Tag Archives: fiction

Fantasy Focus: Her Dangerous Visions by Brandon Barr

Today, I’d like to tell you about the first book in the Song of the Worlds Saga by Brandon Barr:

Her Dangerous Visions

A fast-paced fantasy epic that stretches beyond the stars. Two women, two worlds, one epic destiny…

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On the world of Hearth, Nightmares crawl out of the East to devour entire villages. A fire-blooded heiress named Meluscia seeks to destroy the threat plaguing her lands and become Luminess of the Blue Mountain Realm. Though she desires the throne, her heart is divided. Forbidden intimacy tempts her at every corner. With life in a state of chaos, she soon realizes that the hard choices before her will determine the fate of her world. Can she save her kingdom, or will all of Hearth be brought to its knees at the feet of a primordial Beast?

On the world of Loam, an ancient evil threatens to conquer the portals that exist on every world, and only a young farm woman named Winter is given the power to destroy it. Gifted as a Seer by the gods and tasked with a deadly mission beyond her world, Winter must first escape the cruel farmland she was raised on, even if it could spell death for those she loves.

Heart-pounding action, with rich, unforgettable characters—Song of the Worlds is the dramatic new fantasy saga for fans of Anne McCaffrey and Brandon Sanderson. Begin the powerful new series today!

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Her Dangerous Visions is available on AMAZON US and AMAZON UK

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But you can get a taste for the series by downloading a FREE copy of the Prequel, Ella Dethroned, on Instafreebie.

 Here’s a short teaser:

Ella, the former ruler of the Blue Mountain Realm, must evade her pursuers and fulfil a mission given her by the gods.

But the relentless enemies at her back are not the only threat. An evil from beyond her world stalks her, for she carries a strange, otherworldly device, the purpose of which she does not know.

Her only aid is her sharp intelligence . . . that, and a devoted soldier named Rathan, who has sworn to protect her.

***

All the books in the Series are available through Brandon’s author page.

 Song of the Worlds Saga
Book 1 – Her Dangerous Visions
Book 2 – The Bridge Beyond Her World
Book 3 – Her Father’s Fugitive Throne

And the FREE Prequel – Ella Dethroned 

If you’d like to learn more about Brandon and his books, check out his WEBSITE and YOUTUBE CHANNEL

You can also connect with Brandon on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

Happy Reading 🙂

 

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Fantasy Focus: Sherlock Holmes: Trail of Darkness by John Pirillo

John Pirillo and his book Trail of Darkness is today’s fantasy focus. But before we learn about the book, lets learn a little bit about John first.

What inspired you to become an author?

I would have to say what inspired me was my parents. They used to read to me on their laps and they instilled a great joy in words which has never left me.

As I grew up I read pretty much every book I could get my hands on. It didn’t matter if it was science fiction, fantasy, mystery, biographies, anything!

I used to spend every moment I could reading, absorbing all those wonderful stories and ideas. Finally, when the Russians shot Sputnik into orbit, I wrote my first science fiction story. My first story ever.

I didn’t have a wonderful experience as a writer in High School, however, my English teacher was very jealous of my writing skills at the time and flunked me over and over, no matter how hard I worked on my writing. Just me!

Years later in college I met a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Molly Irwin, who encouraged me to write. I wrote poetry and plays at the time. She told me, “Write from you heart and don’t edit it. Write what you feel!”

I never thought I’d make a career of writing so even though I continued to write for years after that, it wasn’t until the last few years that I realized I was putting off something that was dear to my heart.

It’s like falling in love with someone and then pushing them away because you don’t think you’re worthy enough to be with them. (I’ve done that too unfortunately.)

So since that ignition point I’ve turned my attention to writing every free moment I have.

I hope that gives you some idea of why I became an author, though I suspect it would take hundreds of pages and experiences to understand it in depth. 🙂

What was the worst day in your writing career?

A very good friend of mine in college named Mel was a fantastic writer. He ran a splendid little theater in Folsom, California and he read my one act play, “Shelter.”

He loved it.

It was very unique for its time and would have been groundbreaking if produced as he had intended to do.

It never got done. He passed away in the process of doing it with me.

I never tried to go further with it. And it hurt my heart a long time to lose that good man and his deep care and friendship.

What was the best day in your writing career?

When I began writing again, feeling that glow of love that suffuses your body and emotions when you do something you care deeply about.

***

Trail of Darkness brighterTrail of Darkness (Peril of the Dark Master Book 1)

A high court official is struck down in the Queen’s office. A Midnight Angel is found horribly mutilated.

Holmes and Watson are asked by the Queen to investigate the series of horrible crimes which just might be rituals of dark magic that are part of a much larger scheme against the government.

 ***

Trail of Darkness is FREE today on AMAZON US and AMAZON UK

John’s WEBSITE is currently blogging a Sherlock Holmes novel with guests Alexander Dumas and Jules Verne in the current adventure story: Case of the Ancient Artifact.

 ***

 

If you’d like to learn more about John, check out his WEBSITE and his other BOOKS.

 

 

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Fantasy Focus: A Glimmer of Destiny by Spencer Pierson

Today, the spotlight is on Spencer Pierson and his book, A Glimmer of Destiny.

Take it away, Spencer.

It has been a fantastic two months since my first novel has been published. I am on track for book 2 of the Glimmer Steel Saga to be released in September, which I sincerely hope many of you will be looking forward to.

