Fiddlestix – Part 8

Urging the Harlich riders ahead of them, she and her companions rode side by side once more, spreading a little destruction in their wake. They dropped a blanket of cluster bombs behind them. The mini mines were not much alone, but they were magnetic and clung to the shell of the tank. It wasn’t great, but it kept the gunners at bay, buying them a few precious moments to escape.

Dirk ordered them off road, leading them to a path through the woods Fiddlestix would never have found on her own. He took them to a deserted rest area so overgrown, not even a squatter would attempt to live there. He headed for the tumbledown building, slowing his bike to a crawl. Removing his helmet, he looked at Fiddlestix with a sly grin.

“We’ve got a decision to make. Do we continue on the road, or…?”

He held aside vines growing over the sides and roof of the dilapidated building, revealing a door. With a push, it swung smoothly open. Fiddlestix peered through the gloom several moments before deciphering what she saw.

In the dim light of the concrete room, was a contraption that seemed to be held together with toothpicks and duct tape.

“It’s a zeppelin, isn’t it?”

Dirk nodded proudly. “She doesn’t look like much, but I assure you she’s flight ready. Karl and I built her and tucked her away here for emergencies.”

“How soon can she be ready?” Blacksmith was examining the zeppelin skeptically.

“It takes about thirty minutes to finish filling the envelope. We keep her partially inflated so she’s ready faster. The roof is hinged to let her out.”

He chuckled happily, leading them to the gondola. It was quite spacious, able to hold at least ten people comfortably. Fiddlestix was amazed, this must have taken years to plan and execute.

Blacksmith came up behind her again, moving quietly despite the number of items hanging from his tool belt.

“You need something to eat.” He offered her some dehydrated combat rations. “You had very little breakfast, and it’s close to noon. Eat, it’s pretty good. Astronaut stuff, it keeps forever.”

He handed her a bottle of water and took a big bite of his dried beef. Making a face, he forced himself to swallow.

“Okay, I lied about this one being good.”He washed his mouth out with water, gargled and swallowed with great effort. ” Yours is good, but this one, Strawberry Beef Supreme, it’s disgusting. I am not a picky man, but even I find it almost inedible.”He made a face, forcing it down.

“Why are you still eating it if it’s so bad?”

“Where I grew up, even if the food was terrible, you ate. I never knew where my next meal would come from, or if I’d even eat the next day.”

“Nothing like a little starvation to make you appreciate the finer things,”she said, raising her water bottle in a toast.

Fiddlestix – Part 6

Fiddlestix and her two unlikely companions have arrived at the Harlich compound. It’s an arrival with mixed emotions for Fiddlestix, aka Hannah Braun. She’s home, somewhere she thought she’d never see again, and her beloved adopted father is dead. Instead, her adopted brother and first love, Karl the Fifth, is in charge. He’s also married to Hannah’s greatest rival. Some homecoming.

“We had such a time getting here, I nearly forgot our errand,” Fiddlestix said with a laugh “I come on behalf of another party. His wife is missing, and he asked the three of us to come and leave a message for her with you.”

“I don’t know how I can possibly be of any help, Hannah. But I shall be happy to convey a message if I can. Who is the woman?”

“Her name is Scarlet Obert Varin.”

His expression hardened slightly, but he kept his aplomb. “And the message?” His manner of speech got very clipped.

“He asked me to repeat his message exactly: ‘Tell them to have Scarlet contact me in the old way.’”

“That was the extent of it? And for this you three risked your lives? Ridiculous! You could have called me for a message like that!”

“No, I couldn’t, Karl. We both know that you wouldn’t have spoken to me on the phone. Any message I might have left for you wouldn’t have been delivered.”

He could not contradict her, they both knew the truth.

“Varin, he sincerely wants to hear from his wife?”

“Yes,” Blacksmith interjected. “Mr. Varin worries for her safety. When he was unavailable, Mrs. Varin went into hiding.”

Karl nodded sagely. It was a familiar enough scenario in these uncertain times. “I have never met Scarlet,” he replied simply. “However, I do know those who might. I will see what I can find out for you.”

“I’ll circulate the message. Scarlet will contact her husband if she is able. Karl, we’re rather tired. May we stay until midday?” Fiddlestix asked kindly. “Most of the Noir will be asleep by then.”

