Sign up to hear about new releases and other exciting news from Annie Bellet.

Posts Tagged ‘annie bellet’

Update and Sites Down

As some people have pointed out to me, both my website (anniebellet.com) and the Doomed Muse Press site (doomedmuse.com) are down.  I’m having a minor hosting issue and it will be fixed within the next couple weeks.  Thanks for your notifications and patience!

In other news, Avarice is published!  Here’s the cover and blurb again along with links to find it in ebook form (paperbacks and audio versions are forthcoming):

In the Free City of Pyrrh, murders and other serious crimes are investigated by the Cordonates of the Considerable Crimes Division.

Struggling with his grief over losing his last partner, the last thing Cordonate Parshan Koury wants is someone else. Zhivana Nedrogovna, his new partner, is fresh out of the City Watch and not even human, and unsure she wants to work with the broody, angry Par.

As Parshan and Zhivana rush to solve a case of mugging gone wrong that soon proves far more complex, they must learn to trust each other or this first case together might be their last.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Avarice-Considerable-Crimes-Division-ebook/dp/B00A7FPVWK/

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/avarice-annie-bellet/1113793742?ean=2940015874167

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/255028

Orycon 2012 Panel Schedule

I have my probably final but no promises panel schedule for Orycon 2012.

 

Theme
Ross Island          Fri Nov 2 2:00pm-3:00pm
What is theme?  How do you develop theme in your writing, or should you
even try?  For the sake of future graduate students studying your
brilliant prose, learn about this often-neglected aspect of
storytelling.
(*)Richard A. Lovett, Annie Bellet, Aimee C. Amodio, Wendy N.
Wagner

Writing with all your senses
Lincoln              Fri Nov 2 4:00pm-5:00pm
Writers are always reminded to write with all their senses.  But how far
should they go?  And what about altered senses?  What about characters
that are blind, or in constant pain, or have numbed senses, deafness, or
other disabilities?  Are constant reminders necessary?  What writers can
take for granted, and what they should use to enrich their writing.
(*)Annie Bellet, K.C. Ball, Adrian Phoenix

I Forgot to Get A Real Job
Roosevelt            Sat Nov 3 12:00pm-1:00pm
How to stay alive while waiting to be published
Edward Morris, (*)Nisi Shawl, Annie Bellet, Bill Johnson

How a writer’s workshop affected my life
Hamilton             Sat Nov 3 5:00pm-6:00pm
The pros and cons of attending writer’s workshops. Can attendees be
productive and have fun at the same time or it is all work and no play? Do
online workshops count?  What about workshops that break writers?
Annie Bellet, John C. Bunnell, Grá Linnaea, Edward Muller, Edd Vick

Geeks v nerds v freaks
Madison              Sun Nov 4 12:00pm-1:00pm
To which do you aspire?  What are the differences and similarities, and to
what proportion are they found?  What function (or anti-function?) do we,
er, they, serve?
Annie Bellet, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, (*)Janet Freeman, Anthony Pryor

Forthcoming

As I said before, I’m super busy catching up on all the work that fell by the wayside this last six months.

But here’s a little preview of what to expect from me (and Doomed Muse Press):

First, the Pyrrh Series.  Avarice, the first novel, will be out in October with the next three books following in 2013.  The series is basically “Law & Order” with swordfights.  Who wouldn’t love that? And check out the awesome cover by Nathie.

