2. Easy Money
If things remained on the same schedule as the past two nights, the target would be ending her shift soon. She would then dart into the back and dress quickly before hurrying to a very small, very ugly residence building four blocks away. Her room was small and barren. The only furnishings were what had been supplied. It looked like she had already sold whatever valuables she may have had when she’d left ‘home’.
Her ‘family’ consisted of an arid habitat reptile humanoid that had a somewhat compatible biology with hers. He had posted her as a confused and mourning orphan and himself as a concerned relative. The reptilian similarity would be enough for most other species to believe it, and he was offering a high enough price for her safe return to ensure that those who did notice the differences wouldn’t care.
A shadow detached itself from the wall close to the target as she hurried past. Dorian watched with disappointment as what looked like a fellow Bounty Hunter grappled with her in the alley, one who apparently was not expecting the target to be adept at resisting capture. He waited in the darkness. The fight would be over soon and either the target or the Hunter would emerge victorious. The target broke loose and ran towards where Dorian was hiding. The Hunter shot her with a net. She entangled in it immediately and fell hard onto the ground a few feet from Dorian.
Her smell was terrified and conscious, but she remained unmoving. The Hunter swaggered forward to claim her prize. As soon as she bent forward to collect the target, the target pushed her left hand against the Hunter’s chest. The fight was over.
Dorian watched silently as the paralysis spread quickly and the Hunter quietly choked to death, her lungs no longer operating to give her enough air to cry out. The needle-thin stinger retracted into its sheath at the base of the target’s palm. She was still fully entangled in the net as Dorian stepped out of his hiding spot and walked towards her. He stopped outside of her reach, raised the dart gun and shot her. The tranquilizer acted quickly.
Dorian moved the dead Hunter to the side of the alley, removed everything of value from the body, and covered her with some garbage. By the time anyone noticed she was dead, authorities would assume she was just another homeless drifter and the body would be removed and disposed of without caring about cause or circumstance. Dorian then pulled a small vial of pungent alcohol from a pouch on his belt. He removed the target from the net, took a single mouthful of alcohol that he spit back out before pouring what was left on her and retrieving her belongings from farther up the alley. He pulled the dart from her shoulder and put it and the alcohol vial into one of his empty belt pouches and collected the target and her belongings into his arms, cradling her lithe form against is chest. As a final touch, he stooped and picked up an empty alcohol bottle that lay nearby.
He slowly surveyed the alley. There was nothing to raise suspicion; even the net appeared as one of many discarded items. Mission complete. By the time he emerged onto the street he was singing to himself and limping slightly, a happy drunken smile pasted across his face as he crooned to the lady in his arms. Slowly he wandered back to his ship.
The plan was simple: deposit the target in a holding cell acclimated to her biology, deliver her to the reptile, receive payment, then leave the system and contact his next employer. The target’s destination was 39 hours away and delivery would take an hour at the most.
He took his time getting back to his ship. With her assumed biology and approximate weight, he guessed he would have a minimum of one hour before she started to wake up, maybe as long as an hour and a half. He stumbled along, making wrong turns and tripping at random, aiming to be back on board in 45 minutes. In a direct route it would have been a twenty minute walk.
Three people and a cadaver were waiting by his ship. The target was becoming restless already, so Dorian decided once he was on board he would have to adjust his dosage for her species in his logs. Three of the waiting group looked irritated, the fourth – bloated and dead – looked like she had died in no small amount of pain. It looked like his security system upgrade was functioning fine. He glanced at the target as he rambled to a halt about thirty feet from the group of strangers. The target was trying to open her eyes.
Fair warning, the next series already has the same word count as The Centurion's Woman, but is maybe only at a third of it written right now. There will be other one-off novels to tide everyone over, promise. Hope your weekend is awesome!
1. Dorian, aka: Esquire
A collected target shall be delivered in the condition yielding the highest pay out, whenever possible.
A collected target shall be delivered within the shortest possible time period.