“Very well. If you like, I can send a few men with you. The Noir do not disturb us.”

“Why don’t you move against them?”

“I can’t declare war on them when they’ve not harmed us. The second they step across that line, Baker and his bevy of lunatics will die.”He looked ready to lecture a good hour.

“Karl, if you don’t mind, I think my associates and I could use a bath and a meal.”

He chuckled. “All your needs will be seen to, Hannah. You will all be guests in my home. Please, follow me.”

He led them to a beautiful, Tudor style house. Fiddlestix’ eyes glittered as she gazed at her old home. It was just as she remembered.

They had a big breakfast cooked and served by Karl’s pale haired, tight lipped, disapproving wife. Fiddlestix had never liked Uta. Even as children, they hadn’t gotten along. Feeling uncomfortable, she made the decision to leave right away rather than staying over as she had first thought.

This post and all others are property of & copyrights belong to Dellani Oakes.

Fiddlestix – Part 5

Fiddlestix makes it to the outskirts of Harlich Territory without too much trouble, although the Noir had more manpower than she anticipated. With the help of her companions, she gets there safely. Now comes the fun part, convincing Karl Fumler to speak to her. Considering she left under less than ideal circumstances, she has good reason to worry.

They displayed the orange sashes openly, riding confidently to the Harlich compound. A guard detached himself from his surroundings, weapon leveled at Fiddlestix’ bike. She stopped as soon as she saw him. Setting her kickstand, she rose slowly. Hands well out from her sides, she walked forward. Removing her helmet and goggles, she squinted at the men, looking for familiar faces. She saw none.
“State your business,” the guard yelled in heavily accented English.

“I seek an audience with Meneer Fumler,” Fiddlestix replied in flawless Dutch.

“Meneer Fumler does not see just anyone,” the guard replied. “Who are you?”

She cleared her throat before replying, unsure of her welcome. “Tell him, please, that Hannah Braun wishes to speak to him.” Once her name would have opened any door here, but now she feared just the opposite.

“I’ll check. Wait here.”

The guard was back in less than five minutes. Opening the gate, ushered them in. The sun was just peeping over the river as they walked onto the compound.

“Your bikes with be tended. Follow me.”

It had been so long since she had been here, yet little had changed. The buildings were sturdily built of sandstone and Coquina. The houses were in orderly rows, neatly trimmed yards in front of each. All the houses faced a huge center square where the office buildings stood.

She forced herself to watch the guard’s back as they walked along. As they reached the main building where Karl’s office was, a flutter of fear passed through her.

“I will announce you.” The guard left them outside the door.

He returned a moment later, beckoning them to follow. Fiddlestix stood before Karl’s door, taking a deep breath, trying to relax before entering. The guard opened the door, standing aside for her to walk through. She was completely unprepared for who stood on the other side of the desk from her. This was not the fatherly figure she had anticipated, but the smiling, boyish face of Karl the Fifth! He stepped around his desk, arms open for a welcoming hug.

“Hannah, it’s so good to see you! I’d heard you were back.” He ushered her to a seat. “Why have you waited so long to come see us?”

“I was unsure how I would be received,” she replied shyly.

“I see.” He looked pensive for a moment, then curiosity took hold. Karl looked at them expectantly. “What brings you here? I assume that this is not just a social visit?”

“It’s such a surprise seeing you. I expected Papa.”

She could not help falling into the old, familiar pattern of speech. His face clouded and it was his turn to hang his head.

“He died, Hannah. Cancer is indiscriminate.”

Impulsively, she reached across the desk, taking his hand in hers, squeezing gently.

“I know you miss him. He was a fine man. Where are my manners? I haven’t made introductions.”

He chuckled. “We have both forgotten our manners. Your friends probably don’t speak a word of Dutch, and here we are babbling incoherently while they wait patiently for us to stop.”

He switched to English, reaching across his massive desk, shaking hands first with Blacksmith and then with Buzzard. “I am Karl Fumler, but I expect you know that.”

“Dario Estiban,” Blacksmith said simply.

“Tyree Delsin,” Buzzard supplied.

