The Race

The Race – from “No More Valour” A Fortune’s Fools Short Story

(These events take place about fifteen years before the start of Transgressor Trilogy.)

Pure exhilaration.

His hair blown back in the wind, the thunder of hooves on the broad open tundra, racing flat-out to where the sky kissed the ground in the dizzying distance. To someone born and raised in the mountains, the featureless plain was disorienting and despite having lived here now for half a year, Durban still struggled with the odd mix of wonder and uneasiness it provoked. He let out a whoop as his pony reached the lonely, stunted tree that marked the turning point of the race.  Well ahead of his rival, he pulled his mount around almost on the spot, forcing it back on its haunches briefly, before releasing it to spring forward, back the way they had just come.

Now the horizon before him was not empty because the skyline was broken by the city of Keran. Standing proud, in bold-cut silhouette, buildings in all shades of brown and yellow mud-brick against a sky turning from grey to pink as the red sun slid down. The low-rise two or three storey houses were dominated to one side by the proud stone towers of the fortress citadel and to the other by the dual-domed spaceport which crouched like an alien on its edge of the city.

The other rider in this race, shouted a curse as Durban galloped past, flattened along the neck of his mount. Durban raised one hand in an insulting gesture and laughed as his fleet-footed pony galloped back to the start line.

He was standing beside the pony, loosening its girth when the other rider arrived, mount blown. That one was the better of the two beasts and in an even race would have won, but the bearded man who rode it was twice the bulk of Durban. He dismounted shaking his head and uncinched the saddle before leaving the pony to pull at the terse grass.

“Aye, well you won fair and square and I’m a man of my word. But don’t think I like it.”

Durban felt a glow of delight and could not keep the smile from spreading over his face.

“You’ll take me then?”

The other man wiped the back of his hand over his forehead, letting his breath out in a sigh. Then he closed the space between them and put his arms around Durban, holding him close for a moment, his cheek turned to rest on Durban’s hair.

“I’d not take anyone I cared for to the ‘City and I’d for certain and more not take you. I should never have agreed to your wager. I would never have if I’d not been so bloody drunk — ” he broke off and Durban looked up to see the bearded face set in a grim expression. His own smile faded a little and he reached out a hand to caress the back of the older man’s neck, running fingers through the shoulder length hair that was flecked here and there with grey.

“I’d say I’m sorry,” Durban told him, “but I’m not. I really want this — need this. I have to get away from here.”

“But why the bloody ‘City? They’ll eat someone like you alive and spit out the pips. Have you looked in the mirror recently? You — you look like a little girl, you are just too bloody young and innocent, you –“

Durban silenced the words by pulling the other man’s face gently down to meet his own for a kiss.

This extract was originally seen on Working Title Blogspot as a Coffee Break Read.

Dear Durban…

Charis never intended to wind up in the ‘City.

She is a Central girl, born and bred, with no wish to be a part of the criminal underworld. But she quickly found out that the ‘City is not so easy to break away from once you are there and that if you are not very careful, you find your own fingers getting as dirty as those you despise.

When Charis discovers one of her best friends has taken over a criminal syndicate and the man she has fallen in love with has been keeping dangerous secrets from her, things begin to go badly wrong.

Charis learns the hard way that in the ‘City who you know can be – quite literally – a matter of life and death.

 

K. Caffee – Queen of Dark Fantasy

A while ago I had the pleasure of reviewing a book by K. Caffee from her ‘Followers of Torments’ series. Since reading that book, her work has come to define for me the epitome of ‘dark fantasy’. So it was a real pleasure to have the chance to hear from K.Caffee herself how she sees that sub-genre:

How do you define ‘dark fantasy’ as opposed to other kinds?

For me, dark fantasy examines the underbelly of society – crime, vice, abuse, and the other “hidden” horrors no one wants to talk about. Not only do these create the central themes for the work, they are also thoroughly examined. (I’ve had a few say that my own work should be shelved in paranormal horror, rather than dark fantasy – at least until the truth of the story sinks in. Then I’m told I don’t have enough gore for a good thriller or horror. ::Grins:: Makes ’em thinks I does!)

