Coffee Break Read – Daddy’s Daughter

The name’s Nero, Sam Nero. Private eye and augmented android. Me and my holographic sidekick, Sugar, operate out of an office on the fifty-fifth level of The Last City. We do okay. But some days are a bit bumpier than others…

I waved Myk and Zig after her, then went back into the blood-spattered office. Twenty minutes got me everything I needed to know and I went in search of Katie. I found her sitting at the bar moodily sipping what looked to be a very large martini. I must have raised an eyebrow because she pushed it towards me.
“Virgin, Sam. You can taste it if you don’t believe me.” She didn’t sound too fond of me so I favoured her with my best overgrown schoolboy grin.
“None of my nevermind, Katie Scarlett,” I said pacifically.
“It could be your nevermind if you wanted,” her voice turned into honey being poured over warm rocks and she licked her full lower lip with an adorably pointed pink tongue.
I leaned over and swatted that portion of her excellent backside which wasn’t resting on the barstool.
“Behave, Katie Scarlett. There’s a game on.”
For a second she pouted, but underneath the flouncing and posturing she’s daddy’s daughter through and through, so she sat upright and regarded me flatly.
“There is? Then it’s about time I was told who’s playing.”
“I guess it is about time I filled you in. But not here. And not quite yet.”
Her diamond-bright gaze raked my face as sharply as a set of painted fingernails. Whatever she saw in that face must have satisfied her because she nodded briefly.
“When?”
“In twenty minutes or so, if everything pulls together.”
She crossed a pair of silk clad legs and crooked a finger at the bar droid.
“I’ll have a proper martini, and Mister Nero will have a bourbon on the rocks.”
The droid almost bowed before scuttling off.
“What’s with the barkeep?”
“Oh. They all think Daddy is gone. And that makes me the boss. And they aren’t sure they like the idea.”
I grinned. “And why would that be?”
“Because I have an eye for detail, and I don’t have patience with anyone or anything that doesn’t do its job.”
“I just bet you don’t.”
The bar droid came back with the drinks and she flashed it a dazzling smile.

Katie Scarlett took a sip and inhaled the icy vapour.
“Sam,” she said and her voice was kinda soft and appealing, “am I ugly?”
I looked at her assessingly allowing my eyes to caress her creamy skin, and I was rewarded by a rosy blush that spread up her long throat and mantled her cheeks.
“No,” I said, “and you know you aren’t. But that’s not the question is it?”
She met my eyes bravely. “It isn’t. You know what the question is.”
“I do. But I promised your daddy that I wouldn’t explain.”

We finished our drinks in silence, and I looked at my watch. I was just beginning to think I would have to ask for a few more moments when the cellphone in my pocket bleeped. I pulled it out and the readout was what I was waiting for. I stood up and offered Katie Scarlett my arm.

She looked puzzled for a second then put one red nailed hand on my sleeve. I signalled Myk and Zig to follow us and we made our way to the private elevator.
“Where to?” I could feel the waves of puzzlement coming from her rigid figure.
“Your daddy’s apartment.”
“Okay, but we won’t be able to get in.”
I lifted one eyebrow and Katie gave a small moue of defeat. She put one slim hand to a palm plate.
“Daddy’s apartment.”
The elevator moved with a silky smoothness that spoke volumes of money and maintenance. The doors hissed open and the four of us stepped out into a white painted foyer with a thickly carpeted floor. Opposite us was a set of double doors, painted to look like wood, but if I’d have been a betting man I’d have put the farm on them being plasteel.

I took the card out of my pocket and applied it to the almost invisible plate beside the doors. Katie Scarlett opened her mouth, but I forestalled her with a finger across those delicious red lips. It almost went without saying that the door which slid open wasn’t even in the same wall as the imposing looking ‘entrance’. I chuckled inwardly as I shepherded Katie and the twins inside, the door closed behind us and we found ourselves in another elevator. It was a quick trip, I guessed one floor only.

From ‘Sam Nero and the Case of the Dutiful Daughter’ one of the stories in Sam Nero PI by Jane Jago

Daily Drabble – Anonymous?