“Welcome to you both. So, back to why you are here,” Karl sat at the desk, folding his hands in front of him in a gesture like his father.

Fiddlestix – Part 4

Fiddlestix thinks it’s odd that all Varin wants her to do is deliver a simple message, but she’s not going to argue with the man and tell him how to spend his money. He’s got enough of it to do what he wants. Puzzled by the simplicity of the job, she can’t help being somewhat wary, even a bit paranoid.

They road to Varin’s estate on the outskirts of town, in paranoid silence. Blacksmith led Fiddlestix into a large garage where three tweaked Harleys waited in silent glory.

“These are the fastest bikes on the road,” Blacksmith said proudly.

“Sweet!” She walked over, touching them admiringly. “Ready?”

Blacksmith was already sitting on his bike, looking like a big kid. Buzzard sat on his, making it look like a child’s toy.

“I was born ready.” Fiddlestix chuckled, switching her goggles to night-sight.

The three of them took the remains of US-1, south through the devastation that had once been Daytona Beach, Florida. Tidal waves caused by volcanic action in the Atlantic, had torn the coast apart nearly 30 years ago.

In a way, she was looking forward to a visit with Karl Fumler IV. When her own parents died, Karl raised her like his own. His son, Karl V, was three years older than she. From the time she was ten, they doted on one another.

As teenagers, their interest changed, ending in disaster. Caught in a compromising position. She was given the chance to leave quietly and join the military, or live in disgrace. In comparison to being shunned, the Army hadn’t sounded too bad.

“Approaching the first Noir checkpoint,” Blacksmith told her on the headset inside the helmet. “We off road it for a few miles.”

“Won’t they catch us on their senors?”

He chuckled softly. “Really, chica, did you think Mr. Varin would send us in defenseless? Press that white button by the throttle.”

Fiddlestix saw an array of different colored buttons on her handlebars. She pressed the white one. A shimmering cloud enfolded her and the bike, undulating slightly in the wind of their passing. The two men also initiated their shields, grinning at her surprise.

“The boss knows how to spend his money,” Blacksmith added gleefully.

The bikes were almost noiseless, and their shields made them virtually undetectable on surveillance equipment. They were on side roads now, following them in short spurts. Occasionally, they would go off road to detour around the guard stations.

The line for Harlich territory was less than three miles away when Blacksmith slowed to a stop, cutting his engine. Getting off his bike, he handed them extra ammunition. He also gave them an orange sash.

“Don’t put that on until we hit Harlich territory. The configuration shows we are visitors, asking for safe passage. They’re supposed to honor it.”

“They will, as long as we don’t do anything stupid,” Fiddlestix assured him. “Karl insists upon treating everyone as a guest. But if we give him a reason, he’ll kill us himself without a qualm.”

“Nice fellow,” Blacksmith muttered.

“That nice fellow was like a father to me once,” was her terse rejoinder. She mounted her bike, kicked the starter and waited for them to do the same.

They turned east, skirting the shoreline. The night-sight helped a lot. With luck, they would make it to the Harlichs without Bobby knowing they were there.

Luck was not with them. A guard station caught them by surprise. They were not as startled as the guards were. The disorganized men were dispatched in short order. However, the noise alerted the other stations. The hunt was on and they were the quarry.

“Press the yellow button,” Blacksmith said.

Turbo kicked in, giving them a burst of power. Despite the boost, the guards were closing.

“Ride together and hit the orange button!” Buzzard cried.

A clicking whir and Fiddlestix saw something fly from the rear of her bike. Nothing happened until the first of their antagonists entered the zone, then all hell broke loose! A mixture of mini-bombs and shrapnel riddled the group.

They road at a furious pace, making their way through the woods on prayer and adrenaline. A few more miles flew past and the going got somewhat smoother.

“We’re in Harlich territory.” Blacksmith announced, slowing his bike. “Noir won’t follow us in here.”

“There should be a guard station about half a mile to the west,” Fiddlestix told them. “I think it would be better to announce ourselves formally, don’t you?”

Fiddlestix – Part 3

Donnan Varin’s offer is intriguing, mostly because she needs the money. Also, Fiddlestix is looking for excitement & this promises to be more exciting than anything she’s done for quite some time. Varin insists that she take his men, Blacksmith and Buzzard along. She politely declines.