I grew up as an army brat for twenty years and lived in such auspicious places as Japan and the middle of Oklahoma. When I finally moved out, I was living in Hawaii which is a beautiful place filled with friendly spirits. Who can argue with wearing shorts and T-shirts every day? Apparently, I was, since I then moved to Portland, Oregon in 1996. The trees and green were just calling to me, and a friendly, laid-back city is where I naturally find my place. I couldn’t just do things normally, and was heavily involved in the SCA which is a friendly, medieval recreation society where you can pummel your best friends with heavy sticks while wearing armor. Much fun! It is good for sword fighting scenes, as well. Not that Aiden, the star of my current series, IS a fighter yet, but eventually he will get frisky enough.

I am also a single dad, just entering the twilight of my parenthood with one child out on her own, and another at seventeen. Let me tell you, it is an accomplishment and honor to have raised them.

I am also of the school of thought that getting your book out within 3 months is not only do-able, but also slow. If someone ever tells you 1000 words a month is ok, they are lying to you. Push the publish button! You can do it. Enjoy!

What inspired you to become an author?A Deadly Power that could Destroy his World.

Truthfully, I’ve wanted to be an author for many years but have never had the gumption and knowledge to pull it off. Late last year, I had come to a decision point in my life that required me to take a leap of faith.  I also ran into an old friend who had done a considerable amount of research into self-publishing.  I published my first two short stories on my birthday in November.  Now, I am happily writing Fantasy and Sci-Fi, telling stories, and watching people smile.

What was the worst day in your writing career?

The day one of my beta readers told me that I wasn’t a writer yet. They said they could not even get through the first chapter. That was hard. It took me about three or four days to recover. Once I did, I examined some of her feedback and used it in a positive way. It also helped that other beta readers had gone through the book fast and loved it, but that was a hard critique to take.

What was the best day in your writing career?

Pushing the publishing button for the first time. That was a good day.

In your latest book, what was your favorite scene?

In my second book, my favorite scene comes toward the end. One of the protagonists’ companions defeats someone who has been terrible to him throughout his life, and then the girl he’s falling in love with saves him from a side attack, and they kiss.

Tell me what you love to hate about your antagonist?

He’s conflicted. He wants to be defeated, but cannot bring himself to give up. His clothes are also some sort of creature that moves by itself.  Fun.

Why do you love fantasy/sci-fi?

I love Sci-Fi because of its sense of wonder and hope for the future. There is also a love the ideas of technology and how they can be integrated into our lives. My favorite worlds are those with many species and races getting to know one another and either getting along of duking it out.

What are you currently reading?

A Path in the Darkness” by Michael Cooper.

***

A Glimmer of Destiny, (Book 1 of the Glimmer Steel Saga)

5 (2)How can one moment in a young man’s life become the turning point between doom and deliverance for an entire world?

Aiden Finn is an orphan, comfortable in his quiet life working at the School of Breen when everything is turned upside down by a casual bet between two young nobles. One that cause him to use the forbidden Glimmer Stones which create constructs of physical light, and by law only nobles are allowed to touch.

Threatened with death by duchy law and evil forces intent on capturing him and his dark secret, Aiden is forced to learn how to control this emerging power to save all that he holds dear. However, will that which saves him also be his world’s downfall? The dreaded Mourning Lords, beings that came from the dawn of the Cataclysm four thousand years earlier once more walk the land, searching for an answer to their torment. Will Aiden learn how to become a master of Glimmer Steel or will the mystery of the Cataclysm and the destruction of technology drown him as surely as it nearly cracked the world in half?

***

A Glimmer of Destiny is available on AMAZON US and AMAZON UK
A Glimmer of Truth, Book 2 of the Glimmer Stone Saga will be available in September 2016. (Chapter 1 of book 2 is included as a sneak peek!) UPDATE: A GLIMMER OF TRUTH IS NOW AVAILABLE!
A Glimmer of War, Book 3 of the Glimmer Stone Saga will be available January 2017.

If you’d like to learn more about Spencer and his books, please sign up to his NEWSLETTER and check out his AMAZON PAGE.

Happy Reading 🙂

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Fantasy Focus: Heart of the Raven by Joleene Naylor

Today we are honoured to have Joleene Naylor, author of The Amaranthine vampire series, with us to talk about her book:

Heart of the Raven

An epic quest, an evil master and…vampires? Join Jorick and Katelina as they fight to keep a powerful relic from falling into the wrong hands – a relic said to hold enough power to destroy the world.

Though Heart of the Raven is part of a series, it can be read as a standalone and begins the three book Heart of the Raven story arc.

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“I’m not a fan of vampire stories. Being an author of fantasy novels, that type of work never held a great deal of interest for me. Then, I was given a copy of Amaranthine #5, Heart of the Raven and I was hooked. Without doubt, Joleene Naylor is a skilled writer. To put it simply, I loved this book. It’s interesting, moves well, and holds your attention through each and every page. Regardless of which genre you enjoy, a good read is always the goal, and ‘Raven’ certainly hits the mark.”

  – Mark Matthews, author of The Calling (Chronicles of the Careen)

An excerpt:

Malick passed through the fighting vampires. His gait was so smooth that he seemed to float rather then walk. Jorick stepped backwards, forcing Katelina to do the same. Wills battled for dominance in her mind and her legs couldn’t
decide whether to lock in place or run. The ensuing war made her limbs twitch and she screamed with a mixture of confusion, frustration and terror.