He felt safe and secure behind his screen, in a comfortable chair with the remains of a take out close to hand, ordered online.
Flitting through social media, picking, choosing. Writing pithy, well-deserved comments and sharing his astute observations.
All anonymous.
Smart speaker close at hand, controlling his smart home – even monitoring the new doorbell that protected his house.
He didn’t see the data being gathered. Noting when he had visitors, recording his purchases, how often and when. Tracking his every mouse click, knowing everywhere he visited online – even places he’d never admit to his closest friends…
Safe and secure?

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – Venting Spleen

She was doing pretty well until the plates were cleared, when Ancilla addressed her directly.
“Now, Julia parva, do tell us all about the sheep stealing and tractor rustling that passes for crime in this armpit of the Empire.”
Julia raised her face and looked straight into the eyes of her would-be tormentor. She waited a beat then raised one eyebrow. Ancilla snorted and stared down her patrician nose. Julia, who had grown up in the slums around the skirts of Rome, wasn’t one whit abashed by the older woman’s stare.
Seeing that Julia wasn’t impressed, Ancilla tried another tack. She turned her face to Pina.
“I thought we were here for a meeting. When will it convene?”
“As soon as you and Domina Annia leave.” Julia saved her boss the bother of a reply.
For a moment, Ancilla’s reaction hung in the balance. Then she painted on a smile.
Mea culpa,” she said, adding a bright, tinkling laugh. “You are, of course, correct. My own frustration at the limitations of my body, and the dreariness of constant pain caused me to overstep the mark. Please excuse me.”
Julia was not to be so easily mollified and she looked steadily into the bright, malicious eyes. Ancilla put up with this for a few seconds before hunching a pettish shoulder.
“What is one to do, except amuse oneself where one can?”
“Perhaps you should speak to a medicus with experience of pain control. I believe there is one such with a province wide reputation at the asclepieion on Ynys Mon. As for the rest, you might consider not venting your spleen on those around you. None of whom was the architect of your misfortune.”
You could have cut the tension around the table with a very blunt knife and Julia felt Gallus draw himself together in case action was necessary. In the event, though, it was all a bit of an anticlimax.
Ancilla gave a shout of what sounded like genuine amusement and spoke in a completely different voice from the light, malicious drawl that had had Julia itching to box her ears.
“Busted. I really have been behaving like a spoilt brat.”
Julia wisely forbore from comment.
Pina took up the conversational baton.
“Perhaps we could convene in my office.”
She led the way with Julia and Gallus at her heels. Once inside the quiet room, Pina so far forgot her imperial dignity as to laugh until she cried. Julia watched patiently and when her boss recovered shook her head.
“I have to say I am delighted at the way you outed Ancilla. She is by way of a distant relative and our mothers were close so we were often together as children, but I have to say we’ve grown apart long since. We’ve barely spoken since childhood. I could not refuse her, though, when she asked to come and stay. I helped her son get an administrative job in the area some time ago and she wanted to visit him and thank me in person. But I have to say she has been pretty dreadful since she arrived.”
Julia grinned. “Happy to be of assistance,” she said and gave a military style salute. “Permission to return to work, domina.”
“Yes. Off you go. And, Julia. Thank you.”
Julia and Gallus made good their escape.

From Dying as a Spy by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Glossary of Latin and Other Terms
Please note these are not always accurate translations, they are how these terms are used in Dai and Julia’s world.

asclepieion – healing spa, hospital
mea culpa – ‘through my fault’, my bad
medicus – doctor
parva – literally small, term of endearment

Daily Drabble – GodBot

They said you could find the Creator anywhere, but they would say that when churches fell to dust alongside their secular neighbours. They also said the androids of the lord were as holy as the old men who sat in places of safety burning incense – and the occasional heretic.

Trouble with old men, though, is they don’t see the future too good – specially their own.

The Lord’s Android’s in charge of things now, and he ain’t swayed by money, nor sex, nor threats.