” I’m ex Special Forces, I don’t need bodyguards.”

” It would make me feel better knowing you had company.”

Fiddlestix cracked an uncharacteristic grin, running her fingers through her short, platinum blonde, spiked hair.

” I’m touched, really. But I can handle myself.”

He shook his head, adamant. ” Since your last contact with the Harlichs, things have changed. Château Noir now owns most of the nearby territory. They have an open contract on you.”

” Château Noir, huh? Interesting development. When did they change the name from Black House Anarchy?”

” Two years ago,” Buzzard replied.

” You want us to go now, chica?”

” As much as I hate to admit it, Blacksmith, yes. Bad Ass Baker and his boys would like to grind me into dog food, alive.”

” Bad Ass Baker?” Buzzard looked confused. ” Our intel says a guy by the name Shogun Corbett runs Noir.”

” Skinny guy with black, greasy hair and covered in tattoos with multiple piercings?”

” Yeah.” Buzzard said.

” That’s Bobby. He must have upgraded his moniker when he changed their name to Château Noir. In my day it was Bobby Alvin Baker.”

” I understand you two used to date?” This from Blacksmith.

” He had much better hygiene in those days,” was her cryptic reply. ” He also was pretty bad ass in bed.” She winked at Blacksmith, who chuckled.

” Time dribbles away from us,” Varin interjected. ” If you are finished reminiscing, I need you to give Karl Fumler of the Harlichs a message.”

” What’s the message?”

” Tell him to have Scarlet contact me in the old way.”

” Nothing more?”

” No. She’ll know what to do.”

” And the Shine Clan?”

” The same, please. If she’s able, she’ll get in touch.”

” Mr. Varin, I will get your message delivered. What they do with it from there, I can’t guarantee.”

” All I ask is that you contact them. When it’s done, you will get the balance of your fee.”

Fiddlestix – Part 2

Fiddlestix has just been introduced to Donna Varin. He approached her in a dive called Low Blow Gonzalez’ Bar in what’s left of downtown Daytona Beach, Florida. Varin is full of surprises, but he also has an interesting job offer.

“The contractor king?”

Varin had forged an empire by building substandard housing for the poor. Dozens of lawsuits were pending. To avoid controversy,he went into hiding. Now here he sat bold as brass, begging for her help.

” Yes,” he muttered. ” But it’s not what you think.”

” Mr. Varin was indisposed for awhile,” Blacksmith explained.

“A lot was done in my name,” Varin said fixing her with a commanding gaze. ” My affairs were mishandled by people I thought I could trust.”

Fiddlestix propped one foot on an unsteady chair, lighting a cigarette while she waited for him to continue. Instead, he turned to Blacksmith, eyes pleading.

Blacksmith stepped forward. ” What Mr. Varin is trying to say, is that while he was indisposed, things went wrong in his business and his wife disappeared.”

” Define indisposed. How could all this happen without his knowledge or consent?”

” I was medically incapacitated.”

Fiddlestix was getting annoyed, which usually meant she got violent. ” That didn’t explain at all. I want plain English, Varin, or I walk.”

” Well, I was dead.”

” Dead?”

He nodded nervously. ” For a period of five years, I was dead. This body is a replacement, the first one died of a rather dreadful disease.”

” You’re a clone?”

” Yes. You see, I had my former body held in stasis until I could reunite my body with my psyche.”

” Spare me the details. It sounds like it’s bordering on metaphysical, let’s not go there.” She turned away, waving her hand, ending the discussion.

” I badly need your help, Miss Braun.”

Fiddlestix whirled on him, grabbing his shirt. ” Don’t ever use that name! Hannah Braun is dead.”

The bodyguards stepped forward. Buzzard laid a restraining hand on her shoulder. Blacksmith detached her fingers from his employer’s shirt front.

” I would hate to hurt a lady, but if you do that again, ma’am, I’ll end you,” Buzzard said in a mild tone.

Shrugging their hands aside, she stalked away from Varin. ” You still haven’t said what you want.”

” I hear you’re connected.”

” Maybe you heard wrong.” She lit another cigarette and waited, feigning disinterest. The set of her broad shoulders gave her away.