 

Then, in November, the first book of the Lorian Archive Trilogy will be out.  You can read the first 3rd of the novel for free (see the sidebar under Casimir Hypogean) or the finished book will be available in November.  The rest of the series will come in 2013.  The series has lovely covers done by the awesome Tom Edwards:

Worldcon Panel Schedule

To the best of my knowledge, this is my panel schedule:

Sat Sep 1 1:30:pm Sat Sep 1 3:00:pm Effective Habits For Aspiring Authors
Columbus CD A nuts-and-bolts panel discussing work habits for the aspiring professional author. How to organize, prioritize, set goals, avoid distractions, and make valuable networking connections in the industry. The panel will also discuss mistakes to avoid.
Annie Bellet Brad Aiken Brad R. Torgersen David McDonald Lillian Cauldwell

 

Sat Sep 1 4:30:pm Sat Sep 1 6:00:pm Creating Formidable Women Protagonists
Buckingham How do you portray a formidable women in fiction. How do you make sure she’s still a woman and not just a guy with different plumbing?
Annie Bellet Brenda Cooper Joan Slonczewski Karen Haber Tina Jens

A Little Update and a Lot of Cover Pr0nz

I’ve been battling some health issues as well as a loss in my family which has led to some pretty serious writer’s block in that I just haven’t been writing much. Or doing much of anything.  I’m on the road to recovering, I think.  I’m writing again, which is the best part for me.  I don’t feel good when I’m not writing.

I am having to re-order my goals for this year due to things that have come up.  Right now, I’m planning to finish the first 20 Gryphonpike novellas (so the first 4 omnibus versions, essentially, more on those in a moment) and the first four books of the Pyrrh Considerable Crimes Division series.  I’m not sure when exactly each will be posted, part of my journey toward health is not putting too much pressure on myself.  But they’ll all be up by December, that much I can promise (barring further life rolls).

Meanwhile, here is the promised cover pr0n.

First set are for the omnibus versions of the Gryphonpike Chronicles.  Each will contain five novellas.  The art for all of them was licensed from Kerem Beyit and the text done by my friend Greg.

These next two are for the Pyrrh Considerable Crimes Division novels, books 1 and 2.  The artist is custom courtesy of Nathie via Deviantart.com and the text done by my friend Greg.

There. Cover pronz. Those will be coming out this year. Now… back to the writing I go. Many pages to go in order to fill these covers with awesome stories.

Award Eligible Fiction

It’s January, so I guess that means it is time to put up a nice handy list of award-eligible fiction.  I have a bunch of fiction eligible in various categories for the Hugos plus I am in my second and final year of Campbell Award eligibility.   So here’s a list of things and the categories they are eligible for.  If you are interested in reading something for award consideration and you would like a free copy, please email me at anniembellet AT gmail DOT com or you will also find that most of my stuff is available free or inexpensively as ebooks on the web (or in paperback in the case of my novel).

Hugo Award Eligible things:

Novel Category:

Fantasy novel, published in March 2011.  Click picture to go to Amazon page for details (or check out my “read my fiction” page in the sidebar).

Novelette Category:

The Light of the Earth As Seen From Tartarus– Hard near-future SF novelette published January 2011

Delivering Yaehala– Otherworld Fantasy novelette published December 2011

Crawlies– SF short story, published in the collection The Spacer’s Blade & Other Stories, January 2011

 

Short Story Category:

Pele’s Bee-Keeper– SF short story, published in the collection Deep Black Beyond, September 2011

I, Vermin– SF short story, published in the collection The Spacer’s Blade & Other Stories, January 2011

The Spacer’s Blade– SF short story, published in the collection The Spacer’s Blade & Other Stories, January 2011

The Scent of Sunlight and River Daughter and La Última Esperanza and Roping the Mother– from the fantasy short story collection River Daughter and Other Stories, October 2011 (all four stories in this collection are eligible)

Flashover (A Remy Pigeon Story)– Paranormal Mystery, December 2011

Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft MaterialsSF story published in Mirror Shards: Volume One, August 2011

Nevermind the Bollocks– SF story published in Digital Science Fiction Issue #2, July 2011

Broken Moon– Fantasy story published in the collection Gifts in Sand and Water, May 2011

Lists– Fantasy flash fiction published in Daily Science Fiction, December 2011

Love at the Corner of Time and Space– SF flash fiction published in Daily Science Fiction, June 2011

 

That’s all of it, I think. Enjoy!


 

New E-books Published

In the last week or so I’ve put up three new e-books, so I figured they should get their own post.

