My friend Tenneh said she’d like to see some writing, so today I’m posting a scene from chapter 2 of my novel The Buckingham Lease. This is from a body of writing that I call “The Luninatia Orchid” — right now, it includes 5 complete short stories (including ‘Live and Direct from Spock,’ which I’ve posted here) and one complete novel, the first in a trilogy. After the scene is some artwork from the same novel.
For those who feel like a bit of context: this takes place in late 24th century, humanity has only settled out as far as Saturn, and the bar that they’re in is on Salvador Station, an extra-orbital space station somewhere between Mercury and Venus, and widely known to be the New Jersey of the solar system (or worse, Detroit). Kat and Wing are from Earth’s moon, now called Luna, and the currency there is called the Orchid — one Luna Orchid equals about 10-12 dollars our currency. Let’s see, what else? A slaadyen is a sort of switchblade-sized light-saber, and hydropods are things you grow plants in, to give you oxygen (they have them in the artificial environment exhibit at Cape Kennedy). Anyhoo….
Love to know what you think!
Wing’s eyes glisten ominously in the red torchlight as he pushes back the edge of his cloak to reveal the gleaming silver of his slaadyen-belt, but he does not reach for his weapon, not yet. The corner of his mouth curls into a sinister grin and his voice drops to a soft purr that would, in any other situation, be considered soothing. “Now, Shodo,” he begins slowly, “I don’t think either one of us wish this encounter to turn unpleasant.”
Their current situation is far from soothing. Kat surveys the crowd with dismay; she’s seen friendlier-looking faces in the Reptile Dome at the Luna City Carnivore Preserve. The Pipe and Drinkbulb devotes itself to the clientele that tend to get thrown out of all the other disreputable taverns on Salvador Station, and the landlord hasn’t bothered with fancy décor; the only adornment on the grimy plexisteel walls is the badly misspelled graffiti scrawled between the starkly utilitarian black glastic hydropods filled with sickly blue-green algae. Through the haze of smoke floating through the cramped and ill-lit room, Kat can see that the other customers are observing them closely, waiting for the inevitable fight. No one refuses a job from Shodo Nivoli and lives; no one threatens Parkhurst the Wolf and lives – the show should be interesting.
Some of the regulars seem to be taking bets on the outcome.
The laws on Salvador, although numerous and complex, tend to be obeyed or ignored at whim, and enforcement is arbitrary and subject to bribery and extortion. And yet, there is a code on Salvador, a set of unwritten rules followed as closely as the written ones are disregarded. For example, the written law of Salvador states that any place of business selling intoxicants of any kind must have the gravity turned on during business hours; the level of gravity is left to the proprietor’s discretion. The unwritten code regarding gravity has become a maxim repeated by every tourist returning to civilization: the lower the gravity, the rougher the crowd.
Kat casually brushes a miliorch from the table, watching as the copper coin floats almost – but not quite – motionless in the air by her elbow, sinking at a much slower rate than her spirits.
Wing leans over and casually plucks the coin from midair. He turns back to Nivoli, still smiling menacingly. “My lieutenant here is always dropping things. Clumsy, you know. Knocked over a shipment of Deimos glass last week while we were in Mercury Standard Gravity – two hundred Orchids of merchandise smashed to ghenna. But she’s the best pilot in the fleet.” He takes a long, slow sip of his rum. “And she fights every bit as well as she flies. Rather useful to have around, yes?”
Nivoli isn’t impressed. He crosses his arms with a pompous snort. “You threatening me with your princess pilot now? Tweaked choice of weapons, Parkhurst.”
Wing’s smile broadens, looking almost natural, his scar only faintly visible in the dim flickering light of the smoke-obscured torches. “Come on, Shodo, old click,” he drawls, “you know that if I wanted to use members of my crew to threaten anyone, I’d order my gunner here to remove his boots.”
“Ready to offend at your order, Captain,” Zap offers earnestly.
“I don’t think we need to escalate to that level, Corporal,” Wing replies.
Nivoli throws back his head with a cold, barking laugh. “I’ve always liked you, Parkhurst.” He narrows his eyes, his voice taking on a poisonous edge. “So why don’t you act the decent joe and take the job?”
Wing flashes the man his most dangerous smile. “I don’t run zhrek, Shodo, simple and out. But I’m sure you can find someone who will; there’s good money to be had in selling liquid death to children.”
“You’re a sanctimonious kreckholer, Parkhurst.”
“Yes, but I’m your favorite sanctimonious kreckholer. Tell you what – me and my crew, we’re leaving now, nice and quiet. No one follows us, no one gets hurt. Understood?”
