Saturday, September 30, 2006
I would like to share one thought, though. In FORCED MATE, the way my aliens tell time (officially) is a throw back to their low tech ancient days. "The old names stuck."
It's not so implausible. A correspondent sent me this incredible--sequence of events... (which is fun, but not true, according to www.snopes.com)
Did you ever wonder why the US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches?
Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads. The English built them like that because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.
Why? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which
used that wheel spacing. And, they used that particular odd wheel spacing because, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.
So the gauge of American rails was determined by the width of the ruts in English roads? Who built those old rutted roads?
Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.
The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an
Imperial Roman war chariot. Why was a war chariot that width? Because the Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses!
The story doesn't stop there!
When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel.
The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as
two horses' behinds.
So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's bottom.
NASA, tell me it isn't so!
So which of the hunky pilots did I fall for?
Apollo. The dark haired one with the dreamy eyes.
So why not Starbuck? Dirk Benedict definetly had the looks. And the posters. And he fit the bad boy mold that made Jayne from Firefly my choice. But poor Apollo. He had all that guilt. His brother was killed right before his eyes. He lost his wife. (Remember Jane Seymour in that role) He had a son to raise. His father had the responsibility of the entire fleet which put added pressure on him. Plus he had those great eyes.
I haven't been able to get into the new version now shown on Sci-Fi. Edward James Olmos is just way too depressing. And I can't get over the fact that Starbuck is a woman. I tried. It looks fascinating. Maybe I should get the seasons on dvd and try to figure it out. But I think it will just make me miss Apollo more.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Now, on with the story
She’d been kept waiting for a long time. Then again, maybe she wasn’t waiting for anyone. Even though she’d been shown into a luxurious office paneled in dark wood and hung with tasteful landscape paintings, she hadn’t been told that anyone was going to join her there. Summer knew she was in Washington only because it was rather difficult not to recognize the famous landmarks of the nation’s capital as the car drove past them. She’d never actually been to Washington. Under other circumstances she would have enjoyed the sights from the back seat of the car that met them at the small private airport outside the city. The flight from New York had been in a small jet, with no conversation. In fact, no one had spoken to her in hours. The security people simply took her from one place to another with total indifference, finally leaving her alone in this large office deep in the depths of a gigantic white marble office building. She supposed they were just doing their job, delivering a package they’d been sent to fetch, but she resented it greatly.
She sat for a while, almost lost in the depths of a leather upholstered chair and her own worry. Then she got up and ran her gaze across a case full of law and history books. Under more normal circumstances she might have been tempted to take out a book and do some reading. Instead she turned from the case and walked to the wide window. She considered the scenic view of the Capital Mall and decided that she wasn’t in the domain of any ordinary functionary. She wanted to know who the place belonged to. She wanted to know why she’d been brought here. Her nerves and patience were growing more frayed by the moment. She was considering attempting to ransack the large desk in the center of the room when the door opened.
The middle-aged man who entered was tall, slender, with iron-gray hair and erect posture. He didn’t bother to introduce himself. The look he gave her was just short of disdainful, but his tone was polite enough when he gestured toward the chair she’d vacated. “Please be seated, Ms. Simms.”
Summer was not in the mood for being seated. She wanted to plant herself belligerently in front the desk and demand some answers. Instead she perched on the edge of the chair and looked at the man seated on the other side of the desk. Her mother had taught her to be plainspoken, but polite. She followed that teaching now as she requested politely, “Please explain what’s going on.”
The man folded his hands on his desk. “You’re being given an opportunity to serve your country, Ms. Simms. My job is to brief you on what’s expected of you.”
“An opportunity to serve my country?” Images of military missions and exotic espionage capers came immediately to her mind. Which was ridiculous, of course. Wasn’t it? “How?”
“You have of course heard of Rawn Ruan.”
He gave her an exasperated look. “Rawn Ruan, His Supremacy, Emperor of the Kariin Empire.”
Summer almost laughed with relief. “Of course I’ve heard of him. I just didn’t know that was his name.” She’d heard the fancy title Supremacy often enough, but she’d found herself thinking of him as The Landlord ever since the Kariin spaceships had arrived and announced that they were graciously welcoming Earth into the Empire. “It’s not easy to think of emperors having something so ordinary as names, especially an emperor from a different world that no one’s hardly even seen. What do his friends call him, Ru?”
The man did not look amused. He did not sound as if he was joking, either, when he replied, “I’m sure you’ll have the opportunity to find out, Ms. Simms.”
Summer’s confusion deepened. “What do you mean?”
“His Supremacy wants you.”
Summer couldn’t quite fathom this statement. “He wants to meet me? Why would an emperor want to meet a model?” She paused for a moment while her question reverberated around in her own mind. A rather unbelievably obvious answer presented itself. Over the years lots of men -- none of them alien emperors, but many of them powerful and rich -- had wanted to meet her. “Oh.”
“I see you understand.”
She shook her head. “That’s not possible. He can’t want a date with me.”
“Not a date, Ms. Simms.”
Maybe her mother’s concern that the Kariins were cannibals wasn’t as unfounded as Summer had thought. She didn’t voice this worry, as it would no doubt sound foolish, groundless and unsophisticated. She just hoped it was all of those things. She said, “I don’t understand.”
The man cleared his throat. He dropped eye contact. “He wants you, Ms. Simms. To know you.”
“I’m sure I’d like to get to know him to – “ She shot to her feet as a rush of outraged heat went through her. “We’re talking know in the biblical sense, aren’t we?”
“Yes, Ms. Simms.”
The man never even blinked, or blushed, or showed any decent emotion. “I assure you that you’ll be amply compensated for your - time.”
It was the short pause between words that totally infuriated her. She would have slapped him is she’d been within striking distance. “What sort of woman do you think I am?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, but stalked angrily to the door. She was surprised to discover that it wasn’t locked. Surprised and delighted. She slammed the door as hard as possible behind her as the man called her name. There was no one in the hallway, either. She walked to an elevator, heard the office door open and footsteps coming up behind her, but the elevator arrived before the odious man reached her. She stepped into the car, and once again the door closed on him just as he said, “Ms. Simms!”
She was still seething with humiliated fury when the car reached the first floor. It didn’t help her strained nerves any when she stepped out of the elevator, and ran right into the handsomest man she’d ever seen. Considering that she was used to working with male models and meeting movie stars, that was saying quite a bit. He was broad shouldered - rather like a wall in a finely tailored gray suit, and taller than she was, which made him well over six foot. He had the blackest hair and most startlingly blue eyes she’d ever seen.
The last thing she wanted right now was any man’s hands on her, but she found herself oddly soothed by his touch when he reached out to steady her. His eyes, his incredible eyes, caught and held her gaze. They expressed gentle concern, and a hint of steely amusement.
It was the steely part she found confusing. That, and the almost giddy fluttering in her stomach, and head and heart that arose from just being near him. She almost forgot to breathe, then when she did take a breath, she discovered that he smelled good; a combination of masculine cologne and just plain masculine -- him.
“Fancy meeting like this,” he said. His voice was rich, lightly amused, and held a hint of accent that might have been Bostonian, but was definitely educated and urbane.
“Excuse me, I really have to go,” she said, as she came to her senses.
She recalled where she was and what had been asked of her. She’d had the presence of mind to pick up her purse before walking out of the office. The purse held her passport and a wallet full of credit cards. She had to escape this building before whoever it was who wanted her to sleep with the Emperor called in his multi-agency goons and threw her into bed with a stranger.
“So soon?” the blue-eyed man asked as she tried to step around him. His charming smile almost made her hesitate.
She couldn’t stop herself from smiling at him in response. “I have a plane to catch.”
His hand closed around her arm. “I’m sorry, I really am, but I’m afraid the Secretary of State insists on talking to you first.”
Summer didn’t know if she was more dumbfounded by what the man said, or devastated to find out that he was just another traitorous security agent. Their meeting was no accident; he’d been waiting for her. There was no escape, not without getting around the big man who held her in such a gently firm grip. That wasn’t likely. She looked him over from apologetically sardonic expression, to those wide shoulders and square-built frame, to trim waist and powerful thighs, and faced the fact that there was no getting past him at all.
Under other circumstances she wouldn’t have wanted to.
With the worst disaster in her life looming before her she hardly had time to think about this man, or any man. She certainly didn’t want to think about some alien spaceman expressing an interest in her. Or commanding her to be his mistress. Or whatever he was doing.
“What does he want with me?”
“To talk to you, I believe.”
The security agent’s voice was calm, reassuring. Summer was neither calmed nor reassured. “The Emperor just wants to talk to me?”
“The Secretary of State wants to talk to you. He’s an elderly gentleman with a great deal on his mind.” Though he did it with a great deal of subtle restraint, he turned them toward the elevator as he spoke. “I’m sure spending some time with you will do him a world of good.”
“But I don’t want to see him.”
“It won’t take long.” The elevator doors were already open. He guided her inside the brass and wood paneled car. “I’ll come with you,” he added, as though he was simply being polite, rather than forcing her to do this against her will.
“What if I just said that I am free citizen of the United States who has done nothing wrong and that you, or any other government agent, can’t make me do anything I don’t want to do?”
“You can say it, Summer,” he answered patiently, “but we both know it wouldn’t be true.”