A target collected fairly by a competitor shall not be interfered with.
A target fairly collected and fairly lost by a competitor is considered as Bounty open.
Contracts not honored by the agreed amount shall have that amount, or equivalent assets, removed from the client as required.
Trust, once contracted, shall be honored until the end of the arrangement, unless proven beyond doubt as misplaced prior the agreement’s end.
Dorian didn’t like the squint-eyed male in the recording. He turned off the visual and listened to the nasal voice drone through the usual list of requirements for run-away cases. Please return the target unharmed. Please find them quickly. Please bring them back safely, we miss them so.
Such loving, caring families left behind; their loved one in mortal danger far from home. It would be a lot more touching if they weren’t hiring Bounty Hunters to find their ‘missing’.
The readout listed off the last known locations, how much the target was worth, and any vital statistics and known health issues. Dorian called up the attached photo and memorized it before switching off the monitor and turning in to his bunk for some much needed sleep. His last job had paid well and he had no need to work for the next while if he chose not to. His ship needed some repairs and upgrades as well.
The Madak, Pollair and Driveen systems all had quality docks and fair contacts for new equipment, but only Madak had 14 suspected ‘missing’ targets. He had charted in the course to the Madak system before reviewing the targets, and then spent three hours memorizing each face in the event that any of them happened to cross his path during his short stay. The so-called missing targets were usually easy money. The short hunts also stopped him from getting bored during downtime. Two days of travel from where he was to Madak, then another day to secure a repair dock and six to seven days of repairs – including a possible quick bounty on one of the missing – then he would be fully prepared for his next job. He’d confirmed to his next employer that he would make contact within a month so he had two weeks to spare, give or take a day. Maybe he’d hang around and pick up more than one missing target.
Repairs and upgrades were complete. Dorian moved his ship out of the repair dock and over to the spot he’d rented in the regular docks. His expenses had been more than expected, but the upgrades far surpassed what he had been planning on getting, so the slight increase in cost was acceptable. He set the security and left the ship unlocked when he went out for his evening meal.
Unlike most of his competition, Dorian preferred the finer things in life. Crime lords and general scum usually had a lot more targets and so seemed to have a lot more money. That was where most Bounty Hunters made their living. Dorian had learned early in his career that the so-called upper classes of societies had more money than the lower classes did, and that level was where the crime lords’ bosses lived. Most of the small percentage of truly powerful people above the upper classes had Dorian’s personal contact information. To most of their direct employees he was known only as Esquire, a nightmare shadow that had crossed over into waking. To the rest of the population ‘Esquire’ was a name they’d heard a couple of times a few years ago, and most of them thought he was dead. A couple of them had claimed killing him. His favorite story was the one where he drowned, that one always made him laugh.
Because he did prefer better, the establishment he went to that evening put him in a foul enough mood to appear as if he’d chosen to be there. The beverages were cheap and the food (if you could call it that) might have been worth paying for if it had actually had something resembling a pleasant flavor. The serving staff was comprised of half a dozen different species that wore varying stages of undress. The standard patrons paid more to clean the servers than they did for the food, though, so only one server still seemed to care what portion of what body part happened to be resting on or in what they were serving.
The one was a young female of a similar species type as Dorian: aquatic, reptilian humanoid. Her scales were becoming dull from the poor living conditions she was in, and her gills, fins and nearly translucent webbing looked raw and irritated. Overall, she still appeared in recoverable condition. The serving staff here called her Raja, but Dorian knew her real name would have been Alua Rhe’t, if spoken in the common tongue. Undersea languages translated poorly in gas atmospheres.
Hands up if you had a rough go during 2017?
*Every hand in the room raises*
And there are lots of us still shaking off the bleagh that got left behind, right?