The first is a fantasy novelette.  It has unicorns, chase scenes, friendship, betrayal, and did I mention the unicorns?

Description:

Exiled from her people, Alila lives alone in a canyon harvesting Frankincense resin with her twin unicorns for company. When a pregnant princess on the run from assassins disrupts her quiet world, Alila chooses to help her reach the coast.  Hounded by assassins and torn apart by distrust, Alila’s choice threatens to reveal her dark past and her terrible secret. If she and the princess survive their journey to safety.

Buy for Kindle (Or get it free via Kindle Prime Lending).

The other two stories I’ve put up are both ones that appeared in anthologies this summer.

Description:

Eking out an existence as a scavenger in post-apocalyptic Russia, Ryska never thought she would be more than a blind, discarded military experiment. Then she ends up in the middle of a kidnapping gone wrong and must use her all her skills to save herself, and the young boy who brings back painful memories of her past.

This is a science fiction short story that originally appeared in Mirror Shards: Volume One.  Get it for your Kindle, or Nook, or in Other E-book Formats.

Description:

Diarmuid long ago gave up hope of escaping his indentured servitude on the Family’s large drug-refining space station. He owed money he didn’t have, they made him an offer, and he loved breathing so he couldn’t refuse.  But when he accidentally uncovers a spy from a rival crime syndicate, everything changes. Suddenly escape looks possible and with a crazy sexbot and a paranoid Siberian on his side, what could possibly go wrong?

Nevermind the Bollocks is a short story originally published in Digital Science Fiction #2.

Get it now for your Kindle, or Nook, or in Other E-book Formats.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Holidays.  I’ll be doing my “looking back at 2011” post here soon.

November Summary

November was a bit of a mess for my writing. I tried two different starts on the novella I was working on before deciding to switch to working on The Raven King.  The bad news is that I didn’t finish anything.  The good news is that I finally found a stride in this book and it will be done shortly and likely out in January as I’d hoped.

The novellas are percolating in my head and I think I’ll be ready to make a third run at them as soon as I finish this novel.  That’s the benefit of working on multiple projects at once.  When I get stuck, I can just switch to something else and work still gets done.

All right. Here are the numbers for November.

Short stories sold to magazines: 1

Words written: 39,078

Ebooks sold: 226

My husband has been compiling my ebook sales data into spreadsheets for me and making nifty graphs. I will have a giant data-filled post for the end of the year, hopefully with visual aids and stuff.

In happy news, I just published a Remy Pigeon short story.  Ever have one of those characters who just storms into your head and won’t leave? That’s Remy for me.  I have two novels planned with him to be written in the next year or so and I’ve already written three short stories about him.  After many near misses with the magazines, I have decided to publish one of them myself.  So here is the cover for Flashover, a paranormal mystery short story.  I hope others will love Remy as much as I do.

Description: Creole gentleman Remy Pigeon has a gift, or a curse. He can touch objects and read the past from them.
He prefers to stay away from trouble, but when an attractive red-head with a serious problem and a supernatural secret wanders into his house on a hot summer day, Remy knows that trouble has just found him.

It isn’t live yet  for Nook, but it is on Kindle or all formats are available via Smashwords HERE.

I also have discovered a very cool new way to organize my writing time. I think it deserves its own post, however, so I’ll work on that this week.

Casimir Hypogean: Chapter Nine

Casimir Hypogean: Chapter Nine

(Catch up on earlier chapters here)

Chapter Nine

            A small tick in his clean-cut jaw was the only sign Amos Levich, chief of security for the Special Projects division of BioCore Pharmaceuticals, felt anything at all about the news two of his network systems security analysts had just brought him.  He scrolled through the collected data on his PUDI, willing it to make sense but mostly just getting a headache.

            “Let me see if I have this correct,” he said in careful, measured tones, “That power hub break-in caused a leak in our server security?”