5 - hor teaser - malickMalick drew to a stop and laughed. The struggle in Katelina’s mind ended and she stumbled backwards. Unbelievably, the elevator chimed, and she looked to see the doors slide open. For a moment she could see a short vampire standing inside the plush red compartment, and then it was gone.

The short vampiress was suddenly standing before Malick. She wore a loose flowing dress of blue and her long silver hair flowed down her back. Like a china doll, her face showed no age and no expression, but her cerulean eyes burned with anger.

Katelina clutched Jorick, too terrified to move. Those eyes were seared forever in her memory; it was the woman from the True Council.

The Scharfrichter seemed to realize it too, and the fighting ceased. Even the living, but prostrate vampires stopped moaning and lay still, as if mesmerized.

“So my presence is enough to rouse you?” Malick asked the vampiress. “I’m touched.”

The vampiress’ voice rang through the room, like crashing waves and summer bird song mixed together. “You are not welcome here.”

Malick drew himself up. The air crackled and Katelina’s chest tightened until she could barely breathe. When he spoke, his voice boomed, and it was only fear that stopped Katelina from covering her ears. “How unfortunate. I had hoped that you, most of all, would understand.”

“Understand what? That you have thrown aside your duties for your own selfish ends? Ishkur was right, you should never have been given power.”

“You’re using the old names again.” Malick’s smile grew. “Do you still find comfort in them?”

“Leave now and do no more harm.”

Malick laughed. “You have not warmed since our last meeting, Inanna. It’s no wonder. To hide in the earth while others live. It is nothing more than waking death. How can you be any warmer than the dead?” He stepped forward, his eyes alight. “Join me and be what you once were. Do you remember so many millennia ago when men sang your name? It could be that way again! There’s no need for us to hide, we could be gods!”

“You were never a god, only a greedy child. Those days are gone, as are those people. Modern man does not welcome gods, but topples them. Go now and repent in quiet, before it is too late for you.”

Malick studied the diminutive vampiress. Their eyes met as if in silent conversation, and finally he broke away. “A pity. However, it is not you I seek, or even your brothers.” He looked to Jorick. “I will take it now.”

“Take what?” Jorick asked stiffly.

“Come now. You can shield some thoughts, but not all. Where have you hidden it? Is it with your first?” Jorick flinched and Malick nodded. “So it is. Thank you, my son. I will give her your greetings.”

He turned on his heel and snapped his fingers. Griselda grabbed her gun and swung it over her shoulder, then bounded up the steps after her retreating master, Greneth and Senya on her heels.

The Scharfrichter started forward, but Inanna stopped them with a gesture and perhaps a silent command. They turned to her, their faces open questions. Instead of answering, the ancient vampiress turned away. Katelina had a single, burning look at Inanna’s perfect face before the vampiress disappeared. The elevator doors slid suddenly open and closed and she was gone.

***

Heart of the Raven is available through the following outlets:

AMAZON US     AMAZON UK     B&N NOOKBook     KOBO     SMASHWORDS     ITUNES

***

Joleene Naylor is the author of the glitter-less Amaranthine vampire series, a world where vampires aren’t for children. As a compliment to the novel series, she has also written several short stories, including the Vampire Morsels collection.

What inspired you to become an author?

My mother was a writer and poet, so it never occurred to me not to write. Publishing, on the other hand, was something I was scared to do, but two friends encouraged me, and their faith in my writing gave me the courage to take the plunge.

Why do you love fantasy/sci-fi?

I love magic, romance, and a good battle – and it’s even better when there are elves, fairies, or even vampires involved. A Fantasy or Sci-Fi universe is the creation of the author, and so as we are discovering the characters and the story, we’re also discovering the world and the history, while in contemporary books there’s only the characters to learn. We already know how the real world works.

What are you currently reading?

Reborn City by Rami Ungar. A mix of contemporary and fantasy set in a bleak future, it’s a great read!

*Joleene also tells me that she has five cats, yes five, and I thought I was bad with three!

If you’d like to learn even more about Jolenne and her books, please check out her WEBSITE and FACEBOOK PAGE.  You can also follow Joleene on TWITTER, GOODREADS, PINTEREST, GOOGLE+, WATTPAD, AUTHORGRAPH, and on her AMAZON PAGE.

 

Happy Reading 🙂

 

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H.J. Lawson Giveaway

The very talented H.J. Lawson is offering a FREE giveaway of her new paranormal romance New Order.

PLUS the chance to WIN a KINDLE FIRE!

New Order is the first book in the Hidden Vampire Slayers series.

They were born to fight. Created to win. But the question remains… Who’s the real enemy? When Sadie heads out for the night, she hardly expects to witness a murder– much less a murder committed by a dangerous vampire with a thirst for vengeance and destruction. Within a few hours, Sadie and her boyfriend Aaron are pulled into a violent vampire world. Searching for a way to survive, they know they must fight, but this might be a battle they just can’t win.

Check out this fantastic deal, amongst other amazing freebies and Kindle Unlimited offers. PLUS THE CHANCE TO WIN A KINDLE FIRE HERE!

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FREE BOOKS!

Everybody loves a free book, right? So today, I have put together a list of awesome free reads you can pick up on #InstaFreebie.