Seems to us mortals that the church is morally and spiritually strong now, if unchancy to cross…

©Jane Jago

Coffee Break Read – An Epiphany

Imagine waking up one day unable to recall who you are or where you came from – only to find you are serving a sentence as a convict conscript for crimes you have no memory of ever committing…

“It does not change what the man has become,” he said. “Revid is a totally conditioned soldier of the Legion. You may not know what that means, but I do. He may want to try being a civilian, but there is nothing in his life experience in the Legion that has any bearing on it. So if he tries he will fail. And I for one would not like to see what the consequences of such a failure would look like.”
He wanted to explain he was trying to make the task less, not more, difficult and show her the issues were real, not personal. He cleared his throat and ploughed on:
“This is not about refusing Revid a chance to have a normal life or not wanting to let him go. It is he has no chance in civilian life even if I do let him go. If what you say about his desire to serve holds true then offer him military release. I could be persuaded to sanction it – to the right unit.”
“We already did. And he won’t take it.” She sounded deflated and her teeth pressed into the soft flesh of her lower lip with obvious frustration.
“Doesn’t it suggest something is not quite right then? Why would he be so keen to leave the military when it is obvious that is where he can serve the Coalition best?”
Var Tyran smiled again, but it looked more than a little strained, as if she found the entire situation over-challenging.
“Perhaps it has something to do with the friendship I mentioned.”
“Friendship?” Vane frowned and stepped back to sit on the edge of his desk, bringing himself to her eye level. “There is no such thing here. Friendships are not part of life in the Legion. Relationships amongst the troops are based on primitive debt transactions in which the strong maintain a kind of patronage system over the weaker. Unless, of course – are they lovers? Although even that is usually more about power and control than any real affection in this Legion.”
“Not that we know.”
“And you would know?”
She moved slightly and Vane caught a subtle breath of the perfume she wore.
“We would, Commodore. And I use the word ‘friendship’ to imply the idea of mutual debt and a bonding emotion. I mean someone he cares for, feels responsible towards and is to some great degree emotionally dependent upon. I apologise if my shorthand terminology was a little imprecise.” A touch of self-depreciation slipped into her tone as she spoke and she accompanied it with another small smile.
“So why would he want to leave this ‘friend’ you mention?” Even as he asked the question, Vane had an epiphany.
“Well this friend –“
“Is the man I discharged a little over a year ago,” he finished for her.
Var Tyran laughed with delight, a genuine and infectious sound. Vane found himself smiling.
“You are absolutely right, Commodore.”
Vane recalled the other man clearly. Jazatar Baldrik. His interview was very different from today’s. And he could see why the term ‘friendship’ could even be applied to that man in a meaningful way.
“But he had a family to return to and he stayed in the military. I signed his transfer to a Planetary Security Unit on Thuringen. I even wrote him a reference. Fine soldier, achieved the highest promotion possible to the Legion’s rankers in the shortest possible time. Been a military careerist at one time, Marines, and it showed. Very sorry to see him go. Very sorry.” He broke off and then chuckled self-consciously as he realised what he had said. “Well, not, really, of course. He deserved to leave us.”
The woman nodded, clearly appreciative of his meaning and he found himself smiling at her again.
“So Revid wants to go and join his friend. Makes sense. If I had known there were such plans in place to look after him, I might have viewed the proceedings differently,” Vane admitted. “I just don’t think such a man would ever get by on his own. But, under the close guidance of someone who has shared his experiences in the Specials, who knows the specific issues and problems he would be facing and who’s willingly agreed to support him, I can see an argument there could be a very different outcome.”
With a slight sense of relief he realised, this highly pertinent factor, missing from the equation before, explained all the discrepancies. This would be why the other reports discounted the risks and recommended proceeding with the discharge. And it was a very compelling justification in his opinion.
“It is probably my fault then,” Var Tyran said, her compelling sapphire gaze found and held his once again. “I was a little high-handed earlier when I should have been briefing you more thoroughly.”
“Well, we all make mistakes,” Vane said, with an understanding smile. “I am not sure why this did not get mentioned in the background file either, so the error was not entirely yours.”
She smiled warmly at him.
“Does this change things for you Commodore Vane, at all?”
“Change things?”
“I mean, do you feel able to confirm the recommendation for discharge now? My people really want me to bring this home.”
Vane could see the hope in her face as she gently brushed away a tress of hair that was straying over her face. She badly wanted a success to take back to her department. He could see that and see how it explained her earlier anger and pushiness. It struck him she would feel very grateful if he could help her with it. A trace of the perfume tugged at his senses.