            “Yes, sir.” The older of the two analysts, Michael, swallowed audibly.  Though average in height and build with a gruff, sparse appearance, Amos had a reputation for being a man no one wanted to piss off.  His job was his life, and he took security for the company very seriously.

            “Humor me, kid.  I’m an old man and slow sometimes.  How does the power going out, in a district our building isn’t in, leave an opening in our wires?”  Amos leaned back against his stark grey plastiform desk.

            The break-in had been underneath the Kajipe central station, while the main center for BioCore’s Special Projects was located in West Morrow near the Central district edge.  BioCore’s main building was also located in West Morrow.  Their systems should be closed, accessible only from within the system itself.  That was how Amos understood things from his spec manuals.  Technology of it wasn’t exactly his strong point and he was smart enough to leave the details up to the network administrators.  The two administrators in front of him were the leads of that team and supposedly the best of the best in their field.  Amos grew more skeptical by the moment as they shuffled nervously in front of him.

            “Well, sir, our system is closed, but we still have servers that have to have a hard, I mean, physical, location.  We rent a server room in the Totsi Electronics building, due to its proximity to a. . . well. . .”  The grey-haired admin swallowed again and glanced at his companion.

            “We were piggy-backing onto a government black box.  A super server, if you will, for the use of its array and private Wires.  You can only access these directly at the site of the server, so we’d hardwired our way in.”  The freckled, paunchy middle aged admin, Seth, picked up the explanation.

            “So I take it that if we can hack into this ‘black box’, someone else could also?”  Amos waved a gloved hand impatiently.

            “It shouldn’t have been possible, but with the right mix of a hard hack onsite and then a power failure causing a system reboot, yes,” Michael confirmed.  “The servers are protected in electronically locked boxes that are nearly impossible to destroy, but you can get in at the actual physical location if for example, the power fails.  The locks would then fail.  The only way to kill that power though is from the central station or a main power hub.”

            “Wouldn’t the server also shutdown? I recall something on the newswires about interruption in certain Wires and feeds last night,” Amos said.

            “Yes, sir.” The freckled admin nodded. “But that doesn’t mean the information just goes away.  If you shut down your PUDI or one of those monitors,” he motioned to the bank of security cam screens that lined the wall behind Amos, “the information in the hard drives doesn’t cease to exist.”

            “Cut to the part where there was a breach.” Amos sighed.

            “Someone managed to hack into our partition on the server.  When we went in this morning to repair it once everything was back online, we noticed the lockpad broken and the security system had been tripped but nothing seemed to be missing.  Then we found tracers, data moved around a little.  Sometimes that happens when the servers are cleaning up after a reboot.  But it can also be a sign that data-mining programs have been rifling through.  Very sophisticated ones,” Seth said.

            “You are sure it was hacked? And that they got information off of it? Information about Special Projects?” Amos asked.  He tried to remember this satellite office in his records but he didn’t think he’d taken care of security for anything like that.  Might have been his unfortunate predecessor, if it was set up years ago.  It was still his problem now, however and that didn’t help the growing headache one iota.

            “Yes, sir.” Michael nodded. “We checked everything multiple times.  Someone was in there pulling encrypted information from our partition.”

            “These files are what they got?” Amos cued his PUDI to scroll through the files Michael and Seth had sent him earlier before he called the meeting.  The files were test results from the first stages of the project.  Obviously someone had stored the data onto the remote server as a standard backup procedure.

            Amos cursed under his breath.  Both administrators intelligently stayed silent.  After a few minutes that stretched on and filled the quiet room with breathing and tension, the chief of security refocused his eyes on the two men.

            “Can you trace who did this?  There were Hunter-killer drones on site, right?” He glanced at another screen where he’d quickly pulled up the security manifests for all the offices. “Why didn’t those get these people?”  A small relief there, since the purchase order confirmed it had been done years ago, before his tenure here.