“No good, Parkhurst!” a voice from the crowd calls out. “I’ve got fifteen Orchids says you’ll kill him in under ten seconds.”
Wing scowls into the darkness. “Save your money, Jandas. I’m not in the mood to kill anyone tonight, not even you.”
Not to mention that if Wing kills either of them, Kat thinks with a shudder, sure as Sheridan it wouldn’t be the only joe he’d have to kill in order to gets us out of here alive.
Nivoli chuckles nastily. “You won’t kill me, Parkhurst. You only kill whoever your mother tells you to – and Narcissa likes me, Solaris only knows why.” He squints out into the crowd, to where a group of shadows lurk at a table in the corner. “I might decide to scrape the Orchids together and pay Parkhurst to kill you one of these days, Jandas.”
“You couldn’t afford me, old boy.”
“Please, citizens,” Rochester says cheerfully, his lights winking lemon-yellow, “you both know that neither of you could afford each other’s price. But I’d be willing to front either or both of you the funds you need to have each other killed.”
The coarse wave of laughter this remark provokes completely dissolves the tension. The people at the surrounding tables turn back to their separate conversations, and the squad heaves a collective sigh of relief as Nivoli claps Wing on the back with a hearty laugh.
“All right, pup, your old man here’s convinced me; you win. I’ll find someone else to run the shipment – this time. But don’t expect me to be happy the next time I see you.” The Salvadoran turns on his heel and begins to saunter back to his table, but pauses a moment, throwing a smug look over his shoulder. “Oh, and Parkhurst,” he sneers, “do tell that Belt-twizzed fleb you’re married to that I said hello.”
Wing frowns. “I’ve heard people call Anya a lot of things, but –”
“Not your wife, Parkhurst, your husband, the prince who would be queen. You know: that prancing Looney fudger who hides his lack of talent behind a slinky red dress and a pretty little glute.”
Before Kat realizes what she is doing, she is standing nose-to-nose with Nivoli, shaking with fury. “For one thing,” she hisses fiercely, “my father isn’t married to the captain. And as for his talent –”
“Lieutenant, stand down,” Wing growls. Around them, several large, simian-looking arnolds slowly disengage from their chairs. The crowd has returned their attention to the second act.
People born and raised on the inter-orbit stations tend to be much taller than those from worlds with constant gravity, and Nivoli is no exception; he towers over Kat just as she would stand above an Earther or even a Martian. Yet, for all his height, he still conveys a sense of bulk, even to the point of obesity, a rarity on Salvador. Among the masses of lean scavengers that haunt the station, Shodo Nivoli is, in every sense of the word, a big man. The rough gang of Salvadoran toughs converging upon their table is only part of a small army that Nivoli employs to keep himself big.
He waves a flabby hand in their general direction, and the arnolds ease themselves back down into their seats, all the while making it perfectly clear that they could change positions at a moment’s notice.
“Well, pup, I see you’ve got Parkhurst’s temper, as if that were any surprise,” Shodo says lightly. “So you don’t like me slegging your father?”
“No,” Kat says evenly, staring the man in the eye, her jaw jutting out. “And I don’t like you.”
“Lieutenant,” Wing barks. “You will stand down.”
“No, let the little princess talk, Parkhurst. You’ve got something to say to me, glute-sniffer?”
Kat draws herself up haughtily. “You’re a petty, miliorch-for-millet thief, Nivoli. Your type wouldn’t last through one Nightweek on Luna. And when you speak to me, you will address me by my –”
“Lieutenant, you will stand down now,” Wing orders sharply.
Kat stops, but does not move, still glaring at Nivoli. She knows that she’s crashed it again, but something in him disgusts her at the visceral level, and she finds herself trembling with rage as he continues to leer down at her with a gleam in his eye that turns her stomach to pure bile.
“‘Petty, miliorch-for-millet thief?’” he murmurs. “You’re taking yourself far too seriously, your Highness. So your great-great-great-grandfather was rich and your great-great-great-grandmother was clever, what of it? You’re a symbol, a piece of throne insurance, a place-holder for some spoiled brat who hasn’t been born yet that’s due to collect on some real estate deal involving a bunch of moldy old castles and some pieces of tammy jewelry. That sort of spam doesn’t run here on Salvador; we’re more impressed with who you are, here and now. And what I see is an arrogant little Looney who thinks the world was made for her pleasure, not to mention a spoiled brat so hungry for attention that she got herself disqualified for life from the Shackelton Run by sneaking into the adult division two years too early.”