She sighed. She’d been afraid he’d say something like that. “What if I just asked you for help?”
“You can ask me for help any time you really need it,” he answered. The look he turned on her was the most openly honest one she’d ever seen. “It would break my heart not to be able to give it.”
She had no idea what to reply to this. In fact he struck her speechless. She was still a little dazed, and had an odd, walking on air, feeling when the elevator stopped and he led her down yet another hallway. They stopped outside a wide door. He knocked. As someone on the other side opened it, her escort took a step back.
“I’ll just wait here for you, why don’t I?” he said, and gave her an encouraging smile. Actually, it was the merest upturning of his lips, the smile and the encouragement were all in his brilliant blue eyes.
The most reaction Summer could manage was a nod before the Secretary of State said, “Please come in.”
It struck her that the people who were attempting to give her to a -- being -- she’d never met and didn’t want to have anything to do with were all being inordinately polite. Not necessarily nice, she amended as she recalled the first man whose office she’d been escorted to, but definitely polite. She had every intention of saying no to this ridiculous proposition no matter how they presented it to her. So she straightened her shoulders, lifted her head, and walked past the Secretary of State. She drew an unreasonable amount of comfort from knowing that the blue-eyed man was waiting outside for her.
The import of who she was about to talk to only really struck her as the door closed behind her and the stern looking elderly man offered her his hand to shake.
His skin felt warm and papery, but his clasp was firm. “You’re the Secretary of State,” she told him, embarrassed by her own inanity, but unable to shake the sudden sense of awe that came with the realization. “Why would you want to talk to me? I’m a fashion model.”
He indicated a pair of maroon leather chairs. As Summer took a seat opposite him, he said. “Right now, Ms. Simms, you are the most important person in this country.”
She was amazed by what he’d said. “Why?”
“The Kariin are a very private people, secretive. His Supremacy is -- inscrutable, to say the least.”
His description called up an image from old movies she’d watched on late night television, but she didn’t want to tell one of the most important men in the country that he’d just portrayed the most important man in maybe the galaxy as Ming the Merciless.
She decided to be blunt instead. “And you want me to sleep with this inscrutable being.”
The old man blushed. He looked as though he never expected to deal in anything but euphemism and the language of diplomacy. Or for one insignificant woman to be defiant. “There’s a name I could call you, sir,” Summer went on as her indignation boiled over, “but my mama raised me to be plainspoken rather than rude. So I won’t call you a pimp. Does procurer sound more polite?”
He looked at her blankly for a moment, then said, “You appear to be offended by the idea.”
That he sounded even mildly surprised infuriated her. She held her anger in check, however. She nodded rather than make an angry retort.
“You must understand that what we’re asking of you is important,” he went on sincerely. “The Kariins are invaders, although apparently benign ones. I’ve seen their ships, their troops, their weaponry. Why do you think every government in the world has meekly acceded to their arrival on our planet? We have no other choice. For the most part we all still go about our daily lives untouched by the presence of the invaders in our midst. The Kariins have asked for nothing since their arrival. Until now.”
He got up and went to the desk. When he came back he handed her an open catalog.
While she stared at the pages, he said, “His Supremacy saw this, and decided he wanted you.”
Summer recognized the full page photo, though she hadn’t seen it as a finished product before. It was from a lingerie shoot she’d done. The photo on this particular page featured her in a pair of black silk pajamas. She recalled the photographer coaxing her to be as sultry and sexy and inviting as possible. Apparently it had worked.
She looked at it in puzzlement, then at the old man once more seated across from her. “But this ad is for the pajamas. It’s not selling the person wearing them.”
He nodded. “You and I automatically recognize that fact, but His Supremacy is from a very different culture than ours.”
He’s from a different solar system, Summer thought. “Didn’t anyone explain the mistake to him?”
The Secretary of State rubbed his hands together. “He wasn’t actually interested in hearing any explanations.”
Summer almost laughed. “Well then, I’ll explain it to him.” If she could actually round up enough courage to speak to the man -- or whatever he was -- that claimed to rule a large chunk of the Milky Way Galaxy. She sighed in relief. “This is all a mistake.”
“No,” the man replied. “It’s an opportunity.” He held up a hand before she could either question or protest. “Please listen carefully to what I have to say.” He paused just long enough for Summer to reluctantly nod. “We know only what the Kariins choose to tell us about themselves. They are obviously technologically more advanced than we are. They appear to be human, but many of our scientists are skeptical of this claim. We are fumbling around blindly trying to understand these people. We need to know more about them so we can formulate policy for dealing with them. They have shown no overt hostility so far, but we need to be prepared if they do. We need to know how to respond if they should make any unreasonable demands. Do you understand?”
Summer thought that ordering a girl out of a catalog was a fairly unreasonable demand. “I think I understand that you want me to spy on the Emperor.”
He didn’t try to deny or sugar-coat it. He nodded. “His Supremacy wishes to spend time with you. We are not forcing your company on him. This is his idea, but there is no reason for us not to exploit the chance to learn as much as we can about him, his people, and the workings of the Empire through you.” He looked at Summer intently, imploringly. “For the sake of your country, and your planet, you have to agree to accede to His Supremacy’s wishes.”
She wished he hadn’t put it that way. When it was just a question of a misinformed, or simply arrogant, male saying that he wanted her, it was easy to say no. When faced with serving her country, her people, saying no became selfish. There really was no choice, though it tore her up inside and she was more to halfway to panic at the idea of what was expected of her.
Summer sighed when she wanted to scream. She thought of Mama, the extended family back in Michigan, the brother who would be entering Annapolis in the fall and the brothers still at home. She was about as stereotypically American as apple pie and 4th of July fireworks when it came down to it. Her country had been invaded even if nobody had gotten hurt. There was such a thing as patriotic duty. Thinking of it as duty kept the panic at bay.
“All right,” she told the Secretary of State as she got to her feet. “I’ll do it.”
The Secretary of State went to the door. When he opened it her charming escort strode into the room. “She’ll do it,” the Secretary said to the security man.
The man who’d been waiting in the hall smiled at her, but she was so ashamed that he knew what she’d agreed to that she couldn’t look at him for a moment. Then she decided that she had nothing to be ashamed of, and looked him boldly in the eye.
He came up and took her hand, spreading heat and comfort into her just by his nearness. Until he touched her, she hadn’t realized she was cold.
“My name’s Rawn Ruan,” he told her. “My friends call me Ru.”
To be continued....
Thursday, September 28, 2006
It's said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Likewise, we could say that any sufficiently advanced species is indistinguishable from divinity. Erich von Daniken theorized in CHARIOTS OF THE GODS and other books that classical myths were based on visits from alien astronauts who constructed ancient artifacts that, to von Daniken, seemed too advanced for Earth technology of the time. In STAR TREK, deities from Terran mythology were sometimes revealed to be super-powerful aliens, as when the Enterprise crew encountered Apollo on a distant planet.
Many science fiction and fantasy authors, accordingly, have transmuted beings from myth and legend into aliens of sorts. Atlantis, a favorite motif for storytellers who want to invoke the concept of long-lost advanced science, is the ultimate source of magic and wisdom in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon series (posthumously continued by Diana L. Paxson). Julie Kenner's Aphrodite series features superheroes who get their powers from the Greek gods. Classical deities and demons populate the complex mythos underlying Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter stories. Angela Knight draws upon Arthurian legends in creating her witches and vampires and their other-dimensional home, the Mageverse.
When an author creatively crosses over -- or blurs -- the lines between myth, legend, fantasy, and science fiction, how much can traditional characters and motifs from the cultural group-mind be changed without risking loss of the archetypal elements that make them resonate as strongly with the contemporary audience as they have with people of past eras?
Incidentally, I'll be one of the Jewels of the Quill October spotlight authors. Stop by www.JewelsoftheQuill.com anytime in October and find out how to win a free book.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Continuing my relentless exploration of the men in my books... and how they developed into the pain-in-the-patootie hunk-muffins that they are... I'm going to let you all get up close and personal with a secondary character that many of you [according to your drooling emails] have found irresistible, in spite of the fact that he has six fingers on each hand, webbing between his fingers, and has gills.
Yes, cupcakes, that's right. Ren, from GABRIEL'S GHOST. The 6’ 5” tall, blue haired, alien Stolorth guy who is [and I have a feeling this is part of the big attraction here] a virgin.
As some of you know, GABRIEL'S GHOST originally started out as a short story entitled FEAR. ANYWAY, GABRIEL'S was initially simply a meeting between two long time enemies who'd eventually become lovers: Captain Chasidah 'Chaz' Bergren, and Gabriel Ross 'Sully' Sullivan. But everytime I wrote about Sully (another major pain-in-the-patootie hunk muffin), I kept 'seeing' the shadow of someone by his side.
That someone, I knew rather quickly, was Frayne Ackravaro Ren Elt.
A snippet from my May 2000 working notes as I began to plot out GABRIEL'S GHOST:
[SNIP]...Chaz accompanies Sully after agreeing to work with him. She meets with two others -- convicts like herself. One non human. They go to the shuttleport. Most obvious place for an escape and that's why Sully works out of there. So obvious no one thinks to look. Supply shuttles come irregularly from a nearby Station. Personnel/prisoner transports, too. He utilizes certain supply shuttles.