            Another nervous swallow. “I don’t know, sir.  It was done right there at the site and the reboot from the power failure wiped the tracks.  Someone retrieved their programs and the data.  I don’t know if there was anything we could have done differently, sir.  They should have a hell of a time breaking the encryption though, if they even can.”  He looked as though he couldn’t decide whether or not to be proud of himself for that.

            “Who else knows about this?” Amos folded his arms.  He certainly wasn’t thrilled.  These two might be the best of the best, but clearly they were just good enough to cause trouble and not skilled enough to fix it.  His headache intensified and he resisted the urge to press his fingers to his temples.

            “Just the three of us. Seth discovered the program traces and came to me to confirm his suspicions.  We thought we should go straight to you, sir.”  Michael said.

            “Good.” Amos nodded, mostly to himself. “Thank you both.  You may go. If you discover anything else about this, you are to come straight to me.”  They both nodded and turned to leave.

            “And gentlemen, if anyone else finds out about this, you will be terminated.” Amos’s voice was calm and threaded with steel.  The two administrators looked back at him with pale faces and nodded again.  It was clear to them that ‘terminated’ didn’t mean fired.

            Amos waited until the door had sealed itself behind the two men before he walked slowly around his desk and sat heavily in the greenish-grey plastiform chair behind it.  He swiveled around to face the wall of monitors.  His brown eyes focused on the upper left hand screens whose cams observed the small labs.  A handful of men and women in light green lab coats moved carefully around the sterile manufactured steel tables with vials and handheld dictation devices.

            Head pounding like a drunk on a locked door, Amos cued up Dr. Tylour Blanc’s call sign in his PUDI but didn’t instruct it to place the call.  He reviewed the pitifully small amount of information his network security admins had been able to collect for him.

            “There’s been a breach.” Amos muttered to himself.  “Someone got the first testing data files, so they’ll have the basic gist that BioCore is up to more than just making pharmaceuticals, sir.  Oh, and by the way, we have no idea who got into the server, how much they might be able to extrapolate from these files, and absolutely no way to find out the answer to any relevant questions you might have, boss.”  He chuckled mirthlessly.  “Oh yes. That would go over so well.”

            Dr. Blanc was the head of the BioCore and more importantly for Amos, the brains behind the Special Project division.  Amos didn’t ask questions, but he knew that what was going on in those labs wasn’t legal or likely very nice.  Dr. Blanc had high ambitions and he was a ruthless man who’d made it clear to his head of security that getting in the way of those ambitions would be the last thing anyone ever did.  It was equally clear that what was good for Dr. Blanc would be good for Amos.

            “A rising tide floats all shit,” he murmured and shook his head.

            Amos leaned back in his chair.  If he was going to keep this quiet from his boss, he’d have to eliminate the two administrators and any data that could trace the breach or lead back to him.  It was a hard choice to make, either way.  Telling Dr. Blanc would almost certainly get him fired and likely killed.  Not telling him would cost two lives.

            Either way the two network administrators would die.  It wasn’t so hard a choice, after all.

            Amos sighed again.  He’d have to get his own hands dirty since he couldn’t trust anyone else to remove the two in a way that wouldn’t trace back to the Chief of Security. He’d take it slow though.  They weren’t likely to cause him much trouble yet.  It would be best to see how things played out in the next week or two.

            After a few more minutes of processing his options, Amos rose slowly.  He deleted the unmade call to BioCore’s President from his PUDI.  Running a gloved hand through his close-cut, graying hair, he walked out of his office.  There were two accidents to plan and a security breach to cover-up.  It was going to be a long month.

(Continued Soon with Part Two!)

Casimir Hypogean: Chapter Eight

Casimir Hypogean: Chapter Eight

(Catch up on earlier chapters here)

Chapter Eight

            Lucien toweled off his body, evaluating his abs in the fogged mirror.  He’d been working lots of shifts lately and letting the morning crunches slide.  Sloppy of him.  An alarm chimed suddenly inside his PUDI, the warning signal that someone was coming down his hallway.  He left off his vain musings and pulled on a pair of pants as he headed through the bedroom leaving damp tracks across the plush cream carpeting.