Just click on the cover to check them out, and grab whichever takes your fancy.

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A Matter of Death – excerpt

This week I have decided to give you a sneak preview of A Matter of Death, a short story available by joining my mailing list here.

***

I kicked off my boots and stumbled to the bed, falling face down in a heap on top of the covers. My feet hurt, my head hurt, and my hair was so desperately in need of a wash, my scalp itched.

Mumbling to myself, I considered the distance from the bedroom to the bathroom and the effort required to drag myself through the house and remove my clothes to have a shower.

A slight weight joined me on the bed and a rumble sounded in my ears before Nibbler gave me an affectionate head-butt. ‘You stink of cat food,’ I said before returning the kiss.

‘You, my dear, also do not seem your fresh, cleanly self,’ Dylan said from the corner. ‘Might one suggest a shower?’

Sure, having a friendly neighbourhood ghost pop by was pleasant enough when you’re in the mood for some company and a chat, but not when you’re shattered after a hard night shift, and not when said ghost is being overly critical.

‘No one might not,’ I said, and threw a pillow in his direction. A useless act of defiance when all it did was pass through him and knock over a bottle of hand cream on my dressing table. I flopped back down on the bed and closed my eyes. ‘Besides,’ I said, ‘what do you care? Ghosts have no sense of smell.’

‘This is indeed true. However, one can see the noxious fumes coming off you and it does not require a sense of smell to know that you stink.’

Charming. The cat climbed on my back and nuzzled my hair. ‘If it doesn’t bother Nibbler,’ I said, enjoying his reassuring weight, ‘it doesn’t bother me.’

With that statement, the turncoat cat spluttered on my head, jumped onto the floor and proceeded to have a mild coughing fit.

‘Okay, okay,’ I said and pushed myself off the bed. ‘You win already. I’ll take a shower. But after that, Dylan, you can explain what the hell you’re doing in my house at five in the morning.’

The warm shower washed away the aches and pains in my body and soothed my headache. It’s a miracle how great a clean head of hair can make you feel. To make things even better, as I trundled down the stairs, the fresh scent of coffee enveloped my senses.

Opening the kitchen door, I dropped my head towel on a stool, took a seat on the neighbouring chair, and thanked my lucky stars that Dylan was an old ghost who’d mastered the art of physical manipulation. One of the reasons Nibbler got on so well with him, I was sure. Like I didn’t notice his dwindling treats and expanding girth.

Dylan handed me my hot beverage and opened the fridge. His insubstantial form flickered in the light. For once, groceries lined the shelves, as the supermarket had delivered my bi-weekly shopping the day before. ‘Would you care for some eggs?’ Dylan asked. ‘It would be a matter of moments to whip you up an omelette.’

Not that it wasn’t tempting, Dylan made the best omelettes, always light and fluffy, but I declined and asked him the reason for his visit.

‘I see you are tired. It is of no great urgency.’

Now that was a lie and we both knew it. After five years of living in this three-bed semi and being visited by Dylan, I liked to think we were buddies, even if he was dead, and it was clear something was on his mind. Plus my spidey senses were tingling and sure as hell, anything that bothers a two-hundred year old ghost was bad news for me.

I took a sip of the bitter coffee, savoured the swift injection of caffeine to my brain, and gave Dylan a look that said, ‘Oh, please!’

He closed the fridge and perched his ghostly form on the stool opposite mine. Although downcast, his pale face spoke volumes, but still he seemed reluctant to talk.

I took a long drink from my mug and then placed it on the counter. ‘That bad?’ I asked.

‘One might say, a matter of life or death, if not for the fact the dear lady is already one of the departed.’

‘Lady? So we’re talking about another ghost here.’

When he looked at me, he pushed his shoulders back, adjusted the lapels on his dress waistcoat, and straightened out an imaginary crease in his pantaloons. ‘Elizabeth,’ he said after a moment. ‘She’s in trouble. We met last night and she was most distressed. Her spirit was being drawn to the remains of her body. I stayed with her as long as I could, but, alas, fear of being bound forced me to abandon her.’

‘It wasn’t your fault,’ I said, now understanding Dylan’s reluctance. He was a man of honour and would judge himself harshly for leaving a woman in need.

‘I am a coward. I should have stayed with her to the last. No matter the personal cost.’

‘And where would that have got you? No, Dylan. If you had stayed, you could have been bound, and whatever trouble you think Elizabeth is in, you would be in too.’ I downed the remains of my coffee. Sleep would have to wait.

***

Don’t forget the full story is available for free is you join my mailing list (you can unsubscribe at any time)

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The Knock

After a couple of weeks of some longer fiction, I am posting a much shorter piece for you this week, and at under 500 words, I think it may be the shortest yet. Although, I hope you still enjoy The Knock.

***

Every night there is a knock at the door. I stand up and answer it to find that no-one is there. A wisp of smoke dances in the moonlight, and the faint sound of my name echoes in the wind. I sigh and close the door.

As a spirit, Pete likes to remind me that he is always out there, always watching. Just as he was in life.

Over a year and a half has passed since I last saw him alive. We made love on the sofa. Pete ate a tuna melt Panini, and decided that we should go out for the night, have a game of pool, a couple of beers. But I was tired and in no mood to socialise. ‘You go,’ I said. ‘I’ll have a nice soak in the tub and an early night.’