Sully and Chaz adopt the garb of Avarian monk/nun. He finds a perverse humor in this. 'Brother Sudral' and his acolyte, 'Sister Berry'. The other human convict is well known as 'Guardian Drogue' -- Chaz has seen him twice before, never knowing he was locating her for Sully. Drogue will return to Moabar often, accompanies them only to the Station.
The non-human is a blind Stolorth; a thickly muscled male of indeterminate age. Six fingered - webbed. Gill slits. His name is Frayne Ackravaro Ren Elt. He has very long silvery blue hair, worn plaited back in a braid. Stolorths are aquatic but can live for up to 48 hours out of a hydro-environment. Clearly Sully doesn't like him but he needs him. The Stolorth worked for the Labor Ministry as an Mediation Empath. Ren was privvy to several illegal negotiations by the Labor Ministry -- exporting and importing of slave labor. Perhaps illegal breeding of slaves with genetically defective mentalities. Ren 'knows where the bodies are hidden'... [END SNIP]
These are WORKING NOTES, kidlings. Ideas jotted down as to where I thought the chapter MIGHT go. Obviously, those of you who've read GABRIEL'S GHOST see that while I had Ren's name and description correct, I had his occupation totally wrong.
These things happen. Characters often play hide and seek with an author, and it wasn't until I began to actually write the chapter that Ren revealed himself to me.
One scene that did make it from my original working notes into the final book was the scene where Ren, blind, 'sees' Chaz's face by touching her. My original working notes state:
[SNIP] ...Ren's empathic abilities help steer them clear of those prison admin who might be suspicious. Chaz senses that Sully dislikes the fact that Ren's abilities are helpful. Ren is solicitious if not a bit curious about Chaz. He hasn't had much experience with human females.
On the supply shuttle, accomodations are cramped for the 8-hour trip. Ren's innocent curiousity amuses Chaz -- reminds her of her young half-brother -- and annoys Sully. He 'sees' her by touching her face, which really annoys Sully... [END SNIP]
However, one scene that did NOT make it into the final book called GABRIEL'S GHOST is Ren's death. Yes, sweetlings, in the first draft of the book, Ren was killed near the end of the book, as Sully and Chaz fight the bad guys on Marker. I thought it would be a good catalyst for Sully to reveal his 'secret' to Chaz (and for those of you who've NOT read the book, I'm not going to discuss any further what that secret is). However, the reaction of my crit partners to Ren's death was LOUD, IMMEDIATE AND THREATENING. So I had to do a bit of rewriting... with a few cyber-guns pointed at my blonde head.
In any event, to answer the emails that I've received about Ren, yes, he gets his own book. The immediate sequel to GABRIEL'S GHOST is CHASIDAH'S CHOICE, release date late 2007 or early 2008. I’d love to follow that with a series called DOCK FIVE—no promises right now. But if I do, Ren's own story will either be one of the DOCK FIVE books, or perhaps a stand alone. Not sure at this point, other than I DO know who his lady love is, and who eventually takes his virginity. Sigh. So you can all stop sending me bribe money. No, you cannot get in a hot tub with Ren!
Well, actually, one of you on the list will, because that person on this list is the creator of Ren's lady love, Lt. Kahri Beckert.
Here's a section of her short vignette she emailed me that convinced me she'd created the woman Ren would eventually, completely love:
[SNIP] ...Kahri stripped out of her battle uniform, zipped herself into the form fitting gray utility water suit and stepped into the sani-stall. She rolled her shoulders, then braided her hair while the quick-drying mist sprinkled over her. Grabbing a thick woolen robe used for both a cover-up and to dry off after a hot soak, she hit the palm pad on the thick steel doors leading to the hydro spa. She padded barefoot over to one of the cushioned benches, dropped the robe across it and turned toward the heated pool. Frozen in place, Kahri watched the lithe, muscular figure gliding effortlessly through the water, his loose-fitting blue swim shorts billowing around his slim hips. Ren. As he came to the end closest to where she was, he stood, wrung out his long, blue-tinted hair, pausing mid-twist. Nostrils flared, head tilted toward her, he appeared to be inhaling the very scent of her. A shiver of apprehension raced up her spine. Kahri didn't want anything to do with this alien creature - a member of a race that had destroyed her family.
"Kahri". The low, sultry voice wrapped around her like silken threads of the finest made cocoon. He held out a hand, palm up, beckoning, daring her to come closer. She would not. She could not. She did... [END SNIP]
As I said, the above was written by one of Ren's fans and emailed to me. So beware when you befriend an author... you never know where you, or one of your imaginary characters, will show up and be brought to life.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Helispeta wanted to marry well, but not THIS well.
In MATING NET a newly widowed god-Emperor wants to mate again. Soon. His twin brother's fiancee appears to be the ideal take-over target, so he decides to take her.
His family motto for seductions is: "By stealth if possible...."
Sequestered on a private island where she is being trained to be god-Prince Devoron-Vitan's mate, Helispeta can't wait to take her place at Court. She will go to any lengths to make sure that Devoron-Vitan does not break off their betrothal, even disobey an express Royal command.
She has no idea that she is playing out of her depth.
Her hologrammatic visitor stood stiff-legged, imperially tall and straight-backed. His bared, star-tanned, muscular arms were folded across his chest, and he was frowning impatiently because he had been kept waiting. Devoron-Vitan was every handsbreadth her warrior prince!
Helispeta caught her breath at the thought of measuring every part of him with the gentle palms of her hands, particularly the part that she would be expected to measure with both hands and the depth of her mouth.
“Devoron-Vitan, how lovely to see you!” she said, careful not to allow her juvenile adoration of him to show. “I thought you were too far away to visit me.”
“As you can see, I’m not.” He spread his powerful arms, and his short, dust-blue robe fell open, revealing that he wore only an even shorter kilt beneath his robe. Helispeta felt her eyes widen at the sight of his impressive chest and smooth, deeply chiseled stomach muscles. It was also the first time she’d seen him less than fully robed, and the sight disquieted her. Not that she’d never seen male anatomy. Even when there was no hope of becoming the next Empress, the virgin princesses’ curriculum required a theoretical command of every important male nerve ending.
She looked. Of course, she looked. Even if he had deliberately exposed his naked upper body to her as a test, she was interested. Too late she remembered that her eyes tended to change color from silver to the deepest violet, depending on her emotions. “Passion-meter eyes,” Devoron-Vitan used to tease her. He’d once said that he couldn’t wait to see how passionately purple her eyes would shade when she felt his immense and potent size throb inside her.
“I worry about you, my love,” he said evenly.
Oh, no! Surely, even a Great Djinn couldn’t read minds through a hologram. Why else might he worry? Oh, stars! Please, no. Please not because he was about to dismiss her from his affections forever, and he knew that she would be heartbroken. But, wait. It was the first time he’d called her his love. Would he call her his love if he were about to break off their betrothal?
“You do?” Helispeta fought to remain calm. Remembering her hastily chosen flower, she brought it up to her face. A tiny, purple, penis-shaped stamen brushed her nose, ejaculating pollen on contact. She felt the cool, tiny spray of pollen droplets on her heated cheeks. Oh stars! How vulgar! He’d never believe she hadn’t planned it! But she hadn’t. She hadn’t!
“Of course I do,” he said, seeming not to have noticed the accident with the flower at all.
From under her lowered lashes she noticed the crinkle of his slightly puffy lower eyelids, which gave the impression of an intelligent and good humored male who has shrewdly seen through everything and still sees the humor in it.
“I worry how you will adapt to life on a war-star. Will you miss lying in pools all day, looking up at the Body Imperial?”
He spoke of the Gas Giant, which Tigron orbited, but she was sure he was thinking complacently of his own magnificent physique.
“Perhaps you could install a very small murk pool for me?”
“Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. Do you think my brother would approve of the extravagance?” He raised a single eyebrow the way all Djinn did.
Helispeta did not want to discuss what Djohn-Kronos would or would not approve, nor to speculate about his generosity. She traced a finger over the curved bell-end of her flower.
“Talking of your brother, I wrote him a letter of condolence.”
“Now why did you do that?” His expression was inscrutable.
“As his future sister-in-law, and given that I believed you were worlds away and might not even have heard that the Empress Djustine-Saturna had died ... the gesture seemed appropriate.”
Helispeta wondered whether she should add that for as long as the Emperor Djohn-Kronos remained a widower--which he might be for a very long time--she, as Devoron-Vitan’s mate, would be the highest ranking princess at Court.
She bit her lip. Possibly, Devoron-Vitan would misunderstand any comments from her on protocol and feminine precedence. One wouldn’t want His Highness to think she was ambitious for herself.
“It is never appropriate for a virgin to give Djohn-Kronos any sort of encouragement,” he said harshly.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was presumptuous. It won’t happen again.”
He nodded, as though satisfied by her humble apology. “What will you do during the watches, when I am on the Bridge of the Ark Royal and unable to entertain you?”
“I am quite good at entertaining myself,” she said, then saw his wicked triangular grin, his thin upper lip drawn straight across perfect teeth. She knew that he knew that masturbation was on the princesses’ secret curriculum. “I play cards and all manner of board games,” she elucidated with immense dignity.
“Board games?” he repeated. Again the eyebrow lifted.
