Monday, September 4, 2017


Whee! The ebook has been successfully uploaded to Amazon Kindle; I'm dealing with some size issues on the paperback cover, but hope to have that version also uploaded soon. They say it can take up to 72 hours to go live. I'm going to try not to check more than, oh, every hour or so.

In the meantime, here's an excerpt from the book:

Amari and Jesse on the right, and Wil on the left, broke through the screen of needles almost simultaneously. Nikos could be heard incautiously scrambling down to them across the patches of scree, and incidentally sending down a shower of pebbles and raw shards of rock that inspired all of them to duck under the cover of the cave’s wide mouth.

“They’re back!” Nikos announced before he was quite level with the rest of them. He made a flying leap from the ledge over the cave to the patch of grass below, and landed so lightly that Gabrel envied him. When he’d been seventeen, he would have made the jump too. Dammit, twenty-three wasn’t exactly old; he could leap all over the mountainside just like Nikos if he wanted to, he told himself. It was the responsibility of command, the understanding of how even a minor injury could fatally slow a man, that forced him to take the safer paths. And, of course, his own – not quite so minor – injury, incurred on last week’s raid. Gabrel’s knee twinged in protest as he stood to greet the returning men.

Besides, Nikos had grown up in one of the mountain villages that clung to the sides of these hills, so he had a built-in advantage.

“How many?” Amari demanded, and simultaneously Wil asked, “Did they get it?”

Nikos looked first at Amari, opened his mouth to speak, caught Gabrel’s eye, swallowed, and stood at attention looking only at Gabrel. “Sir! I have to report a large party advancing. Leaders are identified as Ravi and Patrik, and… somebody I don’t know. Riding a donkey. The guy I don’t know, I mean. And they’re bringing a train of a dozen pack donkeys. Heavily loaded.”

“They got it! Hai yi!” Amari shouted.

‘Hai yi yi yiee!” Nikos joined in, sending the call to bounce off the mountainside and echo on the far side of the valley.

“Don’t let’s advertise our presence to everybody in the valley,” Gabrel suggested mildly.

“Aw…. They already know we’re here. We get eggs and cheese from Skyros ‘most every day,” Nikos argued.

Gabrel quelled him with a look. “Consider it practice for the day when a Harmony patrol shows up in Skyros.” He turned back to the others. “All right, they’re going to be tired. Make a chain to unload and place the supplies back in the cave.”

The needles quivered violently again and Patrik pushed into the clearing. Gabrel let out his breath in silent relief. He’d sent four men, nearly half his group, on this mission. He hoped to get back four men in reasonably good shape. But Patrik, just two years older than Nikos and not noticeably more mature, had been the one he worried about most.

“Everybody all right?” he demanded sharply. Patrik was breathing heavily. “Better than all right,” he announced with a seraphic smile before taking another gasp of air. “Got what we came for, and a bonus!”

“What’s that?” Patrik slowly folded his lanky frame down upon the grass where he’d been standing. “Only two things wrong with the mountains,” he announced. “You people don’t keep enough oxygen around, and there is way too much vertical.”

“So hang onto a donkey’s tail, next time, instead of rushing ahead to be first back,” Gabrel said crisply. "The ‘bonus?’" Dear God, had Patrik gotten creative again? He’d been counting on Ravi to restrain him.

“It’ll be here in a minute.” Patrik pulled off the top half of his uniform and used it to mop his forehead. “I think it should be a surprise, and Ravi thinks it should wait until he has a chance to explain.”

Gabrel’s forebodings grew. It sounded as though Ravi hadn’t been quite as successful as he’d hoped at keeping Patrik within bounds. But he could hear the donkey train now, crashing through the woods and, no doubt, turning the narrow path to their camp into something more like a construction road. No need for a show of authority; he’d know the worst within minutes anyway.

The first donkeys came through the trees, with Ravi tugging on their headstalls while the donkeys looked this way and that and indicated that they’d just as soon wander off into the woods if only this stupid person weren’t being so insistent. One of the first pair of donkeys was loaded with nets on either side, each holding two cans that looked very much like the ink they’d gone to get. The other – was being ridden by what Gabrel supposed was Patrik’s ‘surprise.’