At first he refused, not wanting to leave me alone, but I insisted. Why should he miss out because I was tired?

The first knock on the door came two hours later. I didn’t even know he was dead at the time. I rushed downstairs and opened the door to find nothing. I can’t say if I saw the mist that night. Only after a week did I understand the significance of the fog, its connection to Pete. But I heard my name. I called out into the darkness and told Pete to stop messing around, before slamming the door and going back to bed.

Come the next morning, Pete hadn’t arrived home. Even then I wasn’t worried. I put the kettle on for a cup of tea, put some bread in the toaster and made my way to work. I should have thought more about his absence, should have tried to check up on him, but my morning was worry free. Until, I passed the pick-up overturned in the stream.

I jumped out my car and into the water, not registering the biting cold. The window of the pick-up was smashed and through the gaping hole, I saw Pete, upside down and pinned in his chair by the seat belt.

I consider moving now and then, but I figure Pete will find me wherever I go. It’s not as though he hurts me. A knock and a call, just enough for me to know that he’s still around, still watching. Pete junior turns one next week. Perhaps, we will open the door together. Perhaps, Pete will see his son and know I am not alone, that it is safe for him to move on. Or perhaps, he will stay watching over us forever.

 

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Least Respected

Another short story this week. This one is called Least Respected.

***

‘That’s Lucy. Lucy Willows.’ I shiver in the cold air of the morgue: it smells like lemon, antiseptic, and whatever disinfectant they use to mask the scent of sickness and death. But it’s in the space around me, carried along with the incessant hiss of the ventilation system.

That’s all this backwater planet brings: death.

White walls surround me. Seventeen years ago, I stood in this claustrophobic room as a distraught young girl of six, newly arrived on Entusha. A morgue attendant stood beside me as I watched my parents’ bodies file past. ‘Come along, Isabella,’ she said leading me through another door. ‘You shouldn’t be here.’ She scanned the hallway and gnawed on her fingers. ‘Where is that damn social worker?’

Funny how I remember the slobber of her chewing her fingernails more than anything else about that day.

The room seemed much larger then, I guess everything seems bigger when you’re a child. But now it feels too small for the four of us: me, Detective Byron Abene, the morgue attendant, and Lucy.

Tears form in my eyes as I stare at my friend lying outstretched on the table. A white sheet is drawn back, exposing her from the shoulders up. Long blonde hair falls flat around her head. Her face – serene and beautiful in life – looks swollen and unsettled in death, as though her parting had been anything but easy.

‘What happened?’ I say forcing the words out.

‘I’m sorry, Miss Grace.’ Detective Abene places his hand on my arm. Although the words appear automatic, something in his tone makes me feel as though a part of him cares. ‘You’re registered as her next of kin, but I need to know if there is anyone else we should contact, Miss…’

‘Please, call me Isabella.’ I wipe away my tears and attempt a smile, but the lump forming in my throat prevents it. ‘No. There’s no one else.’

‘No family to notify? No boyfriend?’ It sounds like an accusation, as though Lucy and I are to blame for being orphans.

‘As I said, there’s no one. I’m sure the records show that her mother died when she was five, and there was no father to speak of.’

‘When did you last see her?’

‘Last night, we were at Club Tusa together.’

‘Where you work as prostitutes?’

I close my eyes and shut out his question. Any notion I have that he might care leaves me. Lucy wasn’t some common prostitute. She was Earthborn. She deserves better than some jumped up Entushian Detective judging the way she lives – lived her life.

‘Was she working?’ he says again. The air of entitlement and money clings to him like his over-expensive woollen suit. Not a natural find on Entusha. Hell, the import tax alone on a suit like that would pay for my fare home to Earth. No wonder he made Detective so young. A rich kid playing at being a cop.

‘There were a few men she talked to. None I thought she’d go home with.’ I shake my head. ‘She left after only a short while to meet someone. Ron, Ronnie, maybe. But I didn’t get the sense it was work related.’ I remember the grin on her face, the sparkle in her eyes when she told me she’d see me tomorrow. ‘She was happy.’

‘Did she tell you why?’

I reach beneath the sheet and clasp Lucy’s hand. ‘She was always happy. Positive. She didn’t need a reason. It was her nature.’

‘You were taking Halleam?’

The question unsettles me. It feels like another accusation. ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ The euphoriant has long since left my system. With the comedown overshadowed by the death of my friend, all that remains is the telltale dry metallic sensation within my mouth.

He pulls a record console from his pocket, scrolls through some notes on the screen before turning it to me. ‘The preliminary autopsy reveals abnormally high levels of Halleam in Miss Willows’ system. So much, that she went into cardiac arrest.’

I feel the blood drain from my face. No, this isn’t right. I look around the morgue for somewhere to sit, but find nowhere. ‘That’s impossible,’ I say. ‘I took Halleam last night, not Lucy. I offered, but she refused.’

‘She must have taken some later.’

‘She didn’t take any with me, and I don’t believe she took any later, certainly not enough to kill her.’ The thought doesn’t sit right. I look at Lucy, the most alive person I’ve ever met. ‘She would never overdose’

‘I know this is hard for you to accept, but your friend OD’d. It happens.’

‘I don’t believe that. Have you found the man she was meeting? Have you questioned him?’ I look into Detective Abene’s eyes and all I find is dismissal. ‘You’re not even going to investigate are you?’