Helispeta wondered whether he was mocking her. Perhaps he was angrier with her for keeping him waiting than his surface demeanor suggested. She glanced under her long, dark curl-tipped lashes, lower down this time, at the short kilt under his open robe, and the jutting shape of him.
His thighs were not as muscular as she would have expected on a warrior, but very nice-looking.
Devoron-Vitan did not look like a god who would sit still for anything. Unless for the first few strokes of an erotic massage.
As though he could read her thoughts, which of course he could not through a hologram, he smiled predatorily.
“Are you excelling in all your studies?” He casually scratched his amazing chest.
“Oh, yes,” she lied, ignoring his boorish behavior.
“At Mothercraft, too?” he asked. “Do you look forward to being a mother? I’d like to give you children.”
“Oh, yes,” she lied again. Diplomatic Dissimulation was her best subject, after Art of Conversation. Unless one counted prestidigitation and card-sharpery, which one didn’t.
“I’ll come for you soon,” he murmured huskily.
The hologram image faded.
She was still betrothed to be mated! Helispeta sank to the ground, weak with relief.
* * * *
She was lying, of course. So was he.
Djohn-Kronos stepped off his hologram sender, well pleased with the interview.
The important thing was that Helispeta couldn’t tell the difference between himself and his younger twin. However, he did have a very unfair advantage.
Mating Net is a short story, available as an e-book from New Concepts Publishing. It was written as a prequel for FORCED MATE to tell the story of the greatest mistake of Helispeta's life.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
With my new release, Shooting Star, coming in December I thought I'd take the next few Saturdays and tell you about the heroes I have adored from TV or movies. Up first is Jayne from Firefly. So why Jayne. Why not Mal who is so noble and hunky and heroic? Probably because Mal is taken. We all know he loves Enora, so why waste time. Plus there's just something about the bad boy. We all know Jayne needs redemption. All it will take is a good woman. And who can not love a man who loves his momma? I think the perfect woman for Jayne is a hot shot, take no prisoners pilot named Sam who he meets in a bar fight. Who of course should be played by me!
Friday, September 22, 2006
Let me know if I should post more next week.
The State Department official bent forward to peer at the glossy photo His Supremacy was holding up. What he saw was a pair of black silk pajamas, perfectly prim and proper, except that they outlined every curve of the magnificent body of the model wearing them. The young woman had a tousled mane of auburn hair. The clinging silk somehow made her more provocative than if she’d been completely naked. The promisingly teasing expression on the model’s exquisite face was just as enticing. That look probably helped sell a lot of underwear.
“I’ll take that one.”
The diplomat reluctantly looked away from the magazine advertisement. “I don’t understand, Your Supremacy.”
There was an amused twinkle in the Emperor’s startlingly blue eyes, but a great deal of impatience in the gesture as his blunt fingers stabbed at the glossy paper. He was not used to dealing with deliberately obtuse functionaries, and he’d been subjected to far too many such persons since coming to Washington.
“I like the look of this one.”
Advertisers are shameless. Even emperors are not immune from the blandishments of mass mailings. Which is how the Emperor of the Kariin Empire came to be perusing a famous lingerie catalog over breakfast by the indoor pool on this sunny morning in his ‘guest’ accommodations.
The official’s puzzled expression cleared. “I see. You want to order these.”
The emperor tilted his head to one side. “I wasn’t thinking in multiples. I’m not that sort of man. Just one will do.” He ran his finger caressingly across the photo. He smiled warmly as his gaze took in that lovely face once more. “This one.”
“I don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of, Mama. Really. They’ve been here six months. If they’d wanted to eat us or anything I think they would have fired up the barbecue by now.” Summer switched the cordless phone to her other ear while her mother made a sharp retort.
“Sorry, Mama, I didn’t mean to be gross. New York’s no more dangerous now than it was before they came here. Besides, most of them are in Washington. There’s a group at the U.N., but I’ve never actually seen one. Hardly anybody has, really. Besides, I have been in Paris, you know. And doing the spring collections here. I’ve been too busy to worry about the whole thing. Better to be busy than to worry about the end of life as we know it, and all that.”
With the phone propped between her cheek and shoulder Summer opened the refrigerator and took out a container of yogurt. She longed for fried eggs and potatoes, but non-fat yogurt was her fate as long as she worked the runways of New York and Paris and Milan. Supermodel thin might be the ideal pushed at the masses, but she had to work hard to keep her big-boned frame just the right size for the designer fashions she modeled. Even though she maintained a disgustingly well-balanced diet and a professional athlete’s workout regime, she was often told she had too many curves for the job. She fervently looked forward to the day when she’d be able to go home and gain ten pounds. She hated cities, she hated the business. She loved the money.
“I’d love to come home for a while, Mama,” she answered her mother.
A pang of homesickness swept through her as she said it, but before she had a chance to make some maudlin comment that would reveal the extent of just how lonely she was to her worried Mama, the doorbell rang.
“Now, who -- ?”
Summer glanced with annoyance toward the door. Her apartment was an appropriately trendy TriBeCa loft; one big, multi-level room that took up the third floor of the renovated building. The apartment was wide, open, decorated in a sparsely dramatic style that really gave nothing away of Summer’s personality. She didn’t think of it as home, but as a place to sleep and host the occasional party. It was cold as a refrigerator in the winter. The one thing she did like about the building was the security it provided. It made no sense that someone would be at her door without first being announced by the doorman.
She hesitated in the center of the room, staring worriedly at the door, when the chimes rang again.
When her mother asked a concerned question, she answered. “There’s someone at the door, Mama.”
Since her mother’s response was an exasperated, “Well, answer it, girl. Don’t be rude.” Summer decided that she was perhaps being a bit too paranoid. She said good-bye to her mother, put her breakfast down on the slate topped coffee table, and went to the door.
Three men in dark suits stood in the hallway. They were nice enough suits, but the conservative cut of each of them, along with the very staid shirts and ties, told Summer that they did not have their tailoring done in London or Milan.
Brooks Brothers, tops, she thought, and said, “Yes?”
The men looked serious, as well as conservative. The one in front flashed a badge. His movement caused Summer to take a nervous step backwards. The trio marched inside and closed the door behind her.
“Wait a minute! You can’t just – “
“The United States is under martial law. We have the authority to enter any residence in the country,” one of the men told her.
She knew there were some emergency law enforcement measures that had been announced in the last six months, but she didn’t think there had been any call to enforce them. “What’s that got to do with me?”
The one who had shown the badge -- the FBI badge -- said, “Summer Simms?”
Her name was actually Susan Summer Simms, but all that alliteration had simply been too much for the insecure teenage girl who’d shortened her working name to Summer when she went into the modeling business. The world knew her as Summer, her family called her Susan, her mama called her girl, or sweetie. No one, including her brothers, had ever called her Sue or Susie. But she’d never heard anyone call her Summer Simms before, so she hesitated a moment before she said, “Yes?”
“Will you come with us, please.”
Despite how the words were phrased there was nothing of request in the man’s uncompromising delivery. His tone, their very presence, sent a shiver of dread through Summer. Her loft was big, but the large men with their grim sense of purpose made it seem smaller and darker and not at all the safe private haven she was used to.
She did her best to put on her coolly neutral ‘model’ face as she asked, “May I see that badge again?” He gave her a chance to take a more thorough look. It certainly looked authentic. “You’re from the FBI?”
“I’m Special Agent Cardon,” he answered. He gestured to his left. “Ricci from the Secret Service.” To the right. “Dalmer from the National Security Agency. This is a multi-agency operation, Ms. Simms.”
Summer gulped. She didn’t know whether to be alarmed or annoyed. There had to be some mistake. They must want some other Susan Summer Simms. “What’s a multi-agency operation?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
“Am I in some sort of trouble?”
She’d never done anything illegal in her life. In fact, the only even vaguely morally questionable thing she could recall doing was posing for lingerie catalogs. That might be tasteless, but hardly against the law. Besides, the paychecks came in very handy.
“Am I in trouble?” she repeated.
“I’m not at liberty to say,” he repeated.
Summer put her hands stubbornly on her hips and looked him square in the eye. “Why aren’t you at liberty to say?”
The man smiled. She didn’t know FBI agents were allowed to do that. “Because I don’t know, Ms. Simms. What I do know is that we’ve been told that your presence is required for reasons of national security. I’m sorry I can’t tell you any more.”
The man’s going from stony-faced law enforcement officer to perplexed human in the blink of an eye was as disconcerting as the trio’s arrival. It did have the effect of disarming Summer’s growing belligerence. She went back to being worried and confused.
“Where are you taking me?”
Dalmer made a disgusted sound. “We don’t have time to discuss this.”
With a purposeful stride he crossed the room and went up the short staircase that separated the bedroom area from the living room. A large pine wardrobe stood on either side of the queen size platform bed. Dalmer opened the door on the wardrobe where she kept what she thought of as her ‘model’ clothes; silly, overpriced things that were destined to be donated to teenage cousins after a few wears because it was necessary to replace silly, overpriced things every season to remain in fashion. The other wardrobe contained her ‘real’ clothes; jeans and T-shirts and warm sweaters.
Dalmer pulled out a couple of short dresses and tossed them on the bed.
Summer followed him up the stairs. “Just what are you doing with my clothes?”