From Trust A Few book one in Haruspex, the second Fortune’s Fools trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook which is only 0.99 to buy for a limited period.

Daily Drabble – Poltergeists

It happened again.
It had happened once already. She was sure. Just as she took the key from her pocket, the door opened by itself.
Or had that been in a dream?
An oddly familiar tension gripped her stomach as she hesitated on the threshold.
Burglars? Poltergeists? Had she forgotten to shut the door when going out?
It was like rethinking the thoughts, standing in a reflection of herself, watching an event that had already happened.
“Is that you dear?” Her mother’s voice. The sudden familiarity banishing the demons of deja-vu. “I let myself in and put the kettle on.”

E.M. Swift-Hook

Author Feature Wings of Earth: 8 – Fastest Track, by Eric Michael Craig

The further from home we get, the darker our universe becomes. Exploring the universe isn’t all beer and sausages. In Wings of Earth: 8 – Fastest Track, Eric Michael Craig’s epic space opera takes us where no human has been before. 

The Ptolemy hung on the edge of the target zone waiting for the Hermes to emerge from Nth space. It was mostly a formality since the small jump ship was supposed to arrive and spend only a few seconds confirming its location before it jumped back to the Nakamiru on the edge of Zone One.
Unfortunately, the ship was late.
“Where are they?” Captain Drexler asked over the commlink. The ship’s captain knew nothing about the details of the experiment and that made him irritable.
“Calculating an Nth space displacement is exceedingly complex. I am sure they are confirming everything before they make the jump,” the chief scientist said without the slightest twitch of an eye. Dr. Keral Albaan was the head of the telemetry team and almost devoid of personality. To him, everything in the universe was a measurement and a calculation. There was nothing to get excited about when you were waiting on the data to arrive.
The frustration was that if something held up the test, it would take longer for a deep-comm signal to arrive with an update, than it would for the jump ship to emerge and return to complete its mission.
For now, they had nothing to do but sit and watch the chrono.
“Chief, can you check sector-six?” Isaacs asked, cutting in on the commlink. The sensor specialist was young and prone to enthusiastic outbursts that annoyed Albaan, but this time, she sounded more restrained. “I’m picking up a distortion.”
“Is it a system problem?” Paul Kanumba asked, walking across the science lab to look at her screen. The engineer had worked with Albaan on several science missions and tried to keep the other team members from annoying the Chief unless it truly required his attention.
“I don’t think so,” she said, leaning back and letting him scan the system controls. “It wasn’t there a minute ago and I can’t get it to clear up. It’s emitting energy across all bandwidths.”
“No natural phenomenon emits uniform multi-spectrum emissions. It has to be hardware,” Albaan said, without turning.
“I copy that, Chief,” she said defensively. “The emission is biased toward the upper end of the G/I spectrum. Right at the temporospatial threshold. Range is twelve megaklick.”
“Is it the Hermes emerging?” He swung his head a few degrees in her direction.
“If it is, it’s taking its time,” Kanumba said, putting the sensor display up on the main screen. The spike in energy was visible and expanding. “The Tahrat pops out in under a hundredth of a nano-second.”
“And it’s in the wrong place,” Isaacs added.
That certainly doesn’t look like a normal Nth space emergence. Albaan raised an eyebrow several millimeters while he contemplated the possibilities.
“What the hell is going on out there?” Drexler asked from the ConDeck. “Helm is reporting we’re losing our navigational fix.”
“It’s like we’re being pushed sidewise,” the helmsman’s voice carried across the comm.
“Hold position,” Drexler growled. Annoyance edged his tone toward outright frustration.
“Are you detecting anything on your standard sensors?” Albaan asked. He doubted they’d be able to pick anything up, since the standard kit on a science vessel was limited in comparison to his team’s own gear.
“Nothing,” the captain confirmed. “That’s why I’m asking if you have something?”
“Possibly. Check sector-six,” the scientist said, swiveling in his seat to look at Isaacs.
She nodded. It was still there.
“We’re still moving,” the helmsman said.
“Inertial controls say we’re stationary,” the ship’s engineer reported, cutting in on the conversation.
“Sector-six is… wait… what the hell is that?” the captain said. The optical images from the ConDeck appeared on the main screen of the science lab.
A vivid green glow rolled out like a flat disk against the background of space, and the stars seemed to spread out like reflections on the surface of a bubble.
For an instant, it seemed like the fabric of the universe was stretching.
“That might be an Nth Space rupture,” Albaan said quietly. An intrusion event was only a theoretical possibility, and no one had any idea what it would look like.
Or, more importantly, if it would be possible to survive one… if it did happen.

