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A Threat Among the Stars – Episode 9


BITE BACK 6: Inside Straight. Hit a problem. I’m putting a short update to the beta readers today and asking their opinions.

Bite Back in France: I have the covers and schedule for publication from Milady division of Bragelonne in France. See FB post on BB site. They’ve signed up to take it as far as Wild Card. They’re publishing in August-November and will review how the sales are going and whether they want the rest of the novels by the end of this year.

I’m going to start putting the novellas out in audio, but Julia Motyka isn’t available until September, so Inside Straight, Change of Regime, The Biting Cold and Winter’s Kiss will all go into the pile at that stage.

Still undecided about how to do audios of A Name Among the Stars (which I would *love* Jessica to narrate), and Bian’s Tale.

How are we doing in A Threat Among the Stars? Well, I believe the story’s main plot requirements have been set up and it’s now about how Zara, Hwa, Talan and Kat can defeat the Hajnal on Newyan and alert the rest of humanity to the dangers that the piskatellers have predicted. So… much teetering on cliff edges, banging and crashing around to follow…

Thanks for the feedback. All feedback welcome. 🙂


Chapter 18


‘Pirate’ is the name being used by the people on Newyan for our attacker.

I’m not so sure. What kind of pirate attacks a courier ship? What kind of pirate has several salvos of missiles? Why were they right there, supposedly invisible to Newyan, just at the right time to attack us? Just when the Newyan destroyer returned to base for maintenance?

But more importantly right now, can we escape the latest salvo, and if so, how many more missiles does the pirate carry?

Lieutenant Commander Boon: Ten seconds to impact.

Standard hi-G crash couches double as survival pods, jettisoning the power-hungry compensators and shooting out through the skin of the ship. If the missiles hit the ship, we’ll be ejected. However, a survival pod has no engines other than some attitude jets for orientation. It just floats in space, waiting for someone to pick it up. If this pirate is determined to kill all of us, we’ll provide no more than a few minutes of target practice for its plasma guns.

Lieutenant Commander Boon: Eight seconds.

Survival pod instructions start to fill the left of the screen and I get a sliver of good news. These are military specification pods – they are shielded and have small thrusters and can land on a planet.

Unfortunately, we’re a long way from any planet and no low power shields are going to stand a couple of plasma bolts.

My bleak prognosis is interrupted by someone new on the in-ship communications transcription.

Xing: I am assuming control.

I almost miss it among the babble of damage and capability reports.


Xing the name reads.

There is no officer I’ve met on board by that name. Is it the ship’s Self Actuated Entity?

Xing: Primary compensators on.

With a nauseating lurch, I can feel the couch’s compensators fade. On the ship’s monitor, the acceleration drops rapidly.

What’s Xing doing?

But even as I ask myself that, I realize that speed alone isn’t going to save us. I have to hope there’s another way; that Xing has a plan.

The pad’s screen is now displaying a visualization of the entire ship.

Lieutenant Commander Boon: Four seconds.

On the pad, I see the ship, the whole body locked within the same compensator field, spin around until it’s pointing back at the missiles streaking in toward us.

Power is diverted from the insystem engines, dropping the acceleration to zero.

The forward Chang field generators engage.

We can’t get into Chang space with only half the generators operating and anyway, we’re within the minimum safe limit from the star to attempt it.

Lieutenant Commander Boon: Two seconds.

But there’s another use for the generator: a bow wave field, called the rockbuster, and used when travelling through an area of space with lots of debris.

The Xing Gerchu begins to spin along its main axis and then precess, like a gyroscope winding down, its nose making a circle, and presenting the rockbuster to the missiles.

I close my eyes and grab the canopy grip handles, even though it won’t make any difference if the ship blows up.

Lady of Mercy, into your hands…

The first missiles explodes.

Even with the cushioning of the acceleration compensator, the ship lurches to one side, then another, like a old, punch-drunk boxer taking one beating too many. I can feel the explosions through the fabric of the ship. We’re being battered and  thrown around inside our couches.

I can’t pray. Instead, I try to count the missile strikes.



The compensators fail. Zero-G.

Unable to stop myself, I open my eyes and look at the pad screen.


Where are the fifth and sixth missiles? If they explode as we eject…

I’m pushed against the right side of the couch by a huge hand. We’re turning.

The Xing Gerchu swings around until it’s pointing insystem again.


Acceleration suddenly climbs again, and I gasp a protest as my ribs creak under the pressure. It feels like a horse just sat on my chest. My eyes blur.

I’m about to pass out when the couch compensators start to work again.

The ship status on the pad shows a flood of red and yellow for every unit damaged.

The forward Chang generators are gone. It seems a miracle that we damaged two of the six incoming missiles, and reduced the effect of the others, but it’s not a trick we’re going to be able to repeat; without the Chang field we’re down to the unarmored skin of the ship.

One of the two slim shuttles in the front docking bay has been hit and the whole section of the front where the Chang generators were attached has been ripped away.

I blink at the last damage report: the forward hi-G section is simply gone, along with the four people who had taken refuge in the couches there.

I close my eyes again and offer another prayer to the Goddess.

Main life support has failed. Half the external sensors are gone. It’s another miracle that the insystem engines are still operating at all, given their statuses blink between red and amber.