“I’m getting this show on the road,” he said. “We’ve got a plane waiting.” He looked back over his shoulder at her. “You better pack for a few days.”
“Pack? Where are you taking me?”
He didn’t reply.
Summer looked down at the FBI agent standing in the middle of her living room. She didn’t believe this was happening. Government agents didn’t really walk into people’s homes and take them away with only vague explanations about national security. Did they? Could they? Of course they could – martial law, special emergency powers, all that other scary stuff that she’d heard of but hadn’t been exposed to since the Kariins came. The agents were here, and they were intent on doing it. No one had pulled out a gun or handcuffs yet. Summer thought they might at any moment.
Dalmer found the overnight bag at the bottom of the closet and hauled it out.
“Hey!” Summer shouted. “Get out of my stuff!”
“Better grab her makeup bag out of the bathroom, Ricci,” he called down to the third agent. He ignored her. “A model’s going to want a lot of makeup.”
She only wore makeup to work. She looked good in makeup. It wasn’t her fault that God had given her great bones, but people always tended to think that the only thing that mattered to her was her looks. She had long ago given up trying to explain to strangers that she read books, was a great cook, watched sitcoms, and listened to both Lyle Lovett and the Gipsy Kings as well as occasionally going to the opera. She certainly didn’t try to explain anything about herself to these men who’d invaded her home.
She hip-checked Mr. Dalmer aside. “I can do my own packing, thank you.”
He smiled. “Good girl.”
Summer rounded on him. “Good girl? No one with any sense that isn’t my Mama has the right to call me a girl – good or otherwise.”
He blinked and took a step back. “Yes’m.”
She turned her back on him and grabbed things out of her closet. She was not going to explain to these Federal invaders that she was a hard working twenty-four year old woman who’d been supporting a large family since she was seventeen. Somebody is going to pay for this, she thought. That’s why I have an expensive lawyer.
“Can I call my lawyer?” she asked Cardon.
“Sorry, Ms. Simms. I can’t allow that.”
“That’s what I thought you were going to say.”
She looked around in surprise when Dalmer added a short, gold lace dress to the pile of clothes on her bed.
He lifted an eyebrow sardonically in response. “Girl – woman -- never knows when she might be invited to a party. Is that a Valentino?”
Good Lord, a Federal thug who knew the names of fashion designers. Summer didn’t think people who were taken away by a trio of Federal agents got much chance to go to parties, but she didn’t bother to argue. She just did her best to find the most practical things she could in her most impractical closet and pack as quickly as possible -- though she didn’t know why she should be in a hurry to be dragged away to an unknown fate, even for the highest priority security reasons -- with or without party clothes. The one thing she was stubbornly determined to show some spirit about when they left was that she wasn’t going to be arrested and carry her own luggage.
To be continued…should you be interested
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Recently Cerridwen Press (www.cerridwenpress.com) published my elf romance, PRINCE OF THE HOLLOW HILLS. As members of a long-lived species from another "world" with a few superhuman powers, they qualify as aliens of a sort. My naturally evolved vampires (first appearing in a novel with my "book of the heart" DARK CHANGELING and most recently in an Ellora's Cave novella, "Tall, Dark, and Deadly") also have extraordinary powers and lifespan, plus the need to consume blood. When writing about my favorite scenario, relationships between human and nonhuman entities, I face the problem of plausibly explaining why a powerful creature who has lived for centuries would be attracted to an ordinary human being on a personal level, much less as an equal.
With my vampires, the craving for blood also involves a requirement to feed on human emotions; that's why they can't survive solely on animal blood, which provides bulk nourishment. So they have to get close to their prey, even if some of them find this necessity distasteful. But why prefer one donor over another? I have sometimes approached this problem by endowing the heroine with inborn psychic talents that make her stand out from the common "herd" (as a vampire would see it) or by giving her some means of resisting the hero's hypnotic influence, thus making her an intriguing challenge. I also postulate that a vampire can attain true fulfillment only through a bond with a single donor. Many vampires disdain becoming so dependent on an "inferior," but of course we write about the exceptions. Other authors such as Christine Feehan in particular have created the concept of a single "soulmate" for each immortal.
With elves, I use the common theme that immortal beings, leading a cool, serene existence, can become fascinated with the volatile passions and short, intense lives of mortals. Also, it's sometimes assumed that elves lack the spark of creativity possessed by the human race and are attracted to those gifts in our kind. In another Ellora's Cave novella, “Dragon's Tribute,” I deal with a love affair between a captive young woman and a dragon who can take human form. He finds the heroine more appealing than the previous sacrificial maidens because, unknown to herself, she has part-dragon ancestry.
A formerly human "alien" such as a traditional undead vampire or a Highlander-style Immortal might be attracted to an "ordinary" woman because, far from disdaining mortality, he might want to stay in touch with the remnants of his own humanity.
Another device that can be useful for bringing mortal and immortal together in intimacy is to place the nonhuman character in an unusually vulnerable position, so that he has to accept help from the human heroine and thereby comes to recognize and appreciate her valuable qualities.
In short, it's clear why we yearn for intimacy with aliens, but it takes more ingenuity to discern why they would fall in love with us.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Does being in love actually mean that one's judgement is shunted out of the circuit so that it's like being drunk, not even knowing that you aren't assessing the other person clearly?
And maybe the most appalling question of all: why should we assume that love even has any kind of adversary to conquer?
Love joins two into one -- wife and husband; mother and child; father and child; brother and sister and the whole extended family.
Pairs and larger networks of pairs are formed from the silken bonds of love. Such bonds limit personal freedom, perhaps, but also open vistas of experience beyond the "self."
Such a gift is divine, from beyond our reality, from the maker of our reality. It is in fact an inextricable attribute of our reality.
Without Love there could be no universe. (well, to me that's an axiom, to others it's a postulate yet to be proven, but let's consider what it means if it is an axiom and needs no proof).
If Love is an attribute of "Reality" such that its absense would abrogate the manifestation of what we deem reality -- then what is there for Love to Conquer?
Nothing within "Reality" could possibly oppose Love, at least not in any noticable way because Love is in fact synonymous with Reality.
So then is Romance really about "falling in Love" and drowning in a false projection of Reality - a fabrication of the mind that bears no actual resemblance to reality?
Or is that vision that is bestowed upon those who have "Fallen in Love" the actual real Reality, and what we live in everyday is the false view?
In other words, if Love is the silken cord that binds all Reality, then when someone falls in love and sees only the good and great atttributes of the object of their love, they are actually "seeing" the truth of the person -- the point at which that person is connected to the ineffable, the creator of reality.
Maybe, as readers of Romance, we could learn to cultivate that vision of the people around us, to see in others all those wondrous attributes we could only wish we had and ignore or discard or filter out the more negative traits?
What does the phrase "fall in love" actually suggest? If our normal perceptive state is "higher" than that of someone in the grip of Romance, then the person in love is far more "down to Earth" - more practical - more in touch with nature and reality than we are in everyday consciousness.
Is it really necessary to be "In Love" -- fallen down from a presumably "higher" state -- to see the truth of the best in human nature?
Can we, with a little practice, open our inner eye and see that truth in others, even when it is only potential, only not-quite manifested?
Is that the exercise that incessant reading of Romance novels is all about: not sinking into delusion and wish-fulfillment but a practical means to cutting through to the stark practical reality beneath our daily lives?
Monday, September 18, 2006
I've been traveling to promote THE QUEST and finishing up a book that's due, KISS ME DEADLY, a romantic suspense that won't be out until next summer. And I've been to Dragoncon. Pictures are coming soon. But in the meantime, I wanted to share a television interview that I did and now have up on my website. www.susankearney.com If you go to my home page and click on the interview, you can see and hear it. When I get back, I'm going to learn how to blog--in the meantime, Rowena is posting this for me.
So given, that, I thought I'd share with you some of my characters' backgrounds, secrets, histories and other eccentricities that unfolded as I unfolded their stories.
Many of you have read FINDERS KEEPERS, my space opera romance novel (and RITA award finalist) released from Bantam in May 2005. Many of you have lusted over Rhis, also known as Khyrhis T'vahr. Here's a peek at one of my earlier 'character outlines' on him, when I was trying to understand what made this gorgeous, sexy, oh-so-distant-but WAIT 'til he meets Trilby!... man. Keep in mind that some of this goes back to the late 1990s, when I FINDERS KEEPERS was just a story I was "messing around with"...
"...--Khyrhis T'Vahr: 38 year old male; Senior Z'fharin huntership captain; educated; wealthy, powerful, attractive, cold, arrogant, brilliant, decisive, loyal; genetically engineered to be superior; lab-bred; knows is resented by many but feared and respected; isolated; a brief fling with Malika ____ convinced him love was something for other people; problems: feels people see him for what he can do for them; for his status and power (Malika). Goals? His career and his people, the Z'fharin; his duty -- yet always a nagging sense of emptiness.
He lies to Trilby as to who he is he THINKS for security reasons but in reality he is reluctant to see the fear in her eyes that all others have when with him..."
In essence, that was my free-write summary on Rhis. But it wasn't where he started. FINDERS KEEPERS was originally written in 1993 as a novella, not for publication (well, okay, it rather hovered in the back of my mind that I might want to do so at some point...) but more because I couldn't find what I wanted to read, so I wrote what I wanted to read.