It was Sif.  Lucien had been expecting her sometime that week, knowing she’d run out of her Drift vials soon.  Her pale skin was painted with black markings, the kind used to confuse the facial recognition programs in the drones and various surveillance cameras.  She was also stumbling gracelessly to his door, making more noise then he’d ever heard her make in the years he’d been her Drift supplier.

He had the door open before she’d reached it.  Her green eyes were glassy as they stared up at him and she just shook her head, pulling out a small metal spike from a pocket in her black pleather belt.

“Poisoned. Hunter-killer drone,” she said, stumbling past him toward the main examination room.

Lucien caught her elbow and gently guided her to the secondary room.  His patient was still recovering in there, out cold on the table.

“All right, I can analyze the chemicals, come on, sit down here.”  The secondary room was set up much like the first, only far smaller and without the moveable lights and adjustable tables of the main.

He noted her slight recoil from the space.  Sif had an intense dislike of examination rooms, probably from her youth as a science experiment.  He’d asked her once what really bothered her, wanting to know more in a clinical way than a personal one, and she’d only shrugged and said “it smells like blood someone tried to wash away, over and over.”

Now she said nothing, just sank into the chair and ripped open her sleeve for him to see the tiny wound.  It was puffed up and the skin, so delicate, so inhumanely pale, was an angry bruise now with deep red lines shooting through it.  Her superior immune system was fighting as hard as it could, but losing slowly.

He pressed two fingers to her wrist.  Her pulse was sluggish and he guessed the poison had a paralytic in it.  Cheap, lazy chemists.   Lucky for Sif, however.  There were far deadlier substances available, for the right price.

“I’ll give you a shot of Drift, it’ll help until I can make an antidote.” Lucien talked as he worked, swabbing the dart for a sample.  The hollow tube had a sack inside that ruptured when it struck and many tiny holes along its length to let the poison seep out into the wound.  It hadn’t gotten deep in Sif and plenty of the stuff remained on the dart turning almost sticky as it evaporated and dried.

Sif bit her lip and some of the light came back into her gem-like eyes as he loaded a syringe with Drift for her.  Her perfect mouth curled into a half smile as the drug settled into her damaged veins.  The relief was instantly apparent. Her face smoothed out into the doll-like perfection that Lucien could never get enough of looking at.  Some would find her uncanny.  Not he.  He appreciated the level of skill and decades of research and experimentation that had gone into creating the genies.

Her friend, Ryg, now.  There was an unfortunate accident of nature and science.  A necessary byproduct of experimentation, but sadly still living on.  Ryg was as disgusting to Lucien as Sif was beautiful.  He still repaired and did what he could for the abomination.  He was a doctor and keeping something like Ryg alive was a point of personal conflict.  Mercy killing it would be preferable, but Lucien knew the day he did that would be the end for him.  Sif would end him.

Sif was almost perfect and perfectly deadly.  The need for the chemicals in Drift was her only weakness and it bound her to him more firmly than if he’d tied her down with all the chains in Casimir.

“Shh, easy,” Lucien told her as he laid her back on the table.  She didn’t want to relax under his hand but he kept firm pressure on her uninjured shoulder and she relented, letting him feel her over in a mostly clinical manner. “I have more supply for you, though not as much as I’d like.  Things have been tight with the worry over the Council nomination.”  This was, of course, a giant lie.  He had people in his proverbial pocket all the way from street dealers to administrative staff for the Council families themselves.  Drift, pure, clean, untainted Drift, wasn’t any harder to come by now than before the suspected assassination.

“I’ll take it,” Sif said, closing her eyes.

“Paying with credits, or. . .?” Lucien left his ungloved hand on her thigh, watching that lovely doll face.

“Or,” she said so softly he might have mistaken it for a sigh if he hadn’t been watching her lips.  She didn’t open her eyes as he smiled and his hands started to rove again, this time gently removing her clothing.