Kat’s anger boils over. “I’m also the joe what knocked out the NCG field on the IF Council floor during session,” she snaps. “For a full day, the entire diplomatic corps floated around like they were in one of your maryterias. Seems I’m always landing myself in the flipper; if there’s trouble to be had, I’ll make it. But at least I don’t sell zhrek to pups.”
The crowd stirs uncomfortably; instead of an exciting fight, it looks as if they shall be treated instead to a messy execution, the kind that might put them off their drinks.
“Lieutenant,” Wing hisses, “I think you’ve said quite enough.”
Nivoli nods solemnly. “I think the pup’s said her last. Throne insurance or no, I can’t let that pass.” He turns to Kat. “They say Parkhurst has taught you a thing or two. Think you can take a petty miliorch-for-millet thief, your Highness?”
A harsh laugh rings out from the corner table. “I say her Highness’ll last a full five minutes before you manage to kill her, Shodo.”
Wing rolls his eyes. “Crash it, Jandas. Come on, Shodo,” he continues conversationally, “you don’t want this any more than I do. Sure, you and your clicks would probably end up hurting some of my squad, but you wouldn’t be alive to see it, and I know how much you love watching people get hurt.” He steps forward menacingly, his hand resting on his slaadyen-belt. “Do us all a mitzvah, cousin. Go watch someone else get hurt tonight; I can recommend a fine whipping-pit not far from here.”
Nivoli chuckles slightly. “Thank you, no. Just tell your pup to apologize.”
“Gladly. Lieutenant, you will –”
A dangerous hush fills the smoky atmosphere as Wing Parkhurst takes a deep breath. “What did you say?” he whispers.
Kat does not look at her captain, but keeps glaring directly at Nivoli, all her anger focused on that greasy smile and those reptilian eyes. “With all due respect, sir,” she answers hotly, “I said no. This man has insulted me and my father and I will not stand down.”
“Lieutenant,” Wing says quietly, “I should very much like to know the reason behind your sudden death-wish.”
Katherine Sandersen is no longer thinking rationally. A dim red cloud narrows her vision to a leering face that has suddenly become the source of all that is wrong in the universe. Her entire body vibrates with rage as she focuses all her conscious energy upon the simple act of drawing her weapon. She does not hear the slow rattle of various safety catches disengaging, nor does she see the rest of the squad moving quickly into a tight circle in response to Wing’s frantic gesture. The only sound in her ears is the roaring of her own pulse as she moves slowly, gracefully, into dueling stance, brandishing her laser club with violent intent in every flex of her muscles.
“Shodo Nivoli,” she growls in a low voice, “defend yourself.”
Nivoli looks at her weapon with disdain. “A Bizhou-club?” he laughs, reaching into his tunic pocket and drawing out a small piece of blackened metal. “You’ve challenged an Assassin, pup. Use an Assassin’s weapon.”
Wing’s veneer cracks for only an instant before his expression freezes into a mask of unconcern, and yet his voice still holds a faint ring of terror. “Shodo,” he whispers, “let’s talk this over. We don’t need to do this.”
“We all know you’ve been giving the pup slaadyen lessons, Parkhurst. I, for one, want to see how well she listens to you.”
“She doesn’t listen. Please, Shodo, you know that I will do what needs to be done in order to keep her Highness alive. And you know how furious my mother would be,” he adds with a hollow laugh, “if I told her that I had to kill you.”
Nivoli ignores the threat, chuckling dismissively as his upper lip curls into an evil leer. “Did I just hear Parkhurst the Wolf say ‘please’?” he asks incredulously.
Wing quickly looks down at his feet. “Pure selfishness,” he mutters. “I’ve got twenty thousand water-creds laid on the Lieutenant winning the Martiopolis 500 next month.”
Something in Wing’s tone snaps Kat back into sharp reality, and her rage quickly drains away, leaving only leaden fear.
Holy Horns, I’m going to die … “Er, Councilor Nivoli, sir?” she stammers. “Is it too late to offer you that apology?”
Shodo Nivoli turns to Kat, a look of genuine astonishment on his face. “First Parkhurst says ‘please,’” he murmurs, “and now a Sandersen is backing down from a fight? This is just too top-clip to believe. But I’m sorry to say, your Highness, I don’t think you can back down now, not without your family losing face.”
“Shodo,” Wing hisses, “for the love of Kali –”
“Do I actually hear fear in your voice, Parkhurst? The throne insurance has made her decision. I want to see how well you’ve taught her Highness to defend herself.”
“Councilor Nivoli,” Rochester interjects softly, his lights flickering violet, “may I suggest a compromise?”
“I’m listening,” Nivoli grunts.