Varin shook his head. ” You have a relationship with two groups I most need to contact. Not many can boast the same.”

” I have many acquaintances. Which ones?” She blew smoke at him casually, as if he didn’t have her full attention.

” The Shine Clan and the Harlichs.” Varin looked smug.

” I don’t know who you mean.” It was a feeble bluff.

” You know exactly who I mean. My wife also has connections with them, which is why I need your help.”

” Maybe she wanted to leave you, Varin. Did that occur to you?”

He shook his head adamantly. ” Scarlet would never do that.”

” What connection does your wife have with them?”

” The same as you, blood bond.”

Fiddlestix fell silent, waiting.

” The name Scarlet Obert Varin should elicit a distinct response from both organizations.”

” Hannah Braun officially died eight years ago, Varin. I don’t know if my contacts will be expecting a call from me.”

” All I ask is that you try. I will pay you handsomely.”

” How handsomely?”

He named a figure that made her mind boggle. That got her full attention.

” Half now, half when the job is complete.”

” You are aware it’s a face to face. I can’t just call and expect them to talk to me.”

Varin nodded again. ” I am aware of that. The boys will accompany you.”

Fiddlestix – Part 1

A few months ago, I ran the story “Among the Shine Clan” about Hannah “Fiddlestix” Braun and her adventures in the Appalachian Mountains. There, she meets Deacon Scott, leader of the Shine Clan. (The Shine Clan also features in “Under the Milky Way”)

This story won and Honorary Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future. Set in the future, cybernetic body parts have become commonplace. Fiddlestix is an ex-soldier, turned solo (bodyguard) for hire. Between jobs at present, she’s waiting for work to find her. She’s more than a little surprised with what shows up.

Daytona Beach Metroplex
July 15, 2052

Fiddlestix sat with her back to the wall, in the corner of the dingy, ill lit room, watching the crowd surreptitiously. No one came to Low Blow Gonzalez’ Bar because it was a popular night spot. They came to find work, but more often found trouble.

Dressed in dusty biker leathers, she fit right into the sleazy, dirty atmosphere with ease, just as she intended. Keeping a low profile, she continued to scan the crowd.

Dim figures moved around the room. Some drifted in the vicinity of her seat, but a glare from her and they quickly walked away, slouching into their collars, hands shoved deep in pockets. Her battered weapon and formidable cyber arm convinced them to move on.

Paper fluttered on the bulletin board near the abruptly opened front door. A dozen hands dropped to an odd assortment of lethal weapons. None drew, waiting.

A trio of men walked in. The first was tall, muscular and singularly ugly. The second was short, squat and wore a black duster that dragged the ground. The third looked like a lower level corporate; medium height, weight and build. His hair was a nondescript shade of brown. His eyes were covered with dark glasses. His suit was dark brown with a beige shirt and rust colored tie.

Once it was established that the newcomers were not there to start something, the customers returned to their conversations. The corporate stood behind the other two men, while the big one moved forward, scanning the room slowly. His gaze traveled the perimeter of the room, coming slowly to Fiddlestix’ location. Another step toward her, and she had her weapon in her hand. She aimed at him under the table, casually tipping back in her chair to get a better shot.

As if on an unspoken signal, the three men approached her table, in a non-threatening manner. The bodyguards kept their hands well away from their weapons, moving in to flank the corp. He stopped by her table, asking permission to sit with a gesture of his hand. A sharp inclination of her spiked blonde head indicated he could.

He leaned across the table in a conspiratorial manner drawing unwanted attention. Fiddlestix pressed her thick soled boot against his chair, pushing it away from the table, tapping his testicles in the process. Getting the idea, he moved back.

“Is there somewhere more appropriate we can talk?”

She was formulating a snide, snappish reply when he reached up to remove his glasses. For the first time, she saw something of him that wasn’t dull brown. His eyes were an unnaturally vivid green. The expression in them was one of desperation. Her manner changed rapidly from sarcastic to curious.

“Sure.” she said softly.” Low’s got some private conference rooms downstairs.”

The tall, ugly one nodded slowly. The short one looked around quickly, assessing the room before Fiddlestix and the corporate rose from the table.

“Lead the way,” the short man said with a thick Hispanic accent.