‘Your friend OD’d. You need to accept that.’ He sighs and puts the console away. ‘Look, the truth is, no one cares about a dead prostitute.’

‘I care,’ I say as I squeeze Lucy’s lifeless hand, then place a kiss on her forehead. ‘And I intend to find the truth of what happened.’

***

Three hours later, I find myself in a shuttle on the way to Club Tusa. Night has fallen and streams of Entushians scurry about like ants in the arid dust. No moon circles the planet. No stars brighten the night sky, at least not in the city.

The constant hum of engines, the flitter of discordant lights, and the oppressive chatter of the two million colonists encased within the city limits, batter my senses. I close my eyes and remember the day I met Lucy in the orphanage.

‘Leave her alone.’ Lucy charged at the bullies who pushed me to the ground. Streaking towards them and striking out at the largest with her fist. He surged forward to retaliate, only to be restrained by the other orphans. There was no shame in terrorising someone your own age, but fighting a diminutive girl of five was a different matter.

We became inseparable.

Until now.

I was six when my parents dragged me across the galaxy to the distant planet of Entusha. Through the transport window, I managed one last look at Earth – bathed in sunlight, her perfection floated amongst the stars – a majestic blue marble swirled over with clouds.

For 21 years, 4 months and 16 days, tears lay frozen against my cheek; the soft warm pressure of my mother’s kiss caressed my forehead.

‘Sleep tight, Isabella,’ my mother said when she placed me is stasis. ‘It won’t be forever. We’ll return when the time is right.’ Those were her last words to me. All lies. The truth is, she was never going home.

I was still a little girl of six when I awoke to the sound of alarm bells ringing, emergency personnel surrounding my parent’s pods.

Mechanical failure I heard them say as they checked my vitals. Mechanical failure, two simple words and I lost everything.

But Lucy changed that. She’d taken away my loneliness. Together we could do anything. Together, we would get back to earth.

Now she’s gone, and I will never see her smiling face again. Never hear her laughter. Never tell her that she was my whole world. My home.

***

My mind returns to the present as the shuttle pulls up outside Club Tusa. Tears stream down my face in the unashamed way only a child allows — Damn, I hate feeling sorry for myself. I wipe them away and thank the driver for the courtesy of his silence with a hefty tip.

Located at the northern edge of the city, Club Tusa is built within the cavernous rock face. Crowds line the pavement waiting to get inside. Entushans with outlandish costumes and weird hair: dyed purple befitting the latest trend. A flashing neon sign bathes them in luminous pink.

After a nod to the doorman, I slip past and enter the packed club. People stand around chatting. They dance under pulsating lights. The world they know hasn’t come crashing down.

Noise bombards me, and the scent of drugs, alcohol and sweat mingle to make me nauseous as I push my way to the bar, and call to the barman. ‘Val, you seen Tex?’

‘What?’

‘Tex.’

‘In the cellar.’ He gestures to be understood over the music and points to the back of the club.

I’m not sure Val can hear me, but I wave my thanks before making my way through the throng and into the employees’ only area.

The corridor lies empty. A fluorescent light flickers through a small window in the cellar door. Rusty hinges creak in protest as I hold it open and call down the stairway into the twisted catacombs that house the cellar. Nobody answers.

‘Hello. It’s Isabella.’ Still no response.

The muted thumping of the bass thrums through the wall, and vibrates through my fingers when I grasp the banister. As I descend the concrete steps into the coldness of the cellar, the door screeches behind me then clicks shut.

Wine racks lines the maze like tunnels and cast giant shadows in the dim light. The rotten egg stink of sulphur follows me as I step along the dirt floor towards the area where the beer kegs are stored, and pumped through lines to the taps above.

A chill creeps up my spine and I find myself straining to hear even the slightest sound in the heavy air. The muffled music from above now just a distant memory. I jump at a grating, scraping sound, followed by the shuffle of feet, then reach my hand into my shoulder bag and grasp the pulse-pen within.

‘Tex. You there?’ I wonder if the pen works: renders a person unconscious. Too late to test it out now. The shuffling gets closer. A glint. The flash of a silhouette in the bottles. My grasp on the pen tightens.

‘Hell, Isabella. You scared the life out of me.’

Tall, muscle-bound and brooding, Tex epitomises crazy stalker. I retreat a step, but my hand relaxes its grip on the pulse-pen when he pulls the plugs from his ears.

‘What are you doing here?’

An excellent question. ‘I’m sorry. I did call.’ I gesture to the earplugs in his hand. ‘I guess you couldn’t hear me.’

‘Yeah. No worries. Forgot to take them out.’ For an instant we stand facing each other, then Tex purses his lips. ‘I heard about Lucy,’ he says. ‘She was a good kid.’

‘That’s why I’m here.’ I shiver in the cold air and wonder if I made the right choice to approach Tex alone. But, hell, I have my trusty pulse-pen, and it’s not as though I have anyone to come with me. ‘I figured if anyone knew anything, it would be you.’

‘What d’you mean?’ he says more than a little defensive.

‘She OD’d, Tex.’ I shake my head not believing my own words. ‘At least that’s what I’m told.’ I glance up into his eyes, but he turns away. ‘We get our Halleam from you.’

‘Hell, people can get that stuff in any bar on Entusha.’ This time he does look at me. ‘Don’t put this on me.’