“If you wish to see Lieutenant Sandersen fight, you need not risk your life or the lives of your bodyguards to do so,” the droid continues calmly. “Certainly honor would be satisfied if you and the lieutenant merely dueled to first blood.”
The Salvadoran considers this, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, his dark eyes glittering in the torchlight. “You know, Parkhurst, you were right before. We don’t want this encounter to turn unpleasant. I’m looking around and thinking about what might happen if my clicks and yours had to fight this out, and suddenly I’m remembering that old historical thing you told me about once, what was it?”
“No, the other thing. When they all ate meat.”
“A slaughterhouse,” Wing says miserably.
“Yes, that was it. A slaughterhouse. Frankly, Parkhurst, I’m not sure which one of us would survive once we decided to kill each other, and I know I don’t want to find out. Besides, I’d hate for either of us to miss your mother’s next dinner party – Narcissa’s always so charming; there’s something to be said for a woman who knows fifteen different ways to kill a man with her bare hands and which fork to use at a formal buffet.”
“You only get one fork at a buffet, formal or otherwise,” Kat mutters, the words escaping her lips before she knows she is speaking.
Nivoli merely chortles in amusement. “She’s got Sandersen’s eyes and your attitude, Parkhurst. Sure you two didn’t have her by Assisted Fertilization?”
“I think I should have remembered something like that, Shodo. Come on; just take the Lieutenant’s apology.”
“I think I’ll take the consultant’s suggestion,” Nivoli answers, nodding at Rochester, “with one slight alteration. I know you, Parkhurst. You’ve got a cargoload of slarmy tricks to get to first blood; it’s the only way you passed your exams at the Assassins’ Guild academy. Water-creds to Orchids, you’ve taught her a few of them.” He turns once again to Kat. “All right, pup, I’ll run a duel with you, nice and proper, but since you challenged me, I get to choose the parameters, and I say we duel to submission. You know what that means, yes?”
“Yes. What if I decide to submit now?” Kat asks numbly.
“If you submit now, you will be showing yourself a coward, your Highness. As you are so concerned with your family’s honor, I’m sure you realize the importance of not submitting until you have been fairly beaten.”
So either way, I lose. Brill, she thinks with a sigh of defeat.
Wing turns to Maia. “Sergeant, take the rest of the squad back to the Scorpion, please. Consultant Rochester and I will stay and watch the Lieutenant fight,” he finishes, his voice deadly flat.
Max steps forward. “Cap, you can’t –”
Wing wheels around, hissing in fury. “Corporal, do you want to be in as much trouble as the Lieutenant currently is? If you like, I can arrange it.”
Max shrinks under Wing’s glare. Zap steps forward and grabs his click by the elbow.
“We’ll just be getting back to the ship now, Cap,” he says smoothly. “Come on, Kress, we don’t want to witness the massacre – er, good luck, Kat.”
Kat does not watch the squad leaving, but rather stares down at her boots, wondering when she will learn to control her temper. A hand on her shoulder makes her jump, and she looks up to see Wing, his slate-colored eyes grim.
“His backslash is weak,” the captain whispers, “and watch his re-enter on his Shifts; he tends to drift slightly to his left.”
“But, Captain, I can’t Shift –”
“You should have thought of that when you challenged an Assassin to a duel, Lieutenant. Do you have your slaadyen with you?”
Kat swallows hard; she’s been dreading this moment. “You told me I wasn’t allowed to take it out of Freedom.”
“I know what I told you. Do you have it with you?”
She hangs her head. “Yes, sir.”
“Good; I won’t have to lend you mine. Now, another thing –”
“Don’t forget to tell her about my blind spot, Parkhurst,” Nivoli breaks in. “Come on, I’ve got innocent children to poison. Although, while we’re stopped – Oi! Jandas! What’re the going odds on the pup winning first blood off me?”
“Five to one. Don’t tell me: you’d like to place a bet on yourself?”
“No, against. Put me down for fifteen hundred water-creds on her Highness.” He turns back to Kat, and raises his weapon, the blade flickering on with a menacing pop. “A gesture of confidence, pup. Your teacher’s the fastest blade this side of the Belt; let’s see what you’ve learned.” He assumes dueling stance. “Katherine Sandersen, defend yourself,” he adds gravely.
Kat withdraws her own slaadyen from its pouch hidden in her tunic and bows mechanically in salute. She holds her breath as she wills the weapon on.