*About half the hands stay up*
And it’s already June 2018… Numerology says that 2016 was a base 9 year which means a time of endings, and 2017 was a base 1 year which means a time of new beginnings. At least we’ve got a solid seven years before we start cycling back into the endings / beginnings shit storm. I don’t know if that’s meant to be encouraging or not considering the current state of the world. For me personally, I’ll take it as a positive.
Let’s jump around to more mythos and borrow that ‘Phoenix rising from its own ashes’ idea. I definitely burned down last year. Full on burn-out. Again. How bad is it to have a familiar recovery cycle for stress breaks? On a positive note, I have WAY better recovery tools and a WAY better support network for this recovery, so I can already see improvements of self beyond where my previous ‘this is the best I’ve ever been’ line in the sand was (hence my positive outlook). I know I still have self-work to do, but lately I’ve noticed that I can get excited about the whole scenario of actually getting well.
My Phoenix fire? Late 2016, my best friend’s husband was killed at work. He just didn’t come home one morning. This ripped open her existing childhood PTSS – diagnosed only a couple years before, after an entire adult life of barest symptom treating – and compounded it severely. She suicided in the Spring of 2017.
I can’t even be mad at her. I’m infuriated at the waiting list for proper psychological therapy she was put on for six months – she still had one month to go in her wait for her initial consultation to even see about getting in to talk to a qualified doctor when she killed herself. I’m disappointed at the hospital’s forced detainment of her when forced detainment was one of the causes of her childhood PTSS, which did nothing except regress her recovery from the traumatic loss of her husband and left her paranoid and feeling persecuted. I’ll likely always be angry at the doctor who told her that ‘it’s been four months since your husband died, you can’t use that as an excuse after this length of time’ when I was there for her discharge appointment. The world of Western Medicine may help a lot of people – millions of us every year – but the failures are horribly spectacular.
In the middle of all this, my dad lost his fight with cancer and passed away in February. This ended a hell of a fight – nine months of stage 4 – and my mom was an amazing anchor for him throughout. It was a strange loss: too expected to mourn hard, and I’m too separated from my parents to say that it wasn’t a lost relationship that I’d mourned already. (That was all gushed out before, I won’t bore you.)
The combination, however, meant commuting from Edmonton to the Vancouver area the last weekend of April to collect the pets whom had been left behind by my friend so they could be adopted out to the people who she had named (10 hours of driving time one way, too many belongings for the animals to pack up onto a flight), and then commuting from Edmonton to Kitimat (15 hours of driving time one way, flights are too expensive) for the first weekend in May. A good friend went with me to Vancouver, and we helped to start packing up the house so the brother of our friend who passed didn’t have to do all of it alone. I went alone to Terrace and stayed with my aunt, visiting with the rest of my side of the family across three days of functions for my dad, feeling like an impostor for even standing with the family.
Throughout all this, I wasn’t provided paid time off from work. I got three days of compassionate leave from my dad dying, and two weeks from a doctor ordered four-week stress leave. Why only two of the four weeks? Because I could grocery shop with my husband without having a panic attack after two weeks at home, so there was no reason for me not to be able to go back to work full time; I was welcome to stay home on unpaid leave, though. Great company benefits provider, there (I say with extreme sarcasm). Two kids, a mortgage, no other jobs in the market for my hubby, and I’m the single income of our family… yeah, like I can take unpaid leave. That’ll pay the electric bill and buy groceries.
I burned all my accrued vacation (all eight days that I had to date that year), used all my sick leave (we got three days for the year), and then just did days of unpaid leave around weekends to fill in the gaps for commuting to and from Vancouver as needed. My husband tightened up the budget until it screamed, he took on EVERYTHING at home, and we held on. As a bonus, I got continual snotty comments from coworkers outside my department about how nice it must be to have so much time off, and zero relief from deadlines (which meant starting to ruin my own career and carrying the guilt that I was forcing colleagues to constantly cover for me).