‘People can, but we don’t,’ I say, ignoring the unveiled threat in his gaze. ‘We only come to you.’

‘Yeah, well, not recently. Lucy hasn’t had any in over two weeks. Said she was taking a break.’ Tex hesitates. His glance drifts around the cellar looking at the racks of wine bottles without seeing them, but then something crosses his face and he turns to me frowning. ‘OD’d. On Halleam. Are you serious? That’s damn near impossible and you know it.’

He’s right. I do know it. Lucy had to be murdered.

‘Could she…’ Tex grabs a bottle of wine and pulls the cork before taking a long swig. ‘She wouldn’t have killed herself. Would she?’

My head spins, and with nausea rising in my stomach the chemical stench of synthetic wine threatens to overwhelm me. A metallic tang floods the back of my mouth before I quench it down. ‘That’s ridiculous,’ I say, brushing down my dress and composing myself. ‘Don’t even think that. No-one loved life more than Lucy.’

‘Yeah. You’re right. I’m sorry.’ He offers me the bottle, but I turn it down with a shake of my head. ‘But OD’d. Maybe if you took a huge dose. It would have to be the purest form of Halleam, but there’s no way you could pick that up round here. No way.’

‘She was murdered, Tex. It’s the only thing that makes sense.’ I trail off hearing my own hollow voice.

Tex seems to consider my statement for a while before downing another swig of wine. ‘Have you spoken to her boyfriend?’

‘Boyfriend?’

‘Yeah, Ronnie.’

Her boyfriend. How could I have not known? I look for a place to sit but find nowhere in the labyrinth of catacombs.  As though sensing my need, Tex rounds a corner and returns a moment later with an empty cask for me to rest on.

‘Take a drink.’ He forces the bottle into my hand as I take a seat. ‘They’ll catch the guy.’

The red liquid tastes as bitter as the thoughts in my head. ‘Catch him. They’re not even looking.’

He smirks. ‘Maybe not. But we are.’

Despite myself, I return a smile, realising I’m not as alone as I thought. Funny how Tex had gone from being my prime suspect to my only ally. ‘You’ve met Ronnie? Know where we can find him?’

‘Nah. Saw the back of him once. Some rich guy in a fancy suit. Lucy said he was eyeing a position in the Governor’s office.’ He lays a hand on my shoulder. ‘I’ll ask around. Someone will know something.’

I turn to him. ‘I didn’t even know she had a boyfriend. My best friend, and I didn’t know.’

***

When I leave the club, the thought that Lucy had a boyfriend nags at my mind. How could I have been so wrapped up in my own affairs that I didn’t notice?

At my apartment, I’m about to punch the code in my lock, when an image of Lucy stumbling through the door laughing sends a rush of warmth over me. The planet goes silent to my ears, the hiss of the ventilation system stills. All I hear is Lucy’s laughter, her musical voice calling my name. Like the sun, she radiated joy and light on everyone around her.

I look along the corridor towards Lucy’s door. Always close. Always there when I needed her. She would’ve had a reason for hiding a boyfriend from me. Maybe answers lay inside.

Twenty easy steps take me to her apartment. I enter the code into the keypad and let myself in. The motion sensor lights respond to my presence as I shut the door, enclosing myself with the sweet fruity scent of Lucy’s perfume.

The room abounds with mementos: Holo-photos depicting fond memories, a battered degrading image of her mother, a globe of Earth, synthetic replications of plants that grow there. A strange tranquillity settles in the air. A stillness that awaits the energy of Lucy’s presence.

I set my bag on the breakfast counter separating the living and kitchen area, before my gaze alights on the Holo-screen terminal lying on the black cubic sofa. While the pad of my footsteps echoes the beating in my chest, I fight the feeling I’m invading Lucy’s privacy: a valued commodity when you spend your childhood sharing a room with thirty other orphans.

A deep inhaled breath calms me and I focus on the notion of Lucy’s trust. With the supplied knowledge of her key-codes and passwords, she didn’t intend to hide things from me. Well… a boyfriend, maybe, but nothing else. Did she?

Relieved at the validity of her password, I stare at the Holo-screen as it comes to life. I scroll through her search history, discard the ones relating to new feeds, show times, restaurant reviews. But then something causes me to pause: Trans-Earth. Why would Lucy be searching Trans-Earth?

Then I notice one of the pages detail the confirmation of a communication. I enter the contact details and await an answer not knowing what to expect.

‘Greetings from Trans-Earth.’ A soft female voice answers the call. ‘How may we serve your transport needs?’

‘I wonder if you could help me?’ I pace the room and worry at the tension in my voice. ‘This is Isabella Grace. I’m calling in relation to Lucy Willows.’

‘Ah. Yes, Miss Grace. I can confirm that your passage to Earth is reserved on the next shuttle, leaving in one month.’ I freeze in my tracks as she continues. ‘We have the deposit for both yourself and Miss Willows, and the balance will be due one week prior to travel. The details have been forwarded in a communication with Miss Willows.’

Overwhelmed by what I hear, I thank the woman, end the call, and adjust the Holo-screen to display Lucy’s communication logs. Sure enough, I find the documents from Trans-Earth detailing transport arrangements for both Lucy and myself. The implications of this discovery astound me: how on Earth did Lucy hope to get the money to pay the outstanding balance?

The desire to run away, to hide from all that’s happened, shakes me as one thought repeats itself over and over in my mind: She was doing this for me.