“Pat! You’ve never gone and brought me a girl for my birthday?” Amari was the first of them to overcome his shock and find his voice.

“You have succeeded,” Gabrel told Patrik. “That is definitely a surprise. Ravi, I’m told you can explain?”

Before Ravi could speak, the girl slipped off the donkey and addressed Gabrel directly. “Are you in command of this rabble?” The cut-glass, icy voice seemed incongruous, coming from a sweat-stained and dusty girl with a mop of pale hair falling around her face. Her long dark green trousers and lighter green tunic appeared spotless and unwrinkled and generally in much better shape than the girl. Smartcloth, then. And that accent had never come from Esilia.

“One moment, Citizen.” The girl’s expression told Gabrel that he’d guessed correctly. He turned on the men, who were all staring at the girl like idiots, and probably frightening her. “Ravi, what part of ‘inconspicuous’ did you not understand? And the rest of you ‘rabble’, don’t just stand there. We’ve got a pack train to deal with. All of you get to work! Unload the donkeys, put the ink in the cave, and the printer – you did get the printer?”

Ravi nodded. “Martin and Isak are preventing it from falling out of a sling between the last two donkeys. Hell of a thing to wrestle up a mountain.”

“Printer at the front of the cave, when it gets here. Take the donkeys to water as they’re unloaded, then get them back down the mountain as far as Skyros; we paid enough to use them, we’re not going to feed them as well. Do I have to spell out everything for you?”

“Water?” the girl repeated, then closed her mouth with a snap. Obviously she’d be damned if she asked them for anything.

“Allow me.” Nikos had kept his wits; while everybody else was staring, he’d taken his flask to the spring and filled it. Now he handed it to the girl, who took the flask in her bound hands, sipped cautiously and then tilted her head back to inhale the entire contents of the flask. “Skyros water is known to be the best in all the mountains,” Nikos boasted, “and Skyros gets its water from our spring.”

“Skyros is also known for its talkative men,” Gabrel said drily. “Nikos, get to work. Ravi, you’re excused from unloading duty while you give me an explanation.”

Ravi and Patrik alternately described the scene outside B12 as they had just finished loading the cans of ink: the girl appearing out of nowhere, the hasty decision to throw her in the float and take off, the naked man pursuing them. “Once she’d seen us,” Patrik pointed out, “’inconspicuous’ was really no longer an option. Whether we took her or left her, somebody was bound to notice.”

“Ask them what they did to Jonny,” the girl interrupted. “They wouldn’t tell me anything.”

“Jonny would be the – ah – scantily dressed gentleman?” Gabrel inquired. He cocked an eyebrow at Ravi.

Ravi shrugged. “We didn’t even bring any lethal weapons. All we had was two stunners. Martin and Isak both aimed at him. He hit the ground hard. He should be all right now, except for stunner hangover.”

“And his buddies,” Patrik said with a smirk, “are probably having a multi-colored lightning jack hangover.”

“All right. That explains why you took off with her,” Gabrel said, “you were stupid, and you panicked.” Ravi’s brown cheeks flushed, but Patrik clamped his jaw with an expression remarkably like a donkey’s. “But you had forty kilometers of plains to cross before you had to hide the float and load the pack train. Why didn’t you stop somewhere, put her off and let her walk back? Leave her far enough from any farms, she wouldn’t have been able to raise the alarm in time.”

“Well, Patrik thought…” Ravi began.

“Was Patrik in charge of this expedition? I thought I put you in charge.”

“He had a point…”

“I recognized her,” Patrik said proudly. “She’s General Dayvson’s daughter.”

The girl laughed. Loudly. “Oh, you idiots. Do I look like a general’s daughter?”

Even after a forced ride through the mountains, Gabrel thought, she looked exactly like a general’s daughter – or the daughter of somebody else from the top rung of Committee families. It wasn’t so much the long, slim legs, clad in perfectly fitted smartcloth; or the once-white hands, now marred with several scratches and a broken nail; or even the patrician profile. It was the way she lifted her chin and talked down her elegant nose at them, he thought. And she did resemble the girl he’d seen on holocasts, except for being considerably more disheveled.