Remaining wary, she strutted toward the stairs leading down to the private, secure conference rooms. They were the only aspect of Low Blow Gonzalez’ dive bar that was high tech and sophisticated, laced with a security system that made Fort Knox look like it was made from Tinker Toys.

The corporate took a seat in one of the broken down chairs, inviting Fiddlestix to sit. Knowing the instability of the furniture, she chose to stand instead.

” How can I be of assistance, Mr…?”

He had failed to introduce himself. Fiddlestix refused to deal with people whose names she did not know.

“Smith,” he replied with a furtive look at his bodyguards.”These two gentlemen are Blacksmith and Buzzard.”

“Your real name. I don’t deal with people who hide things from me. You want my help, be honest.”

“Donnan Varin,” he admitted quietly.

© 2011 Dellani Oakes

Under the Milky Way – part 10

Overcome by her excitement, Storm grabbed his neck, kissing him enthusiastically on the mouth. Instead of pushing her away, he pulled her close, enjoying the kiss to the fullest. Shocked by her own behavior, she would have pulled away, but found she didn’t want to. There was something magnetic about Lukas Houston and his cobbled together alien ship.

A delicate clearing of a female throat made them part. The bridge was empty except for them and Gabrielle. It was she who had cleared her throat.

“Lukas, we’ve arrived as you desired.” She smiled shyly, lowering herself once more into the console.

Storm, followed closely by Luke, went to the portal. As he had specified, they were on the dark side of the moon. Limned by the sun’s light, a golden glow surrounded its cold, pocked surface.

“Now you see,” he kissed her neck. “Why you’re going to give this job to me?”

“Mm,” she replied, relishing the touch of his lips on her skin. With a shiver, she brought herself back to the present. “Don’t, Luke,” she cautioned.

“Don’t what?” He nibbled her neck, lips traveling to her earlobe.

“Don’t do this. Don’t seduce me for the job.”

“I already have the job,” he mumbled, his tongue tracing the curve of her neck. “You gave it to me the minute we hit the maze run, you just didn’t realize it.”

“Then why this?” She stepped away from him, gesturing angrily. “Why all the kissing and nibbling? The seduction is wasted if you’re already working for me.”

“Is it?” He stepped toward her, looming over her. “Hasn’t a guy ever made love to you simply because you were beautiful?”

“No.” She stepped away. “A man always wants something. It’s never just ‘because’.”

“Storm, you’ve got a lot to learn about me,” he said with a sigh. “Gabrielle.”

“Yes, Luke?”

“Take us home.”

“As you command.”

The ride home was amazing as the trip over. Five minutes, or five hours later, Storm stepped off his ship, the electronic contract ratified and thumb printed by them both. Luke stayed behind on the ship and Storm went back to her room alone.

Sophie met her in the hall, smiling happily. “Hey, cuz! How was the ride?”

“It was good,” she mumbled. “He’s got the job.”

“Then why so down? I thought you’d be happy. It’s your first major deal since you got your promotion.”

“I know,” Storm sighed. “It’s just—I screwed up, Sophie. I let him get to me.”

“It’s okay, kid. Come have a drink. We’ll drown our sorrows.”

“Mr. Wonderful wasn’t so wonderful?”

“He let slip that he’s married with two kids back on Earth. After that, the magic was gone.”

“We’re a hell of a pair, huh?”

They headed to Sophie’s bar. It wasn’t open for business yet, but the two young women got out a bottle of peach and jalapeño moonshine, sipping cautiously. The liquid heat warmed their throats, exploding in a fireball of flavor when it hit their stomachs.

“Good stuff,” Storm gasped, eyes watering.

“Smooth,” Sophie agreed, tears running down her cheeks.

The door behind them slid open. Luke stood silhouetted in the doorway.

“Can I come in?”

Sophie nodded, beckoning him in. “I need to hit the head.”

Storm put the glass against her forehead, wiping a tear that wasn’t just from the alcohol. Luke picked up the bottle, asking silently if he could have some. Storm nodded, looking away, blinking hard against the tears.

“I’m sorry you misinterpreted my actions,” he said softly. “I thought maybe you and I could share something special. I guess I was wrong.”

“I guess so,” she mumbled, turning away.