In the original version, Rhis awakens much more quickly than in the novel, and 'makes a move' on Trilby much earlier as well...
[snip]..."Trilby." He said her name softly and she turned, surprised to find him standing behind her. "Trilby, what did I say that was so wrong?"
"Nothing." She forced a laugh. "What makes you think you said anything wrong? I--"
And he plucked the datapad from her hands and placed it back on the side of the nav console. "Because you always have a funny sound in your voice right before you jump up and run away. That is how I know something is wrong."
She stepped back and leaned against the edge of the console. He was too close. She could feel the heat from his body, smell the male scent of him. "It's nothing. You didn't do anything wrong. It's just me, okay? I'm, I'm not used to having someone around."
He sighed. "You are many things, but you are not a good liar, Trilbi'chenka."... [snip]
Even back then, Rhis still had his formal-sounding accent. But I'm leaving in the misspelling of 'Trilby-chenka' (which is how it appears in the novel) because this is from the ORIGINAL 1993 version. And that's how I wrote it, then. This scene, above, isn't in the novel. But the essence of what makes Rhis so sexy is in the novel. And that develops from my association with him - Such A Character! - in the earlier novella.
I still have most of my original scribblings for all my novels: WINTERTIDE, FINDERS KEEPERS, GABRIEL'S GHOST and more. If you all would like to continue to see earlier versions of scenes and characters, as well as their motivational outlines, let me know. I'd be glad to let you peek inside the process of creating my books and my characters.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Thank Goodness For Tides: The Sex and surf scene...
In an earlier month's post I blogged about my complete and utter shock and dismay when I saw this cover art, lovely as it is.
What was my problem?
For a start, there was only one point in the book when the heroine's hair was that length, and it was a hundred pages from the end. Moreover, she was always very fashion conscious. Getting sand between her toes was an issue.
Secondly, at that one juncture, the beach ought to have been strewn with unsightly and inconvenient corpses. I couldn't use magic to clean them up, because this is a science fiction romance. I had to use the tide.
However, if I hadn't had strong tides earlier in the survival saga, I needed an explanation (short of a tsunami, for obvious reasons) why the tide would come in higher and go out powerfully lower than usual.
Also, there is the problem of realism. Having done my research and sat in the sea in various parts of the world, I have to report that when the sea is cold, a heroine is preoccupied with the coldness, no matter what else is up!
Someone will tell me that I ought to make the sea warmer, but warming the sea changes the world... the climate, the vegetation, the animals and insects. If I made the sea comfortable for copulating in, it would probably be full of bacteria and algae. It might stink. If I were to counter that by adding a lot of salt, I'd end up with the Dead Sea, and then the hero and heroine would be terribly thirsty... or mad.
Not least, there was the fact that the proverbial world still had to be saved in the following hundred double spaced pages. This roll in the ripples could not be the happy ending of the romance. While sex in the surf had to advance the story (and avoid being gratuitous), it could not be completely satisfying for both of them.
Well, given cold water and sand, the probability that the tide would either be coming in or going out, and the likelihood that there would be crabs in the shallows, making seaside sex less than completely satisfactory was not a problem.
Luckily for me, I had two months to mull over various ways around the difficulties because I didn't wait for my editor to tell me whether or not she wanted the cover scene written.
How many times did I write this scene? At least five.
Was it worth it? I think so.
by SUSAN GRANT
copyright Susan Grant 2006
ISBN 0373771924; HQN books
This uncorrected excerpt may contain errors and other text not found in the final printed novel and is not for sale. Please don’t share the text with anyone without first receiving permission from the author to do so.
Keira was still shaking as she addressed the leaders she’d summoned from their ridiculous emergency meeting. This was the emergency! “The prince of Earth insulted me. Challenged me. Me—the queen!”
She’d bathed and changed into an exquisite bright yellow ceremonial gown. It constricted her ribs to the point where she couldn’t inhale fully, which contributed to her swimming head. But it helped constrain her temper as well. “He’s a frontiersman, a barbarian, and yet he broke every level of security we have, forcing his image onto my personal view screen.” Searing it into her mind.
Gods, he’d affected her, and in more ways than she cared to admit. She’d thought herself immune from sexy, good-looking, arrogant, supremely confident men and their charms. Particularly those well beneath her social standing.
“How could you let this happen? He taunted me. Your monarch. Your goddess. I’m humiliated and disgusted. I’m...I’m furious!”
Lightheaded, she gripped her rustling skirts in shaking hands. The fabric blotted her sweaty palms, effectively hiding the roiling fear she tried to hard to suppress and hide. You are strong. A warrior. “I want an explanation, and I want it now, or I’ll have every last one of you fools executed.”
“We have put the entire planet on full alert,” the new Minister of Intelligence, Ismae Vemekk, offered. “No craft can get in or out.”
Keira glared at the unfamiliar women with contempt. What were they doing, alternating boy-girl-boy-girl as they replaced Intelligence ministers? Spicing it up for variety? Usually the cronies stayed on in their posts for life. “Who cares about spacecraft when an Earthling can invade my privacy and taunt me at his convenience? No, it isn’t a physical invasion, but is that not the next step?”
“Earth does not have the power to invade the heart of the Coalition,” Neppal said.
“How do we know this? You yourself said that if they align with the Drakken...” She couldn’t finish the thought. “How are we to make an impression on Earth when they so easily make fools of us? Damn you, Neppal. Where were your troops when that signal came in? I was alone. Alone!”
A memory ripped through her mind in dark, violent snatches. The smell of her mother’s skin. The sound of her fear-filled voice. They were on a ship and something had happened to it. Her mother stuffed Keira in a dark pipe barely large enough to fit her. Stay here, Keira. Do not move. Do you understand me? No matter what you hear, do not come out. And, oh, what Keira had heard. Awful things. Unforgettable things.
Keira realized she’d brought her flattened hand to her chest to quell her thumping heart. Ashamed, she made a fist. “If I cannot be safe in my own home, then where can I be safe?” She detected a slight thickening in her voice and cleared her throat. They mustn’t see her fear, they mustn’t. She picked up a wine glass Taye had filled with snowberry liqueur, knowing that it calmed her. In one gulp, she emptied it and was about to slam the glass on the table when something more appropriate came to mind. Perhaps not appropriate, but satisfying at least. Sneering, she hurled the glass at the supreme commander. Years of training with weapons had given her dead-on accuracy.
The officer blocked the glass with his arms, fists pressed together. The heavy goblet crashed to the floor and shattered. “The next one will hit the target, I swear it,” she hissed, glowering at Neppal.
Carefully, the prime minister broke in once more. “Perhaps we can see the offending visual ourselves?”
She actually felt a quickening of her heartbeat at the prospect of watching the recording again. Was the prince as proactive and forceful in the other, more personal areas of his life? He’d mentioned a harem. An image of him making love to several women threatened to take her breath away—one: because she didn’t like the thought of other women touching him, and two: no man should look that good naked. Trying to act as coolly as possible, she sashayed to her throne and sat in it with a whoosh of yellow skirts. “Show visual,” she commanded from the enormous, bejeweled chair when the leaders gathered in a half circle around the huge screen.
The recorded image was stopped and brought back to the beginning. Every one of the palace leaders present focused on the display—and the Earthling prince. It grew very quiet in the chamber. All were sizing up the man, seeing if concern was justified, and if so, to what level.
Keira sat rigidly, her hands clasped demurely on her lap, until she noticed her fingers digging into her flesh and slipped her hands under her thighs.
The Earthling’s voice filtered through the translator. His surprise slid into interest, male interest, when he first laid eyes upon her. He finds you attractive.
It took everything she had not to let his appraisal of her matter.
“How dare you?” Keira stiffened at the indignation and shock in her recorded voice. And the anger—anger at herself. That was new. Usually she was angry at other people. Another reason to despise the Earthling prince.
He laughed at her then, called her the barbarian. How dare he treat her with such disrespect?
Onscreen, the Earthling prince leaned forward, his mouth formed in that half-smile that so unsettled her. She couldn’t be further than naked dressed to her chin in the layered and laced traditional gown, but every time the man’s eyes swept passed her body, she felt exposed. She shivered as she always did when hit with a sense of vulnerability, but this time the trembling was different. Quite...different.
She imagined his muscled body sweaty and naked as he struggled to free himself from the cuffs with which she’d bound him. He’d be hers, all hers, and at her mercy. She imagined tasting his skin, touching him wherever she pleased. “By the gods and goddesses,” she whispered.
Keira closed her eyes and prayed to get through this session with her dignity intact. Sometimes, it felt as if her dignity was all she had. In the frightening lonely days after losing her family, dignity served well as a protective wall, one as high and as wide as those surrounding this palace.
She fought to build that wall around her now, listening to the prince rage, “My message to you is this: if your people come back for another try at landing on Earth, we’ll be waiting. A billion more guys like me, waiting.”
The visual ended soon after. Everyone was briefly silent. No one questioned her rage now. They appeared as invaded as she felt.
The new minister of intelligence was the first of the leaders to find her voice. “I am deeply sorry at the distress this invasion caused you, Your Highness. I do not know why the transmission appeared on your screen and no one else’s, bypassing all our security. You have my word we will work ceaselessly on this until we have an answer.”