Whatever got her killed, she was doing to get me home. I’d never wanted anything more than to return to Earth, but not at this cost. Not without Lucy.

Wrapped up in my thoughts, I almost miss the communication logged with the medical centre from two weeks previous. With blurred vision, I open the link. My heart breaks as the words “Pregnancy: Positive” come into focus.

***

I’m resting on the sofa destroyed by loss when the door to the apartment opens. ‘Detective. I’m glad you’re here.’ I stand and fumble with the Holo-screen terminal in my hands. ‘Does this mean you’re investigating?’

‘Miss Grace.’ Detective Abene gives me a quick glance, then casts his eye about the room.

‘She was pregnant. Lucy was pregnant. She would never have taken Halleam knowing that.’ The words rush out.

‘Indeed,’ says Detective Abene. ‘That does, however, bring up the possibility of suicide.’

I shake my head. ‘Lucy would never kill herself.’ Scanning through the communications, I bring up the documents from Earth-Trans on the Holo-screen. ‘She booked passage to Earth. For both of us. Both of us, Detective. Why would she do that if she intended to kill herself?’ As I say the words I realise how much the idea had implanted in my head since Tex brought up the possibility. But there was no way. No way. ‘It all has to connect with her boyfriend, Ronnie. If we find him, we find the answers.’

Detectives Abene’s eyes lock on the screen. ‘How about some tea?’ he says after a moment. ‘Then we can discuss your findings.’

A wave of relief washes over me now the Detective is willing to look into Lucy’s death. I perch on the sofa as he walks into the kitchen area, opens the cupboard and removes the tea jar and two cups.

With his back to me, he turns his head towards the screen and asks, ‘Is there anything else useful on there? A communication from Ronnie perhaps?’

The log of communications flash across my vision, but nothing else stands out.

‘Here. Drink this.’ Detective Abene hands me the cup and sits across from me on the other side of the coffee table.

‘Thank you.’ I take a long sip, surprised at the sweetness, but enjoy the scent of honey and the warmth it brings me. ‘There must be some way to trace Ronnie? Private calls, not logged here. Witnesses that saw them together.’

‘Indeed,’ he says again. ‘The case is officially closed, but maybe with my new position in the Governor’s office, I can pull some strings to get it re-opened.’

The Governor’s office. Tex mentioned the possibility of Ronnie working there. I stare into his eyes as he takes a drink from his cup.

As I take another sip from mine, I realise his lack of hesitation. He went straight to the tea and cups, didn’t ask, didn’t open any of the other five cupboards, went straight to their location.

With a smirk on his face, he places his tea on the coffee table and stands. As I lean forward in a move to do the same, my head snaps down – I yank it upright as my cup crashes into the table with an ear-shattering clatter.

‘Halleam,’ I say, my tongue dry and swollen. As my lips start to tremble, I realise I’ve had too much.

I stand, then feeling as though I’m looking down from a great height, I reach out to steady myself on a wall that seems to melt with my touch. For a moment I wonder where I am, then it all floods back to me in a pulsating wave. The expensive suit. His knowledge of Lucy’s apartment. Her pregnancy – why hadn’t he mentioned it?

Lucy gone…

‘Detective Byron Abene.’ The words float above my head as though whispered in another place, another time. ‘Ronnie.’

He laughs. I hear the fragmented sound and see a jester’s smile distort his face. ‘Should have left things alone,’ he says. ‘Lucy mentioned you were tenacious.’

‘You’ll never get away with this.’ I stumble around the room, edging away from his shapeless mass pursuing me like a dark cloud.

‘She wanted to marry me, you know. Thought I would because of the baby.’ While I try to focus, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a stoppered vial. ‘When that failed, she turned to blackmail. Thought I’d pay for the two of you to return home.’ He snorts and flashes a cold smile. ‘Well, at least the two of you will be together. A tragic suicide after your loss. Not that I need to make up a story, nobody cares about another dead prostitute.’

Then everything changes, the room becomes a part of who I am. The colours flare: Earth spins and blazes a magnificent blue. The replicant plants grow – their luscious green wraps me in serenity.

Then I see Lucy.

My angel. Unbound hair billows around her head in a golden halo of waves. Her love beams out at me. Shining. Glowing.

‘I care,’ she says, then places a gentle hand on my shoulder-bag and beckons me forward.

On unsteady legs, I wobble to Lucy. My fingers alight on hers, when Ronnie’s hand wrenches me backwards by my hair and flings me to the floor. The strap of my bag gets caught in the fall and pulls it to the ground with me.

I flail, claw at Ronnie. He sits on my chest. Pins me. The more I struggle, the tighter his knees press into my sides.

‘Just stay still and this will be over in no time.’ A large hand grasps my chin as he pops the cork from the vial in his other hand.

With a twist of my head, I see my bag lying to the left and inch my fingers towards it. If I can reach inside.

My fingertips alight on a metallic pen shaped object and I pray they have found what I’m looking for. Gripping with all my strength, I pull it from the bag and swing it towards Ronnie’s head.

A brief flash from the tip of the pulse-pen as it impacts. His body jerks, and Ronnie falls to the ground unconscious.

I catch the vial of Halleam before it tumbles from his grasp, and wonder at the sad tale of a heartbroken boyfriend killing himself following the tragic loss of his girlfriend, and their unborn baby.

 

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