Do you think dark fantasy is a separate genre or can any fantasy have ‘dark aspects’?

My answer would be both. Just because there are elements of dark fantasy woven into a tale does not mean the tale itself is dark fantasy. Same as having elements of erotica woven into a fantasy does not mean THAT story is erotica. It is the central theme of the story that initially defines if the story is dark, urban, high, or any other sub-genre of fantasy.

Which authors would you say exemplify dark fantasy, both mainstream and indie?

(Shameless self plug) My main books tend to wander around on the dark side of fantasy. I wind up exploring the plight of feral children, slavery, mental illness, and personality/spiritual crisis, all of which are often swept under the rug and never exposed to sunlight.

Another indie that I feel hits the genre’s description squarely is Tanya Simmons. Her debut fiction book “Mystery’s Choice” has a way of really making you think about the dark side of Christianity and what that all entails.

Traditional… I’m not sure if it’s really dark fantasy, but it definitely covers the right themes: Gail Baudino’s “Strands of Starlight”. This one makes you really think about just what happened during the Crusades, and how a personality crisis can really mess with someone’s future.

You write dark fantasy, what draws you to that particular expression of the fantasy genre?

Self-therapy, pure and simple. I can’t do to people what I do to my characters. When I have a bad day, or have a particular person whose managed to REALLY get under my skin and tick me off, dark fantasy is a safety valve. I get to write in the bits and pieces of the events, or the perception concept of the person, and gruesomely, painfully, lovingly demolish it/them. Very, VERY cathartic experience! (Not sure the people would appreciate what I do to them, however. Something about being turned into spider soup and slurped up seems to make folks distraught when they are the victim.)

 

If you would like to check out the Followers of Torments series, you can find the first book ‘Out of the Darkness’ HERE .

My review of ‘Into The Sunlits’, the third book in the series, is HERE.

And you can connect with K. Caffee herself HERE

Trust A Few

 

“You’ve been gone a long time Jaz, and word is you’ve come back – changed.”

After five years of brutal convict military service, Jaz just wants to rebuild his shattered life. But the past is hard to escape. the ‘City has always been a dangerous place to live: now it’s lethal. Not only are the crime lords exploiting its lawless streets, the city is also the unwitting test bed for a sinister corporate technology. As Jaz tries to find an old friend who needs him, can a new ally help? Can he even be trusted?

‘Trust A Few’, the first part of Haruspex Trilogy is out now and you can get it HERE.

Read up about the characters you will meet:

Jazatar Baldrik – The Mercenary
Charity Sweetling – The Freighter Pilot
Avilon Revid – The Convicted Terrorist
Durban Chola – The Enigma

And a bit about the Fortune’s Fools Universe

Or even read a teaser short story to get you in the mood:

Doubled Spirit

This wonderful promo was kindly made by Robert Lee Beers. And if you have yet to read all of Transgressor Trilogy, you can catch up with the story HERE!

Keep in touch and follow me on Amazon, Twitter and Facebook  – and, of course, sign up on this blog!

 

The Fortune’s Fools Universe

It all began on Earth, though those living in the Fortune’s Fools universe don’t recall now where, exactly, that was. Nor do they know why it was that humanity, lacking any ability to conquer the speed of light at that time, sent out generational ships to all the exo-planets they could find.

 

“This meant that for the best part of at least two and a half millennia humanity was dispersed and developed its own separate ways across the vast tracts of the galaxy, largely undisturbed by even close neighbours – unless those neighbours happened to share a star system.”

“So we are all descendants of the same people?” Jariq found the idea almost blasphemous to his own caste-based worldview, in which slaves, freemen and nobility were not just of different social status, but essentially different beings.

 “All humans – even those with blue feathery hair and vertically elipsed pupils – are from the same stock,” Avilon assured him, “and ironically, some recent research found our original home planet is now just another insignificant and exploited Periphery world.”