His heart started beating a familiar rhythm and his loose, drawstring pants suddenly felt too tight as arousal hit him in a hot wave.  Her body relaxed completely and Lucien knew she was taking herself away, deep into the quiet, crazy mind of Sif, deep where no one could reach her.  She was soft, pliable flesh beneath his dark hands, so warm and paper pale.

This body could kill him in an instant and it thrilled him.  This was the real joy, real power.  He bent low and drew her thick gold hair from its braid, burying his face in it. She smelled of paint and sweat and something underneath so sweet and tangy, like fresh cut goya fruit.  Lucien stood up and soaked a cloth in water.  Gently he washed the paint from her face and then stroked the cooling damp rag down her naked body.

“Sif,” he murmured and she turned her face away, bringing another smile to his face.  Not so deeply gone, then.  Still here, still feeling his presence, awake and aware of her submission to him.  Good.  Still smiling, Lucien reached for the ties on his own pants.  Tonight hadn’t turned out so poorly after all.

* * *

            Ryg wasn’t alone when Hex finally got back to the apartment.  Kadin’s presence wasn’t that surprising because Ryg had said the job that had just gone completely sideways was one he’d contracted through Kadin.  Hex didn’t recognize the tall woman with skin as smooth and dark as finely lacquered wood.  Her eyes were a rich brown, flecked with violet in a way that reminded him of his daughter’s eyes and caused an instant dislike the roiled like a tangible thing in the air between them.

Ignoring the confused look on the woman’s face, Hex focused in on Ryg.  He looked smaller somehow, curled in his chair in front of the screens with even more of a kicked in expression than normal.

“The whole thing went to the roaches,” Hex said.  He knew he should establish who this woman was before he blurted out about the damn job, but screw it.  Her being here, Kadin being here, Sif not being here.  It was too much.  “Non-lethal patrol drones? Really?”

“What happened? Where’s Sif?”  Ryg craned his head around, looking for her in the room beyond.

“Don’t know.”  Hex shoved the image of her sprawled in a concrete hallway, convulsing with poison as Grey Guard burst in, shooting her on sight just because of what she was.  Or not shooting her.  There were worse things and a genie wasn’t a person at all to the Guard.  Hex knew what they might do to her; how they might take her if she wasn’t dead.  He’d been one of the Guard once, half a life ago.  Before the law said his illegal second child had to die.  Before his wife had died instead with a Drift needle still in her veins.

“Shit,” Ryg muttered.  “She’s got her PUDI set to bounce.”

“And Tommy isn’t responding either,” said Kadin.

“Who is Tommy?” Hex started to ask and then glanced at Kadin. “Wait, “the Mouth”?  That Tommy?”  Tommy “the Mouth” was a scrappy little code junky.   Hex felt he was unreliable, but had nothing solid to complain about.  Tommy mostly dealt with Ryg when they had to deal with him at all.  Eggheads speaking the same language and all that.

“Yeah,” Kadin said with a heavy sigh.

“And who the hell is she?” Hex jerked a thumb at the woman standing around like she’d rather be anywhere else.  Not that he blamed her.

“I’m Nico,” she said with a shrug of her slender shoulders as if to acknowledge that her name would mean less than worms to him.

“Great,” Hex said.  “So what were we really doing up there in Kajipe?  Something that took a code junkie and a drift junkie apparently, yeah?”

“I’m not a Drift junkie,” Nico said when Ryg just pressed his lips together and looked like he was going to take a year or two to compute a reply.

“Sure, sweetheart,” Hex muttered, giving her a disgusted look, “and I’m not a man.”

Her eyes narrowed but she half-smiled, saying “well, I’ll just take your word on that one,” and suddenly Hex started to like her a little more.

Not enough to thaw out fully.  Junkies were unreliable, even the smart ones.  Maybe especially the smart ones.

“It’s my fault,” Kadin said, holding up placating hands.