Keira nodded her thanks yet regarded the tall woman with pity. If the fates of her predecessors were any indication, Ismae Vemekk’s life span would not be noted for its longevity.
Supreme-second Fair Cirrus frowned, rubbing his knuckles across his chin. “Indeed this proves Earth’s cleverness. That cleverness could very well lead them to be reluctant choosing sides in a war they know little about.”
The age-old war with the Drakken.
“There is one way to avoid uncertainty as to their loyalties,” Rissallen said. “A failsafe way.”
“Nothing is failsafe,” Neppal barked.
“This is nearly so. A treaty to take precedence over all treaties.” The prime minister’s mouth slid into a winning smile, revealing perfect, if a little large, teeth. Rissallen could be so oily. What did he have up his sleeve this time? That they simply cut off the power to her visual communications screen? That they eavesdrop on all her private conversations for now on?
Keira slammed her hands onto the armrests of her throne. The jewels on her fingers clattered against the jeweled precious metal on the armrests. “I’ll have you know, Kellen, that I will not be coddled, talked down from my concerns.”
But the leaders seemed not to hear her. “I wonder,” Fair Cirrus said to Rissallen, “is the prince unmarried?”
Rissallen waved at the blank screen. “He did not have a wrist tattoo indicating he was married.”
“Earth tradition may differ.”
“Nor did I see any such jewelry that could possibly signify his marital status.”
“He mentioned a harem,” Fair Cirrus noted.
Keira bounced her gaze from man to man. She expected them to be counting Earth’s warships, not counting the prince’s wives.
“That’s not unusual for a man of power, no matter what his marriage status,” Neppal said. “If single, he’d maintain a harem for sport and for variety. If married, he’d certainly be entitled to additional females to ease the boredom.”
Keira snorted. “The only one bored in your bed, Commander, is the woman you take to it.”
Finally, Neppal met her gaze. A glint of malice glinted in his eyes. “I do not like the idea of bringing in an outsider to be the queen’s consort, but the more I ponder it the better it sounds,” he told the group.
“Consort?” she croaked.
Rissallen dipped in a small bow. “A treaty of marriage would put all our fears to rest because it would link Earth to the Coalition. Permanently.”
“At least until death do they part,” Neppal said smugly.
“Gods,” Vemekk said. “Tell me you’re not considering mating them.”
Mating? Her and the Earthling prince? Keira gave a little squeak. By now, her pulse was making a strange whooshing noise in her ears. “I thought plans were being made for my betrothal to a high-ranking military officer.” Not Neppal, but someone as easily dismissed. “Where is he? Why have I not met him yet?”
The group shuffled their feet and cleared their throats. “Prime Major Far Star is missing,” several admitted at once.
“What happened? Did he run away? Was he too terrified to marry me? Did he hear the rumor about my skill with a sword?” Of course, it wasn’t a rumor, but it served her well as a man deterrent.
Rissallen smiled. “We simply don’t know, My Queen. But he’s old news now. Now we have a new and better man for you to consider.”
The Earthling prince, she thought, struggling to breathe in the constricting dress. Although she wouldn’t truly be allowed to consider him, would she? They’d pretend to include her in the process but ultimately, they’d make the decisions as they always did, as they had ever since she took the throne as a child-queen, a frightened little girl lost in a sea of what she didn’t understand. You’re still that girl. Wasn’t she supposed to hold absolute and holy power? Some goddess she was. She had no free will, no control over her destiny, no choices. Not since childhood had she ventured off this world or mingled with the people who worshipped her daily in their temples. She was a prisoner in this castle, born and bred to breed, and nothing more. She’d never really matter, not like she longed to matter.
Keira strode to the huge window that looked out onto a glacial landscape which held about as much warmth as her blood did in that moment. Her breath formed mist on the glass, obscuring the dramatic views. “I wish it were summer,” she whispered, dragging a finger through the circle of vapor. For those few fleeting weeks out of the year she felt alive. She spent the glorious weeks outside and especially the nights that never grew dark. Sometimes, she even evaded the guards, if only for a few moments.
Her mood darkened. She’d evade her future husband, too. And as often as possible. Once he’d planted a baby in her belly, there was no further need to be with him.
What if he didn’t agree to the treaty of marriage?
Of course, he would. For him, it would be a huge step up. She was a goddess. The blood of Sakkara flowed in her veins. She could trace her ancestors back to the beginning of recorded time. Her family was revered as gods by trillions of Coalition citizens and billions more undocumented believers who lived across the border in Drakken space. She was the goddess they worshipped.
A goddess who felt very human most of the time.
She heard a throat being cleared, and the shuffling of feet as the leaders waited for her to turn around. They’d make the decision for her if she didn’t, citing reasons of national security. She might as well hold onto as much control as she could. She took a breath, her hands fisted at her sides. Then, with dignity holding her smoldering rage in check, she turned around and squared her shoulders. Her ornate dress rustled, the bodice squeezing her ribs. “It must be done. For the sake of my people, I will take the Earthling as my royal consort.” She wasn’t very convincing at altruism but nonetheless, she tried. Luckily, no one snickered.
Unlike the others, who seemed relieved, Vemekk and Neppal continued to act unhappy: the minister quite shocked and dismayed, and the supreme commander simply angry. The commander’s reaction Keira could explain away as sullenness over not having had the chance to go to battle against Earth with his army, but the minister’s reaction was more puzzling.
“Find out the prince’s status,” Keira said. “And if he is free”—her hands opened and closed, itching to throw daggers—“strike a deal with Earth. Tell them they may offer their prince as the price for peace and the opportunity to keep their planet.”
Rissallen slapped his hands together in delight. “Together the Coalition and Earth will present a united front to the Drakken Hoard.”
As for her united front with the Earthling, it need not exist. He’d be given a life of comfort and riches in the galaxy’s most luxurious palace. All he ever needed to sate his appetites would be available to him, so he need not look to her for his satisfaction. And if he were to persist, well, her skill with a plasma sword was legendary.
Excerpted from: MY FAVORITE EARTHLING
by SUSAN GRANT
copyright Susan Grant 2006
ISBN 0373771924; HQN books
This uncorrected excerpt may contain errors and other text not found in the final printed novel and is not for sale. Please don’t share the text with anyone without first receiving permission from the author to do so.
CALIFORNIA POLITICIAN AND ALIEN LOVER SAVE THE WORLD
Reuters – one hour ago
WASHINGTON, DC (Reuters) – After spending much of the night in emergency meetings, a visibly emotional President Laurel Ramos announced that the alien invasion force threatening Earth has been turned away. “Today we have two new heroes—California State Senator Jana Jasper and her extraordinary extraterrestrial friend, Cavin of Far Star. It is not an exaggeration to say that they saved the world. I hereby rescind the state of emergency and declare this day a national holiday. Senator Jasper, Major Far Star, today we celebrate your courage and vision as one world newly united by a common cause. A very grateful world, indeed.”
Over the weekend, Jasper, 32, and Far Star, 34(est.) were taken by officials to an undisclosed location in the western United States where the pair were successful in deterring the invasion. Because of possible monitoring of Earth communications by the aliens, full details on the operation will not be revealed. At the news, celebrations broke out all over the world.
The tale of terror and daring had a romantic beginning. Jasper, the youngest child of US congressman John Jasper and former Soviet Ballet dancer Larisa Porizkova met Far Star in the late 1980s when both were children. Far Star’s father, a scientist, traveled to Earth to determine its suitability for alien habitation, a fact not known by Far Star at the time. Sources close to the couple say that after landing in the invisible spacecraft on the Jasper family ranch, young Far Star sneaked away to explore on his own and encountered the girl. “It was love at first sight,” enthuses Evie Holloway, 35, Jasper’s sister.
Despite the brevity of their initial meeting and the passage of over two decades, the pair never forgot each other. According the sources close to the couple, Far Star abandoned his post as a high-ranking military Coalition officer to warn Jasper that plans were underway for an invasion of Earth. Despite several attempts on his life by an interstellar assassin, now presumed dead, and the almost-fatal destruction of the computers implanted in his body caused by the attacks, Far Star has apparently triumphed, Jasper at his side.
“I wouldn’t get your hopes too high,” the popular senator warned officials after leaving the remote location where she and Far Star are said to have battled the alien fleet. “It was a delay tactic, not a permanent fix. It buys us time to prepare and that’s all.”
“These Coalition dudes are coming back, no doubt about that,” advised Jared Jasper, 36, the senator’s brother. “And whether we like it or not, all of us will be on the frontlines when they do.” The Sacramento real-estate developer and National Guard fighter pilot assisted in fighting off the alien invasion, although details on his role in the operation were not available due to security concerns.
A press conference is scheduled for later today at Mercy Hospital in Sacramento, where legendary Jasper patriarch and former California governor Jake Jasper was rushed early this morning after suffering a massive stroke.
A planet far, far away
The newly installed Minister of Coalition Intelligence listened in astonishment as an unexpected visitor vented his spleen.
“Far Star must be terminated!”
The minister couldn’t quite get over the coldness in his superior’s eyes. You look as if you could do the job with your own two hands. He made a fist in his lap behind his desk where no one could spy the symptom of his nervousness—or his grogginess. He’d been summoned straight out of bed and a deep sleep, made necessary after a hastily arranged meeting regarding a shocking encounter with a small, isolated world known only as Earth had kept him up far too late. “Far Star? As in Prime-major Far Star?”