In November, I talked to my department boss about options – I was failing emotionally, mentally, and at that time had been physically sick continuously for three months. Early December my grandfather passed away (as in, the grandparents who I’d basically lived with for a year as a kid when at-home was bad). In late December, my boss gave me a Christmas layoff. Not going to lie, I cried from relief, hugged him, and will likely always feel exceptionally grateful. It was a bad place to work, but some of the people there are the best.
2018 dawned with the New Year realization that I didn’t have to go back to a negative workplace. I could stay home and get better. So what did I do? I burned that old Phoenix made up of ‘coping’ and ‘I’ll be okay’ to the ground. Sleeping the needed amount of hours? Check! Taking care of my physical self and getting rid of that four-month long lingering virus? Check! Honoring emotions? Check! Dissecting anxiety into bite-sized crazy? Check! Days of grief-fueled raging emotions and utter melt-downs of tearful release? Check! Months of pent up emotions and frustrations and anger and grief all allowed to run free in the safety of my own home without anyone being judgmental or condescending? Check! A support network that actually provides support and not just lip service? Check!
Turning me around until I started having good days again? Check! Getting to a point where I don’t wake up crying over dealing with another day? Check!
Ripping apart my life’s savings and maxing out my credit and hoping we hit a financial miracle at the right time because kids, mortgage, bills…? Damn straight. Me being sane and healthy for my family is worth it, and (include a grin and wink here for the at-home parents) my hubby is enjoying the time off at a regular job after over six years being home with the kids. There are jobs out there for him again, too, so our start over is looking up with every passing day (and each new book I finish and get out into the market). Of course his job isn’t a financial miracle, and my writing is more pot-luck than lottery, but we agree with each other that the daily fight of sticking to a budget and working with what we have is a proven method for creating our own miracle later. Things will stay hard for a while yet, I’m sure, but every day is looking up.
Fledgling 2018 Phoenix me isn’t just ‘coping’ anymore, I’m taking the opportunity my hubby and I made together to address all the crap that left me ‘coping’ for so long. This recovery is not a fun process, I can’t even pretend that it is, but it sure feels good when the steps move forward. Numerology says that 2018 as a base 2 year means a time of taking charge and ‘you can do you’ changes. I’m ready for that. (Mostly… still recovering over here).
Hands up if you’re making the second half of 2018 your rise out of the ashes, too.
Thank goodness for Friday! This week I'm certain I would've lost my head if it wasn't attached. To quote my 6-year-old (in a complain-y voice for full effect): "Why do you keep repeating everything out loud when we're done half of it??" ... yeah, just wait, Kiddo lol. Coloring habits in our house dictate not having accessible pens (markers and crayons everywhere, but nothing permanent because there's also a 3-year-old) so lists are harder to do when you only have a broken wax crayon and that one envelope from the mail that hasn't made it into recycle yet. I may feel like Dora the Explorer repeating all the steps of the chores done and yet to do, but I do remember more. :)
3. One Small Fox
Change kicked the table again. Present sighed and frowned at her sister, who remained in a constant state of agitated motion as she pouted.
"Well," Present said with finality. "Does that mean we are finished here?"
The second to last grain of sand slid to the bottom half of the glass. The last grain remained suspended at the top of the funnel.
"All that needs to be revealed is done. The world will pass this age," Future stood as she said this and then waited at the edge of the table.
"The history is recorded. The age gone is secured with history and the slates are clean for the age to come," Past also stood and waited.
Next was Change. "All options are open. My hand is drawn and the choices to be made are set. Those under my hand will find the path of their choosing."
Chaos stood, his chest full of self-importance. "All things under my hand will come as they fall. No set paths await the lives I carry."
"All lives rest in my hand,” Present intoned her own, familiar statement. “I will tend to them to ensure that all points required to be met shall be so. My hand shall be guided by this hour's revelations of the age to come, and educated from the ages gone," she grasped the hourglass in both hands. "This eternal hour is ended."
The last grain of sand fell with an audible thud, and time again moved at its regular pace. The images that had been left about the room vanished, as did the room itself, leaving nothing with the Fates aside from the chairs, table, and hourglass; all surrounded by shadow.