Hex got the impression from the quick look Ryg and Kadin shared that they’d been talking over their PUDIs about what to tell him, so he glared really hard at Ryg, imagining how his scrawny white neck would feel if he gripped it and shook until all the metal bits and pieces and maybe some truth fell out.  Shaking wouldn’t make Sif get back any quicker, or make her any safer.  He took a very deep breath and waited for whatever story they were about to spin him.

“You can’t tell it all to Sif,” Ryg said softly, surprising Hex.  Ryg and Sif shared everything, like twins almost.  He’d learned quickly, years ago, that he couldn’t get between them and didn’t want to be there even if he could.

“Tell what?”  He felt very tired, the long night and the adrenaline dump coming up on him like a thick bat to the head.  He backed up a couple steps and leaned into the wall, crossing his arms.

“We hacked into a government black box.  At least, we might have.  Tommy has the drive and he’s missing,” Kadin said.

“That office you and Sif were in was patched into the government hard wires and it created a leak.  I used that chip I sent you with to load in programs to get me into the servers below.  My programs collected data using keywords and dumped it onto a drive, which is what we’re now missing,” Ryg said, anticipating Hex’s questions. “But I’m not sure it worked.  The power got cut sooner than I expected I guess, because the security and stuff in that office wasn’t what I expected either.  That’s listed as an administrative filing office, not a sophisticated server room.  And definitely no records of Hunter-killer drones.”

“And we don’t know if Tommy was successful.  He went offline and now isn’t responding on his PUDI.”  Kadin shook his head, worry creasing his dark brow.

“Sif, too.  Not a good sign.” Ryg hunched over further, looking translucent and hollow, as though his clothes hung on an empty frame instead of bone and flesh.

“Nothing on the Wires about anyone being picked up?” There was always a chance, Hex knew, that this would leak quickly.  It’d been well over a couple hours now and the illegal Wires would still be running even though it was past curfew.

“Nothing,” Ryg said. “A little chatter about the Guard being called out to the Totsi Electronics building and then nothing further.  The power grid is up again, so they’ve got the Guards from the hub.  But they won’t be able to tell them much.  That part went off fine.”

“If they had Tommy or Sif, we might not know until morning.” Nico shook her head.

“If they have Sif, she’s dead.” Hex didn’t mean to say it so flat and hard like that, but he couldn’t help himself.

“No, they won’t get Sif.  Not Sif,” Ryg said it more like a prayer than a statement.

“Why hack the box? Is there credit in this?” Hex remembered the promised six hundred.  Didn’t seem likely now.  But they could have had a buyer for this information, whatever it was.

“The appointment,” Kadin said.  “We wanted to collect any data on the nomination for the new Councilor.  That could be worth a lot of credit to the right people, maybe even saleable to more than one group depending.”

Hex chewed the inside of his cheek and thought about it.  It was a gamble, but he understood what they’d been thinking now.  That six hundred was gone for sure and that made him a little sick inside and angry again.

“You conned us,” he said to Ryg, not caring that it made the hollow man flinch as though physically threatened.  “You’re right, Sif will be pissed.  You know how she feels about anything to do with the Council.  That’s your problem.  You don’t tell her if you want, but you’ll be explaining the missing credits.  Six hundred.  Each. You pull that number out of your mechanical ass?”

“Hex, please,” Ryg said, shivering now.  He looked as though he might cry and Hex wondered if he still could with all the implants.  He felt mean and small and exhausted.

“No. Explain the rest later.  I don’t care.  I’m going to bed.  Wake me up if I need to shoot someone.  Otherwise, fuck off.”  He slammed his way out of the room and across the common space, kicking a pillow as he went. It hit the far wall with a very unsatisfying fuft noise.  Hex flopped down on his mattress and closed his eyes.

Come back to me, Sif, he mouthed in the dark.  Eventually he fell asleep waiting for the sound of a door that didn’t open and he dreamt restless dreams where a violet-eyed girl asked him if she could have breakfast yet.

(Continue Reading in Chapter Nine)