Luke touched her cheek with his thumb, sliding his copy of the contract in front of her.

“Here.” He put her hand on it. “Take it back. Give the job to someone else.”

“What? Are you out of your mind? This contract could make you a millionaire.”

“Yes, it could. But it’s not worth it if you won’t talk to me again.”

“You’d give all that money up for me?”

“If it will convince you that I didn’t try to seduce you just for the job.”

“You did try to seduce me!”

“But not,” he emphasized with a tap on the bar. “For the job.”

Laughing, Storm shoved him, nearly knocking him off the stool. Righting himself, he took a sip of the moonshine. Gasping, his eyes began to water. Storm thumped him on the back, laughing at his discomfort.

“Thanks,” he wheezed. “Nice. Sympathy.”

“It’s an acquired taste. You’ll live.” She shoved his contract back at him. “Keep that,” she laid her hand on his shoulder. “You’re the best man for the job.”

“And for you?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll have to take you for a trial run to be sure.”

“I won’t disappoint you, Storm. I promise.”

When his lips touched hers, she knew beyond a doubt that he was telling her the truth—again.

Under the Milky Way – part 9

“Great! Sooner we go, the sooner we can get back.”

“I have to let my cousin know I’m leaving. Otherwise she’ll have the authorities on your tail faster than you can spit.”

“Okay. Where is she?”

“She’s next door.”

He followed her to Sophie’s room, waiting impatiently as Storm spoke to her. She brought her up to date on the attempted assassination as well as her trip with Luke.

“I’ll be gone awhile, Soph. I’m following up a lead on that transport issue.”

“What if folks need to talk to you?”

“Take appointments. They want to deal, they can wait.”

“You got it, cuz. I wish I could go with you, but Mama would have my hide if I put a joyride ahead of her tavern. Besides, Mr. Wonderful is waiting. Y’all have fun!”

“Baby!” A man’s voice called from the bedroom. “You coming back to bed?”

“Coming! See you later, sugar.” She hugged her cousin and went back in her room.

The security officers escorted them back to Luke’s ship. Somewhat the worse for wear, he gave the orders for the ship to leave port.

The crew assembled on the bridge, all of them looking at Storm with curiosity. Busy taking the ship out of port, Lukas didn’t introduce her right away, so the intensity of the stares increased by the minute. Feeling the pressure of their scrutiny, Storm gazed out the portal ahead of her, watching as they left the space station behind.

When the station was out of view, Luke turned to the crew. “Hey, everyone. This is Storm. She’s going to be taking a ride with us to the moon and back. If all goes well, we’ll have a real job when we get back.”

Storm wasn’t expecting the explosion of sound that followed that statement. The five person crew yelled and cheered, thumping Storm on the back.

“Gabrielle,” Luke said quietly. “It’s time.”

“As you wish, Lukas,” came her disembodied answer. “Destination?”

“The dark side of the moon.”

“Of course,” she replied calmly.

“Oh, you might want to sit down,” he told Storm, pointing to his seat.

Taking a position behind her, he held a strap that was bolted to the wall. She noticed that all the crew members did the same thing, legs wide to steady themselves.

The ship paused. A shiver ran through it from prow to stern. It leaped forward as if it had been launched from a catapult. Storm lost her balance, sliding to her left. Lukas caught her, holding her to her seat as the ship sped up.

Stars flashed by, their light becoming silver streaks against the black of space. Soon, the light blended together, a white glow surrounding them. With a push, they hopped forward once more, gravity releasing long enough for their feet to leave the floor. Gradually, it reestablished itself, though Storm could tell it was less than normal. The view outside had changed subtly. The stars passed at the same furious rate, their color changed to pink and lavender.

“What’s happening?” Her voice sounded strange, hollow.

“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Luke quipped. “We’re in a maze run.”

“A what?”

“That’s what we call it. Gabrielle didn’t have a name for it.”

“I’m confused,” Storm shook her head, holding it as her equilibrium failed her.

One of the women took pity on her, bringing her a carbonated drink. “The ship makes a sort of tear in the fabric of space,” she explained. “Then it slides in, covering the distance much faster. The pathways are interconnected, so we called it a maze.”

“How much faster?”