“Yes, that one!”
The minister couldn’t remember the officer causing any trouble. In fact, quite the opposite. Far Star seemed an affable sort, young and handsome. Intelligent with a bright future. But his superior had been in the government since before he was born. Who was the minister to question that experience?
You ought to be standing, he realized suddenly, and started to get up. He’d been the Minister of Coalition Intelligence for all of a week, not long enough to get over being a little star-struck dealing so personally with palace leaders—Supreme Commander Neppal, Supreme-second Fair Cirrus, Prime Minister Rissallen, and the eunuch Tibor Frix, captain of the Palace Guard—although he’d not yet met the queen, thank the gods.
At the thought of Queen Keira, the minister winced. Other men might like gorgeous, spoiled, willful, wildly unpredictable powerful women. He did not.
“Be seated,” his superior commanded. Please. I’m here off the record.”
Indeed. There was nothing lawful about an in-house assassination.
“The order was put in three Septumdays ago! Receipt was confirmed by one of your REEFs—the very best, I was promised. Yet, we’ve heard nothing, and now Far Star is missing. I had the late minister insert a code in the kill order giving the REEF a time limit to track down and kill Far Star. One week! It is past that. What happened?”
Barbaric, the minister thought. He knew it was possible to rig an assassin for self-destruct but never heard of it being done. But with a crime this heinous, one wouldn’t want tracks leading back to the source, would they? Better to kill the killer and eliminate any messy evidence. “I’ll see if I can contact the REEF.” He swiveled his chair to access his computer. His communication would be delivered directly to a computer implanted in the individual assassin’s brain, giving a level of security unmatched by any other means. After several tries under intense scrutiny, there was no answer. As a last-ditch effort, the minister pinged the REEF’s ship. Nothing.
“I am unable to contact him. Because of the time limit, since the REEF hasn’t reported back within the prescribed limit, I’m afraid he’s likely suffered a total breakdown of his internal computer systems.”
“Gods be damned. He’s dead?”
“Or a vegetable.”
“Hire me another one!” His superior slammed a hand down on the desk, scattering the most recent panicked communiqué from the fleet commander fleeing Planet Earth’s unexpected wrath. That is the true threat here, this new and powerful world, not Far Star. Yes, the minister needed to devote his attention to galactic matters, but at home trouble was brewing, kill orders were flying, and despite being the supposed overseer of intelligence, he knew nothing. There was something innately humbling about being kept in the dark. But he summoned patience. “I’ll find you a new REEF, though you’d better give him a longer rope, because we don’t know where Far Star is.” Probably lying dead somewhere with the broken REEF nearby. “Meanwhile, as a safeguard, I’ll leave the viewer on the original REEF’s ship set to automatic two-way. The moment he powers up his ship, his image will be displayed onscreen in my office. Then we’ll have our answer.”
“No. Set it to appear on my personal screen, and only my screen.”
“As you wish.”
His visitor’s comm device chimed. It was unfurled and laid on the desk so that the minister, too, could see who’d called. The individual wore a hooded cloak covering his or her face. “I understand there is a problem.” It was a man—a young man by the sound of it. The voice was regally modulated with an accent that sounded familiar, but not familiar enough that the minister could place it. “Is it true? Far Star lives?”
“Far Star is missing,” the minister said. Again, he thought: I should be concentrating on the humiliating rout at Earth, not this.
“You sound distressed, minister.”
“Besides the fact that you have chosen not to identify yourself, I can’t understand this sudden interest in Far Star. He’s missing. Gone. Vanished without a trace. Isn’t that satisfactory?”
“Alive, he remains a major security risk,” his superior explained. “It is why we must locate him. He disappeared before the news was formally announced, but Prime-major Far Star has been chosen to be consort to the queen. This marriage must not take place.”
“Far Star? Royal consort? Good gods. The poor bastard. Years ago, I heard a rumor that the queen killed a man who tried to take her by force by hacking off his male parts with a plasma sword.”
“So, it is true, then.”
“After she sliced off his bullocks, she decided that killing him would be an act of mercy. He lives on at the palace as a eunuch—and as a reminder for those suitors who would attempt to take liberties with the queen.”
The minister winced. Perhaps Far Star’s termination would not be so terrible, after all. It was like euthanizing a sick dog to save it from further misery, no? “I would think, however, a military man like Far Star would make an ideal consort. With martial arts and weapons training, at least he’d stand a chance at defending himself against her.”
“A military man would make an excellent consort indeed. The right military man.” The man onscreen threw back his hood. “Me.”
Good gods. “You’re...you’re...” If Queen Keira were to marry this...this boy, this creature, how would the Coalition survive? These conspirators don’t mean for the Coalition to survive. “I will not be part of this!”
“You’ve already done your part, minister. Thanks to your help, the queen and I will enjoy a long and productive marriage.”
Something hard pressed coldly against the back of the minister’s skull. While he’d been focused on the comm, his superior had rounded the desk. Reflected in a crystal souvenir of the minister’s last assignment on New Darva was the reflection of a gun being held to his head.
Of course, you fool. You know too much to be left alive. Briefly, he wondered what had happened to his predecessor. The woman’s death had been ruled a tragic accident, but now he wondered. Perhaps, after issuing the original kill order, she, too, knew too much. Or perhaps the previous minister had been more courageous and refused to do as these men asked.
Does it matter what path you chose? The final result will be the same.
The minister stared at his desktop and waited for the burst of light that would end his life. It was a plasma gun: a merciful choice in weapons. The end would be quick and clean, and everything the demise of the Coalition wouldn’t be if the circumstances of the queen’s upcoming nuptials were any hint.
But if she knew of the conspiracy, perhaps the result would be different, no? It was worth a try. With his heart thundering in his ears, the minister brushed a fingertip over the data input port on his command center, secretly linking the automatic two-way visual to the queen’s private chambers. If the REEF ever checked in, he’d check in with the queen. With any hope, and it was a tiny one indeed, she’d learn the assassin’s purpose—and the treachery behind it.
And if not, despite the confidence of her hopeful groom, Queen Keira would not go down with a fight. The image of the petulant goddess’s likely reaction to his marriage proposal was so satisfying in the minister’s mind that when the fatal shot was fired in the beautifully appointed office, he died with a smile on his face.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
If you wanted to create aliens using intelligent versions of terrestrial animals as templates, which creatures would you choose to base your ETs on? The animal generally acknowledged to have intelligence closest to human level, of course, is the chimpanzee. In fact, Jared Diamond calls Homo sapiens "The Third Chimpanzee" in his book of that title. So chimps who evolved to sapience would probably be a lot like us. We could imagine, however, a species of civilized chimpanzees who have retained their body hair and other primate characteristics, as in the "Planet of the Apes" series. Since it has proved almost impossible to teach chimps verbal speech (because of their physical limitations), these apes might communicate mainly by sign language.
What about animals other than primates? Many people believe dolphins possess a language, with intelligence comparable to ours. Dolphin-like aliens pose one problem, however, the lack of manipulative appendages. No matter how advanced they were, would we recognize them as such if they created no material artifacts? Maybe we could postulate aquatic mammals that train lesser animals to build objects and structures for them.
A prime ocean-dwelling candidate for sapience is the octopus. These cephalopods are surprisingly intelligent and have the advantage of eight flexible arms. With the potential for unlimited size in the weightlessness of a watery environment, they could grow large enough to have huge brains. If they evolved voluntary control over their ability to change color, they would have a rich medium of communication.
Elephants, which live as long as human beings, have high intelligence and complex social networks. They have voluntary control over their vocalizations. They also possess versatile, sensitive manipulative appendages -- trunks. A culture of sapient elephants would be easy to envision -- reminiscent of Babar! As for other land mammals, raccoons and bears are clever with their "hands" (in this case, paws), known to open doors and latched containers. Bears, in particular, grow large enough to potentially develop brains of a sufficient size to sustain human-like intelligence. Maybe Yogi really *is* smarter than the average bear? Land-dwelling predators such as wolves, tigers, and lions make appealing aliens. I love the idea of intelligent felinoid species like the ones in the Kzin series and C. J. Cherryh's Chanur series. But to accept these alien races as plausible, we'd have to assume some kind of evolutionary pressures causing them to develop bipedal locomotion, handlike forelimbs, and language.
Animal Planet's "Most Extreme" episode on intelligence rates the parrot Number One (although I assume they mean first among birds, not all animals; I can't believe parrots surpass apes or dolphins). Parrots, like elephants, can live a very long time. They show evidence of connecting sounds with meanings rather than just "parroting" words, and they can manipulate objects with their claws. A species of parrot-type birds grown to the size of ostriches could conceivably attain sapience.
What about social insects? A hive of bees acts almost as a single entity. Could they evolve a "group mind"? But with this speculation we reach the threshold of categories of minds so alien we might not be able to recognize them as intelligent.
When imagining Terran animals as evolved into intelligent persons, I assume their physiology, psychology, and social structures wouldn't change much. They would develop cultures suitable to their biology and environment. So they would have personalities we could somewhat empathize with but flavored with nonhuman qualities.