“I’ve seen the newscasts,” Patrik insisted. “They showed you debarking with your father, off a troopship from Harmony.”

“That was nearly two months ago. Don’t you keep up with the news?”

“We can’t get the ‘casts in the mountains. Only when we go down to the plains.”

“Well. I suppose that explains it. You yokels obviously haven’t heard. Isovel Dayvson went back to Harmony after a week.”

Patrik scowled. “And you just happen to be her identical twin separated at birth, I suppose?”

“You. Captured. The. Wrong. Woman,” the girl insisted. “I’m just a commissary clerk. Don’t tell me you really believed those stories about Dayvson keeping his own daughter in an occupied city! Haven’t you Esilian hicks ever heard of propaganda?”

“Well, you see,” Gabrel said apologetically, “It’s not just that idiot Patrik. All of us hicks get to see some of them flashy holos when we go down-country. And you do look a lot like Isovel Dayvson to me.”

“And me,” Ravi chimed in.

The girl shrugged. “I daresay all civilized women look alike to you bumpkins. No wonder this is the poorest sector of the colony. Look at you men lolling around here half-naked instead of doing some useful work!” Patrik flushed and pulled his shirt back over his head. Scowling at Patrik, Gabrel stuck his thumbs in the waistband of his pants and pushed them down another inch, until they were hanging off his hipbones. They weren’t going to take lessons in etiquette from some Harmonica snob of a girl, and the sooner she grasped that, the better.

Her fair skin showed a flush more clearly than did Patrik’s olive complexion. She blinked and stared Gabrel directly in the eyes. Her own eyes were a light golden brown, about two shades darker than her tumbled hair. Of course, there was no reason to suppose any of that was natural. Gabrel didn’t know what kind of mods a top-level Harmony cosmetic stylist was offering these days, but hair and eye color coordination was probably the least of it.

“I suppose you think you’ll get a fortune in ransom for me? Well, don’t blame me when General Dayvson laughs in your faces.”

“If she’s the wrong one,” growled Jesse, “why shouldn’t we kill her now and save the trouble of keeping her?” He stepped forward so swiftly that he had her by the shoulder, his knife bright against her throat, before anyone else could react.

“Oh, she’s Dayvson’s daughter, all right,” said Gabrel tiredly. “She just doesn’t know when to give up. Just like her father. Stand down, Jesse. Or - if you feel an uncontrollable urge to use that knife - you might cut her hands free.” She yanked her bound hands back when Jesse touched her wrist. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Yet.”

“I’m not afraid, I just don’t want you destroying the only sash I’ve got! Can’t somebody just untie it?” She extended her hands to Gabrel, who looked at Patrik’s work with dismay. Patrik had wound the soft, voluminous silky fabric several times around the girl’s wrists and had finished with hard, tight knots that sank into the fabric.

With a conscious effort, he did not limp for the three steps that brought him close enough to work on the sash. His knee flamed white-hot agony on the second step, but he could live with that; better than appearing a cripple before this rude, scornful young woman. He had to stand quite close to her to pick at the knots; close enough to notice that although she smelled primarily of sweaty human female, there was also a hint of a gentle floral fragrance about her. Wisps of her loosened fair hair brushed his face. His hands were not shaking, it was just difficult loosening the knots. He bent his head over them and concentrated on the sash, not on the fine white hands and delicate wrists it bound. Patrik had made this mess, it would serve him right to have to fix it. But Patrik was young, not so steady, and he might be influenced by the scent, the closeness. He, being more mature, could take it in stride… She was tall for a woman, just his height, presumably staring out over his bent head while he worked… There went the last knot.

Freed, she shook out her wrists for a moment, then lifted her hands and tried to run her fingers through the long hair that rippled in the sunlight where it wasn’t hopelessly tangled. “I don’t suppose anyone has a comb? No? Why am I not surprised?”

“Us bumpkins don’t comb our hair much,” Patrik said.

“And neither, it seems, will I. Until you come to your senses and send me back. Kidnapping me was a very big mistake, you know.”

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