The ship slowed, paused and leaped forward once more. The stars looked the same again, twinkling happily around the ship as they established an orbit around the moon.

“Oh, my God!” Storm walked to the portal in disbelief. “How long were we traveling?”

“Altogether?” Lukas looked at his watch. “Longer than you’d think. One thing about the maze run, time isn’t the same as it is in our reality.”

“It felt like five minutes.”

Lukas showed her his watch. Five hours had passed since they took off from the space station. Storm grabbed his wrist, incredulous.

“No way!”

“Way.” He laughed.

Under the Milky Way – part 7

Grappling for her weapon, she found herself outweighed and outclassed. Thick Neck wasn’t just big, he was well trained. She was a black belt in Krav Maga, but he obviously had training in more than one discipline. He blocked her attacks with ease, like he was swatting a fly. She raised her gun to fire, he took it away, turning it on her.

“I don’t think so, baby. You and me are gonna party while my friends take out your boy.”

Storm risked a glance at Luke. He fought valiantly, but he was outnumbered. She couldn’t do anything for him. Thick Neck would shoot them both before she went three feet.

She felt another tingle on her neck, but this one was different. Instead of a threat, it felt warm, calm, secure.

“Storm,” a gentle voice whispered in her ear. “It’s Gabrielle. Let me in.”

She opened her mind to Luke’s angel. Like a massive download, her mind was suddenly filled with visions of fighting styles she’d never seen before.

“Relax,” Gabrielle breathed. “I’ll take care of it.”

“What?” Thick Neck had advanced on her, undoing his belt.

Had she spoken? “I’ll take care of it,” she murmured, reaching for his pants.

Too excited to think rationally, Thick Neck groped for her as she undid his fly. Smiling, she let her hands drift down.

“Storm, a little help!” Luke was taking a beating.

Dodging and evading his attackers, he blocked one blow after another, but was starting to slow.

“I’m busy,” she said in a singsong voice.

“Play later,” he replied in the same tone.

“I’ll take care of it, Lukas,” she said with Gabrielle’s voice.

Exhaling seductively, she pulled Thick Neck toward her. Her knee pounded his groin. When he bent over in pain, it was waiting for his forehead. Stunned, he staggered, falling down. A well placed heel to his head insured he wouldn’t rise again. Her first attacker was coming around. A complicated series of blows sent him back to sleep.

In a shiny blue whirlwind, she flew into the bigger of Luke’s two opponents. Knocked off balance, he grabbed for his companion, making them both stumble. Storm kicked him hard in the midsection while Luke pounded the other with his fists.

They stood over their attackers, aware that others were watching. They moved neither to help nor hinder, waiting and evaluating. Breathing hard, Luke and Storm searched for weapons, placing them in a disposal shoot. Storm kept the best of the sidearms.

They proceeded toward the exit on the opposite side of a large, open area. Though Storm could see no one, she knew they were still being watched. The tingle of a telepathic scan warned her again, but this time her wall didn’t come down.

Fear gripped her and she stopped walking, clutching at Luke. Her body shook as she tried to fight the attacker.

“Gabrielle!” She gasped. “Help!”

The same warmth filled her with confidence. Turning, she spotted the telepath in the shadows. He was focused, transmitting, he didn’t notice that something had changed.

Storm’s mind filled with a ball of orange light. She pictured it traveling to her fingers. Her arms and hands prickled with energy. Putting up her hands like dual stop signs, she pushed.

The telepath staggered, gasping for breath. Storm pushed again and he fell, gagging and foaming at the mouth.

“Hurry,” she told Luke like nothing had happened. “We’re not safe here.”

“What? Huh?” He was too surprised to react.

Storm grabbed his arm, yanking him quickly across the room. They hit the doors leading to the corporate area. Security scans activated sending corporate solos flooding into the corridor, surrounding them.

“Storm Westlake,” she called. “Shine Clan. We’re under attack!”

The solos formed a meat wall behind her just as the doors burst open. More solos than she could count, faced the security team. They stopped, raising their hands in defeat.

“Who’s this?” The head of security asked Storm.

“Lukas Houston. He’s with me. He saved my life.”

“Mr. Houston, you’re welcome here as a guest, sir. I’m gonna have to ask for your weapons.”