Nivoli starts with some common opening moves, some simple thrusts designed to test her defenses while giving her as little information as possible about his own fighting style. “Nice form, pup,” he says, cutting deftly at her leg. “But I can see you’ve learned some of Parkhurst’s bad habits. Half your motions are simply unnecessary; you need to economize your momentum in near-zero, or you’ll simply drift out of control. Like that, see?” he swipes at her once again, barely missing Kat’s blade-arm as she tumbles clumsily out of the way. “I nearly lost myself fifteen hundred creds there.”
“So what is that in Orchids? About two-fifty?” Kat shoots back, dodging another attack.
“I think it’s more like one seventy-five these days, but you should be paying attention to my blade, not my mouth, pup. You’re letting me put you on the defensive,” he adds, throwing a well-aimed slice at her knee.
She manages to spin away from him and kicks her way down to the floor, pushing against it to send herself ricocheting towards the Salvadoran.
“Now that was predictable,” he laughs, and dives at her, slicing painfully into her left shoulder.
“First blood to Councilor Nivoli, three minutes thirty point five,” Rochester announces.
“See?” Nivoli jeers. “You just cost me the price of tonight’s supper – I’ll be taking it out of your next shipping fee, Parkhurst – compensate for your motions, pup! Try to have some grasp of the laws of physics; you can’t just lash out at me without bracing against the force of your own momentum. There, like that,” he adds, as he kicks her in the knee, simultaneously whirling his arms around backwards to buffer the effect of his motion. “No fancy flourishes, no tammy dance steps, just good old-fashioned, dialup fighting.”
And then it is over. Nivoli blurs into a Shift, reappearing behind Kat, his slaadyen buzzing at her throat, his other arm suddenly holding her in a strangling grip across her chest. She struggles fruitlessly, kicking at his legs with no success.
“You know, Parkhurst,” Nivoli says conversationally, “if I wanted to kill her Highness now, there’s no way you could save her in time.”
“Si tu la asesinara,” Wing answers, his voice ominously low, “te vida sería cortocircuito y te muerte sería larga.”
“Temper, Parkhurst, temper. And that out-belt lingo,” Shodo continues, clucking in disapproval. “Talk about the student picking up the bad habits of the teacher – so how is Ramirez these days?”
“You’re not going to kill her, Shodo.”
Kat closes her eyes. Even she can hear the fear in her Orchidary’s voice. I hope it doesn’t hurt too much, she thinks.
“That’s up to her, Parkhurst. Do you submit, pup?”
Kat’s eyes fly open. “Yes, sir, I submit. Please,” she adds.
“And do you apologize for calling me a miliorch-for-millet thief?”
“Yes, sir, I’m sorry, sir.”
“I’m not sure you’re sorry enough, pup. I haven’t even cut you decently yet.”
Kat grits her teeth at the pain in her shoulder, thinking that she has been cut more than enough. “I was out of line, sir. There was no call for my arrogance and I am sincerely sorry,” she says quickly.
“Well, I’m glad to see your mothers’ve taught you some diplomacy. But pretty speeches aren’t going to save you every time, your Highness. You know, your ancestors used to make folks kneel before them. How’re your knees feeling, pup?”
“You’re pushing the line, Shodo,” Wing snaps.
“’S none of your file, Parkhurst. This is between her Highness and me.”
“Please, sir,” Kat blurts out, “I prefer to be called ‘Lieutenant.’”
Nivoli nods approvingly. “Well, then, Lieutenant, I think it’s time to see what you’ve learned about humility. Kneel down and –”
“Her Highness kneels to no one,” Wing growls.
“She kneels or she dies, Parkhurst. And it’s her choice, not yours, no matter how many Orchids she still owes you.”
“Seven thousand, one hundred ninety-two,” Kat mutters under her breath, but even she knows better than to say it out loud; a Lunar citizen’s birth-price is a closely guarded secret. Carefully looking in any other direction than at her captain, she slowly kneels down before the Salvadoran, keenly aware that the tavern is now deadly silent: the sight of a princess humbling herself before a criminal holds the audience breathless.
Shodo Nivoli gives a satisfied grunt. “That’s more like it,” he says, circling behind Kat. “But I don’t think we can end it like this, do you, Lieutenant?”
“What else would you have me do, Sir?” Kat asks, dreading the answer.
“Say goodnight, pup,” Shodo whispers in her ear, and then everything goes black and Kat knows no more.
 If you killed her … your life would be short and your death would be long
(c)copyright 2010 Karin A. Robinson
Well, since I’m dipping from the Luninatia well tonight, I might as well put up one of the illustrations. Originally started as a way to keep the creative juices going, the illustrations I worked up for the novel became an element all their own. Here’s the one that started it all:
It’s the emblem of Kat’s unit in the Luna Smugglers’ Guild. Fun, huh?