Future was the first to leave. She drifted away, following whatever scenes and lights that only her blinded eyes were capable of beholding. Past pointed a reproachful look – and finger – at Chaos before he, too, left the table and walked away into the shadows. Change whirled from the table and stalked away, her form swallowed quickly by the darkness. Chaos smirked at where she had disappeared, and then sauntered off in his own direction, whistling.
Present shook her head and sighed. She had the conciliation that it would be another age before they would have to meet again to find out how the world would go from what they had decided in the past eternal hour. She also had the conciliation of living completely in the Now once she entered the shadows, so would be able to forget the distaste she already had for the next meeting as soon as she decided to step away from the table.
She let go of the glass and finally stood. The way of the world remained a mystery to her. She knew what had happened and what should happen, but Future's sight and Past's recounting were as beyond her grasp as it was for them to consider living every life that existed as it existed in every moment. In a few steps, she would forget all about this meeting because the Now would demand her full attention. Still, she thought as she entered the familiar blanket of the shadows, it is odd that the lives of all will rest on one, small fox.
Can someone with authority please talk to Winter and let them know that it really is time for Spring and the cold weather needs to be moving on? I'm all for less mosquitoes, but this is getting ridiculous. (I'm whining because I could see my breath while dropping of my oldest at school this morning.)
2. Lives of Importance
The single grain of sand remained the sole occupant of the lower half of the glass.
By the time Change and Chaos stopped bickering, Present had a migraine, Past was snoring with his head on the table, and Future had gone to wander among the shadows of the room. Chaos emerged with four of the dozen, Change with eight. It was an unusual balance for the three periodical Fates. They were used to Chaos only getting one or two.
"Are you done now?" Present drawled as she rubbed her temples, her annoyance blatant. Chaos made a face, nodded once, and slouched back in his chair. He made no attempt to hide his smugness.
"I guess," Change shifted four times before finally answering with a defeated tone.
Future drifted back to the table. She woke up Past with a gentle nudge once she was seated, then rested her elbows on the table so she could resume staring off into nothing through her blind eyes. The sand began to fall one grain at a time to the lower half of the glass, still at an achingly slow pace for Present.
"Now," Present continued the meeting. "Show the Why of these chosen lives."
Future smiled. She truly loved this part.
Eleven of the twelve lives were set in motion, their individual Why reveled to the other four Fates through their actions. The twelfth life remained motionless.
Upon the eleven conclusions that must be set for the world to continue, the Fates turned to Future to play the last. She appeared to be back in la-la land already. Chaos snapped his fingers at her.
"Hello-oo?" he taunted. "Anybody there?"
Future's blind eyes locked sharply onto Chaos for a split second then slid away, back to stare at the shadows. It was enough of a look to silence Chaos for once.
Present resumed rubbing her temples – which she had stopped doing so she could observe the courses of the chosen lives. Past merely watched Future for a long moment.
"It has been many ages since you have not revealed the course of a life of importance," he finally said.
Future nodded. "This life has too many courses to show. The actions that may or may not occur will determine the course of all lives."
Change kicked at the table this time, shifting and wiggling haughtily. Chaos whistled appreciatively. He'd never had a life of that level under his control – or lack of – before.
"Will the knowledge of the ages help this life to aid all others?" Past asked.
"Education will come only during the single span of this life, and be only of this single span. Instinct will be the main teacher of this life, and Chaos holds all of us at bay from interference. That will be held from what was already decided."
Present closed her eyes and continued to rub at her temples. It seemed to be starting to help. She contemplated Future's response for what could have been another age. When she opened her eyes again, her migraine was gone and almost all the sand rested in the bottom of the hourglass.
"Will a knowledge of current times aid this life in its course?"
Future roused herself from the dream she had gone into. "Current times will be all that is known to this life. It is up to Chaos to provide the extent of that knowledge."
A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!