A Bite of… Eric Michael Craig 

If you could be any of the characters in the book who would you wish to be and why?

Wow, this is actually a very tough question. I have worked hard to build an ensemble cast where all my characters are unique and talented in their own way. And then as the author I kick the snot out of them all the time.
I mean, I’d love to be a starship captain, but I don’t want to have Ethan Walker’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Life. (I actually had someone essentially put that in a review). The truth is I think giving good characters something really hard to do makes for a good story.
So yeah, I love my characters, but I don’t love the life they have to live to tell the story.

This is quite a major series now, what has been the hardest aspect of writing it?

I am probably right at a million words into the universe now (counting the Shan Takhu Legacy prequel trilogy) and it has been quite the process to keep it organized from a technical standpoint. I am an absolute plotter when it comes to my writing (in that I outline everything in detail). By doing that it lets me keep the story focused and on track.
In a long series though, that involves keeping the beat points in the right place for each episode and keeping the overarching backstory on the right beat placement too. With Book 8, I just passed the middle point on the backstory, where the main characters go from reactive to proactive and I needed to nail that turnover cleanly to drive the story line forward to the major climactic moment that is still several books away.
I actually wrote three complete versions of this story with different focus perspectives before I decided exactly how I wanted to land the characters for the rest of the series. Tossing away close to 200K words was the hardest part of the process.

What is your snack food of choice to keep you going when writing?

Does coffee count as a snack food?
Seriously, I don’t usually eat at my desk, and since I have an office in a separate building from my house, I don’t like to break away and go get a snack. Especially when it is snowing outside.
I do keep a bag of Werther’s Caramel Coffee Hard Candy on my desk (notice the COFFEE theme here?), but mainly it’s to keep my voice working well enough that Dragon will recognize it. I write about a third of each book using dictation software, so I don’t think keeping the vocal cords lubricated is really the same as snacking. It’s more a production tool, I guess.

Eric Michael Craig in his own words:
I’m a caveman trapped in the real world, wrestling with the future.
You might call me a shade tree quantum mechanic. Camping between the particles of an atom, I’ve learned there is infinitely more than what’s contained in its structure. I’ve carved sculptures out of the quantum foam and danced in the whirlwind of the zero point.
To figure out how life and the universe works, I studied electrical engineering, architecture, and physics, but I learned more roaming the edges of science, where all the Mad-Max, crazy-inventor types live (I wouldn’t call myself a crazy inventor type, even though I’ve raced in blind abandon across the empty wastelands of discovery).
So, what does that make me?
I could say I’m just a receptacle for coffee, but it might be the lack of coffee that keeps me moving. (Where the hell did I leave my coffee cup?!?)

You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and his website – or participate in the discussion and fun by following the Wing of Earth Facebook Page and joining his Wings of Earth Facebook Group.

Daily Drabble – Stories

As far as we know, we always were, and the rocks we juggled and threw around came to fill the empty void. For aeons we let them fall where they would, but it came to us that order might be more seemly and we began our self-imposed task.