There are no other developed, intelligent, sentient beings in the galaxy and the majority of the diaspora of humanity dropped back to more primitive levels of technology for millennia. But not all was lost, one group of planets settled together were able to keep in contact and pool resources to rebuild and reaquire lost skills and technologies and develop new ones. Eventually, they formed themselves into the Central core of a Coalition, which then spread its influence and technology over the galaxy – a process much speeded by the development of a gravitational drive which allowed Faster-Than-Light travel.

“We have three kinds of planets: the Central, Middle and Periphery worlds and the Coalition is an elected oligarchy based almost purely upon commercial interests…

 “And, not surprisingly, that makes a culture in which wealth is seen as the only thing to be valued. Everything has a price and can be bought and sold. The people of Central tend to live pretty happy, secure and very comfortable lives, thank you. So they elect the same people to rule them again and again to keep it that way.”

“And what of the other worlds – the Middle and Periphery worlds – what are they like?”

“Some Middle worlds advance enough to be admitted into the golden circle of Central and achieve the status of full Coalition membership. But most are considered as Protectorates – they benefit from the supposedly civilising influences of the Coalition whilst not being expected to maintain the high standards of Central. So they have planetary governments which are of varying levels of corruption and laws which suit their rulers. Middle worlds can be very enlightened or very oppressive – they range from full blooded and fiercely independent democracies which give the Coalition regular headaches, to places like Thuringen where half the planet is under the rule of criminal gangs.”

“And the Periphery worlds?” Jariq asked, very interested now as he knew Temsevar was in that grouping.

“The Periphery is where they get most of the raw resources which keep Central in the lap of luxury… The Coalition extends its grip there not to rule but to exploit. Most Periphery worlds are controlled by one of the big conglomerates as their own private domain – they run the place just exactly as they like and answer to no one.”

Against this grasping greed stands The Legacy,  seen by those in the comfortable worlds of the Coalition as a terrorist organisation and by those on the oppressed edges of galactic society as valiant freedom fighters.

“If you are blind you will destroy visual beauty as it has no meaning to you. Only the sighted can appreciate it and only the sighted will work to preserve it. The Coalition is blind and those who live in its shadow, even if born with vision, come to believe that their own eyes are undesirable and should be kept closed – or ripped out. But some people still live with their eyes open.They know the value of that precious vision and they are prepared to fight to keep themselves and their children sighted.

“The Legacy is a torch of hope to those invisible billions of people – and the Strike Force of the Legacy, which I command, is its sword. A sword of defence, a guardian of vision in a sightless galaxy.”

Find out more about Fortune’s Fools

Durban Chola – The Enigma

It would not be strictly accurate to say Durban Chola had been born on the primitive planet of Temsevar, but he started out there as a child. After a varied and dangerous career as a political intriguer, including a couple of years offworld in the notorious Starcity, Durban discovered some interesting details about his own past.

Now he wants to find Avilon and restore him to the man he once was. But tracing the ex-convict is not at all simple and Durban finds himself forced to seek assistance from the kind of individual he would normally avoid at all costs.

“We can co-operate, Blondie. Sure, You tell me what you are going to look at and I’ll keep elsewhere.” He finished with whatever he had been doing and turned back to Durban, the clear message of challenge in his dark eyes.

“That’s – helpful,” Durban observed, his tone mild. “How do you see this working out then?”

And the ‘City is a dangerous place to be even if you have allies

He saw three men approaching the main door in a wedge formation. The one at the front flanked a step behind on either side by the other two. Durban, who had a long, and often too close, acquaintance with ruthless killers, recognised the breed. He touched the arm of the man sitting with him, who seemed paralysed.

“You ought to go.”

The words unfroze the man who suddenly looked at Durban as if seeing him for the first time, his tongue darting out, snake-like, to moisten his lips.

“These people – I can’t – I mean, they’ll drop you.”

With such reluctant allies and overly many foes, even if Durban can survive long enough to find Avilon, there is no guarantee he can persuade the new persona to sacrifice itself for the old. In the meantime, he is forced back into his old trade of intriguer, but in a place where to do so is infinitely more dangerous than anything he has faced before.

