!” cried Mia and everyone’s attention became riveted on the various battles going on.

Lolli and Zack were trussing up the attackers that had  come in at the ground level barn entrances. Vernal and his group were chasing the invaders back down the tunnel to the Lodge.

Katherine was watching Juliette move toward the tunnel after Vernal when she unexpectedly spotted the dead guard by the door to the living quarters and watched in horror as a shadow flitted after Juliette.

“It’s Lister!” she said. “She’s going for Juliette! Corrine I’m going down. She’s tried twice before. I told her there wouldn’t be a third time.”

“Katherine!” Corrine called, tossing her own knife to her. “Take her down girl.”

By the time Katherine reached the tunnel, both Lister and Juliette had disappeared. She forced herself to take a deep breath to calm down, and sent her third eye outward. There! She could feel both of them ahead of her. Juliette’s anger and fear and Lister’s hate and contempt as they faced each other were clear.

Katherine came around a corner and saw them exactly as her third eye had shown her.

“You think you can take me?” Lister gloated at the child. “I will enjoy cutting your throat, kid. You’re history.”

“No, she isn’t,” Katherine said from behind her. “But you are. I warned you there would be no third time. Stand away from my daughter and face me.”

Slowly Lister turned to face her. “You? You’re nothing but a soft piece of tail. I’ll cut you to ribbons,” she said, drawing her knife.

“Juliette,” Katherine didn’t take her eyes off Lister, “go down the tunnel to Vernal and stay with him.”

Juliette hesitated and Katherine said firmly, “Go Daughter.”

She calmly drew her own knife and waited for Lister to come to her. Something in Katherine’s expression caused Lister to hesitate, and then she laughed and lunged at Katherine, taking a wide swipe with her knife.

The air from the swipe whooshed as Katherine jumped back, slashing out with her own blade. She caught Lister’s knife on the backswing with her own, sparking steel as the knife-edges met.

Both women kicked out hoping to knock the other off her feet. Lister dodged and Katherine caught her with a glancing blow on her calf, but took a full kick to her thigh. It hurt, but she struck out with her left fist hitting Lister hard enough in the stomach to make her gasp.

While bent over from the blow, Lister still lunged wildly and cut a gash in Katherine’s upper thigh.

Knowing she would soon be over-matched by the woman’s combat training, Katherine stepped inside Lister’s reach, and thrust up with her knife into the other woman’s body. Blood spurted as she pulled the knife out when stepped back and looked into Lister’s surprised eyes.

Lister looked down at the blood in astonishment and then at Katherine. “You killed me, you bitch,” she said as she sank to the ground.

Katherine stood over her watching her die. “I told you there would be no third time. You should have listened.”

“Mother you’re bleeding!” cried Juliette, the knife Katherine had given her clutched in her hand ready for use. She had disobeyed her and not gone down the tunnel to safety.

Katherine slid down the wall and looked up at her anxious daughter. “I’m afraid so, sweetie. Since you already have your knife out, cut a piece of my sleeve…”

“Unnecessary,” said Zack, having run down the tunnel in time to see Katherine sink down. “I’ve got a medic field pack here. Katherine, I swear, if you ever risk your neck like that again, I’ll—”

“Don’t let her die,” whispered Juliette.

“Oh, honey I won’t die—Oww!” Katherine gasped. She sucked in a deep breath as Zack sprayed the wound with disinfectant and then used the flesh sealer. Despite his angry tone, his hands were gentle as he finished bandaging the long slash on her leg and went to work on her arm.

As soon as he finished, he grabbed her in a bone-crushing hug. Katherine extended her uninjured arm to Juliette and pulled her into the embrace.

Coming back down the tunnel with his prisoners, Vernal found the three of them sitting next to Lister’s body holding each other.