It was good, and as the little rocks spun round the big fires a beautiful symmetry was formed.

And the things that lived on the rocks grew minds and voices. They cried  into the void.

‘Where did we come from?’

The void ignored them, so they made up their own stories.

©Jane Jago

Sunday Serial – The Pirate and the Don – 11

A brutal fantasy tale of piracy, friendship, romance and revenge on the high seas…

Meanwhile Santa Hosefina had crowded on all sail and was making for the mysterious spot on the map – which just happened to be Hell’s Maw and its adjoining coral atoll – as fast as was possible. Don Esteban stood at the bow with his feet braced against the roll of the ship. His overlong hair streamed around him snapping and slapping in the freshening wind, but he was so focused on meeting Tall Jack that he heard and saw nothing except the beating of his own blood in his ears.
“Faster. Faster,” he cried as the sailors coaxed every ounce of speed from the sleek galleon.
A voice from the crows nest broke into his reverie.
“Ship ahead. Making way very slowly. Looks like she’s lost her rudder. Can’t see who she is yet. But might be our quarry.”
Don Esteban put his powerful telescope to his eye and scanned the horizon. For a moment he saw nothing, but he reined in his rage and looked more carefully. Then he saw the stricken ship and managed to hold still enough to read the nameplate on her bow. It was indeed Midnight Runner limping through the blue water like an old lady in too tight slippers.
“There’s our quarry,” he bawled, “break out the oars.”
Gobshite was in the Runner’s crows nest. He wasn’t the most intelligent of beings, but he was perpetually alert and he had very good eyesight. “Black galleon heeded our way Cap,” he shouted. “Seems like he’s in a bit of a hurry.”
Jack raised a clenched fist. “Hear that boys, we got company coming. Let’s make sure we are in exactly the right spot when she gets here shall we?”
There was a grunt of assent and the speedy little clipper began inching her way along the coral reef that protected the calm waters of the bay known to pirates as the Name of God. Progress was painfully slow as it was necessary to give the impression of being floundering, while retaining precise control of every move the ship made. The teeth of the coral reef were so close to the port side of the ship that Jack was sure he could hear the corals speaking to each other in squeaky little voices.
He turned his head to assess the speed of the approaching galleon. She was coming at the sort of pace that was injudicious even in open water, the intent of her captain was obvious. He meant to strike the Runner amidships and run the smaller ship aground with his superior size. Only he wasn’t going to catch his prey as easily as he thought. Jack’s helmsman started counting out loud.
“Five, four, three, two, one. Hang on for your lives.”
He swung the wheel with all his considerable wiry strength as the men hidden in the rigging adjusted the sails. The Runner swung hard aport and for an instant Jack closed his eyes. But he couldn’t be seen to be such a coward and he forced himself to look as the boiling waters around the reef seemed to part in front of his gallant little ship. Thirty seconds and they were through, bobbing in the calm waters beyond the rocky teeth.
“Out oars.”
Twenty pairs of oars began pulling the ship through the gently shoaling waters towards the white beach.
Behind them there was mayhem aboard the galleon.
“What is the madman doing?” Don Esteban screamed.
“He’s beaching her for repairs.”
“Get after him then.”
“There is a reef señor. We will wreck the ship if we do not have care.”
“Don’t be a coward, man. Follow him through the reef. Where one ship can go another can follow. Fifty thousand pieces of gold if you catch him.”
For a moment prudence warred with greed, but avarice won. “Who marked where he went through?”
A voice floated down from the crows nest. “Three points to starboard.”
The helmsman made a delicate adjustment, but the galleon didn’t abate her breakneck pace.
“Half a point to port.”
In the lagoon, Jack and his crew watched the approaching behemoth with appalled fascination.
She barrelled towards the gap in the reef. For a second it seemed like she would make it through, but then, with a sound almost beyond sound, she jammed herself onto the sharp rocks. As she came to an abrupt halt, her own speed broke her back and her death throes deposited a selection of crew and mercenaries overboard into the killing sea.


Jane Jago

There will be more from Bony Mary and her crew next week…

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