Jazatar Baldrik – The Mercenary 

Charity Sweetling – The Freighter Pilot 

Avilon Revid – The Convicted Terrorist

 

Avilon Revid – The Convicted Terrorist

Avilon Revid knows he was once a terrorist and a mass murderer, but has no recollection of anything before the beginning of his sentence in the Special Legion. His first memory was of being on a military transport heading into a war zone.

 

With the help of Jaz Baldrik, a man from that unknown past, Avilon survived the five years needed to qualify for release. But first, he needs to convince the authorities that he should be discharged.

“I want to try civilian life. I have never known any other life than the Legion, sir.”

“Exactly. And many people might say that is an excellent reason for remaining with us – albeit in a less rigorous capacity. What would you say to them?”

“I do not think many people have lost their entire life history and woken to find themselves paying for crimes they cannot even recall. I would like to experience what those ‘many people’ would consider a normal productive life as I have not yet had the chance to do so. Sir.”

But even if he is released from the Special Legion he has nowhere to go except the ‘City, on a promise that might not be kept.

 

And what to do when that promise is broken?

 

“I just need to speak with Jazatar Baldrik. He is expecting me.”

The woman’s eyes swept up to his own again and the line of her mouth became a fraction tighter with some inner resolution.

“I told you, Jaz is gone. I don’t know where he is.”

She started rising and Avilon fought back his desperate need to grab her hand and make her sit, make her stay, make her tell him. But civilian rules of behaviour did not permitted that. It could count as assault and an assault charge would have him returned to the Specials without any appeal. So he let her stand and watched the emotions raw on her face, so personal and revealing she could have been standing naked before him. But one of the emotions looked like courage and another, maybe, compassion – or something as kind.

“If it is any help, I think he’s left the ‘City. You hear – things – sometimes. He made some people feel unhappy when he came back. I think he tried hard to keep legal – maybe too hard. Sometimes people don’t let you walk away from who you were.”

Alone in the ‘City, looking for Jaz, Avilon has to face up to who and what he was – and try and work out who he now wants to be.

 

Jazatar Baldrik – The Mercenary

Charity Sweetling – The Freighter Pilot

Durban Chola – The Enigma

Charity Sweetling – The Freighter Pilot

Charity Sweetling was rescued from a life of violence and abuse by a freetrader and taken onto the Coalition Protected Children Program for refugee children seeking asylum without their parents.

She was raised by a loving foster family in the rarefied high-tech enclave of Central and even undertook the military service required under the Program, before taking her pilot training into civilian life, flying huge freighters instead of military transports.

“The issue is, due to the Asylum For Children Legislation Amendments, you were granted asylum under Section D. That means unless you are employed in a reserved occupation, your status falls under the remit of the Security of Place and Persons Committee and it is their decision as to whether you should have leave to remain as a citizen of Central or not.”

Charis felt the confusion returning. It made no sense.

“I really do not understand what this is about.”

“Let me put it in plain words, Var Sweetling -”

“Oh please do, plainer the better – this is just sounding bizarre.”

“The Security of Place and Persons Committee has decided the term of your asylum is now over. The original conditions of it being in place – you being an unescorted minor in need of safety – no longer apply and the sole mitigation you held through working in reserved employment, is no longer valid. As a result, Var Sweetling I need to inform you that you are no longer a citizen of Central nor – since you were born outside it – of the Coalition either.”

Facing the chilling prospect of being deported back to the low-tech, barbaric, hell-hole of a planet she had been rescued from as a child, Charis was willing to do anything. She would clutch at any chance she was offered – even if it meant risking her life…

 

 

Whatever they were going to ask it would be dirty and dangerous. But they had been careful to push her to this point so it must also be something they needed her for and her in particular, no one else. Maybe there would be some small bit of room for manoeuvre.

“You may as well tell me what you want me to do, I know I don’t have any choice.”

“There is always a choice,” said the woman on the left, her expression sharpening for moment.

 

Jazatar Baldrik – The Mercenary

Avilon Revid – The Convicted Terrorist

Durban Chola – The Enigma