Even though Xing has bought us some time, we can’t outrun any more missiles, we can’t defend against them. We can’t even outrun the pirate. In another hour, they’ll have overhauled us and can slice us to pieces with lasers or punch holes in us with their plasma cannon.

But not everyone in the Newyan system is our enemy. As the list of damages mount up, Lieutenant Commander Boon reports that the captain of the Biháriz has fired four long range missiles locked on the pirate’s emission signature.

Hwa searches through the Xing Gerchu’s database to come up with their specifications. Her search results are mirrored on the screen of my pad.

Those missiles are fast. In their current usage, they’ll bracket the pirate’s position in about twenty minutes, so long as it’s still in pursuit of us and we don’t turn away. The missiles are the latest, horrendously expensive, three-stage Terran missiles. The Biháriz has probably fired its entire complement and some Newyan procurement bureaucrat will be having fits.

But they may be just what’s required.

The missile’s first stage involves a booster firing them to a sizeable fraction of lightspeed before separating. That’s just happened. Then the second stage cruises at that speed on a ballistic trajectory to a predicted position. They’re small and electronically dark, so the pirate won’t know exactly where they are until they enter their kill radius—a distance away from the target that’s not public information.

At that point, the missiles will fire third stage booster engines, and the pirate will become history in a matter of seconds after that.

The pirate has the same data as we do. He turns tail, heading back out to where he can engage his Chang field and escape.

My pad relays a transmission from the captain of the Xing Gerchu, his voice ragged: “Biháriz – Captain Besud of the Xing Gerchu. Thank you for that timely intervention.”

A female voice responds breezily: “Commander Tiziana of the Biháriz. That’s okay, Captain Besud, I always wanted to fire those babies, and as a bonus we get to reel them back in, this time. It’ll all have been a useful exercise for us. Appreciate somewhat different perspective from your view.”


“What’s your status? We can rendezvous before you achieve orbit over Newyan.”

“Negative, Biháriz. Thank you, but please proceed to recapture your missiles safely,” Captain Besud says. “The next arrival is likely to be the Terran cruiser TSS Annan, in a hurry and not expecting missiles on its sensors. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any accidents. Or misunderstandings.”

“Acknowledged, Xing Gerchu. Thank you. Good luck. Biháriz out.

It doesn’t escape me that the captain has not answered the question about our status.

On my pad, the icon marking the pirate disappears. He’s engaged his Chang field.

I can feel Captain Besud switch the primary compensators back on a moment later. They’re damaged too. ‘Gravity’ comes back as a lurching, swaying force, as if we were being pulled along on a cart with differently sized, eccentric wheels.

“Remain in the couches,” Lieutenant Commander Boon warns us over the speakers in the pods. “We have severe damage. We’re ensuring compartmental integrity before re-pressurization.”

I guess the reason for switching the primary compensators back on is to try and prevent the whole ship from disintegrating as it begins its gentle deceleration. It’s as much as much as the groaning hull can stand, but I don’t need Hwa’s computational abilities to see it’s not going to be enough. We’ll be going far too fast to assume a standard orbit over Newyan.

And the ship coming apart during braking maneuvers could kill us just as easily as a missile.



Chapter 19


Half the overhead lights come back on, and some of the red warning signs by bulkheads switch to amber.

Bridge crewmembers scurry past in full vacuum suits and carrying tools, clumsy with their loads and the failing compensator field.

The rearward bulkhead door has to be forced open.

The litany of damage continues on the pad’s screen.

More dead in engineering.

Insystem engines down to 60% and dropping.

Life support 40% capability.

Meanwhile, incredibly, some official on Newyan is criticizing the destroyer’s captain for firing on a vessel without full identification. He’s not even restricting it to narrowband or military frequencies; he’s broadcasting on the main shipping frequency.

He goes on for half an hour, with the Biháriz ignoring him, until someone further up the chain of command silences the idiot.

We’re still trapped in our pods.

Every minute I can feel a new shudder run through the ship as some over-stressed structural component fails.

The middle section of the ship took the main impact of the missiles. It’s too badly damaged and has to be abandoned. The crew can’t even make their way past the destruction. The surviving engineers are stuck on their own at the back, with engines that are being nursed to provide one final effort.

The crew cut loose whatever can be jettisoned and retreat from the middle sections. The hi-G station I’m in is the first forward compartment that escaped major damage, but the rearward bulkhead won’t re-close or seal.

An impermeable sheet of conforming material is applied over it. As the first pressure returns to our section, the sheet solidifies.

The main air pumps don’t work. One crewman remains behind to operate a portable emergency system. It’ll take another a half hour before we have a breathable atmosphere, and we have to remain in our pods.

“You’re not thinking this is your fault, Zara.” Hwa has managed to patch into the remains of the in-ship comms system and her voice comes from my pod’s speakers.

“It is,” I say.

“Stop right there. I would have been on this ship whether or not you were, and I would have brought the ship here. And even if neither of us were, Captain Besud was due to return here. You can’t assume that you were the target.”

“If they’ve worked out what I’m trying to do, they know I’m the greatest threat.”

“That’s one assumption piled on top of another,” Talan says. “This isn’t the Inner Worlds, there are pirates out here.”

“It’s hardly the Frontier, either,” I snap back, still on edge with adrenaline.

“With no disrespect to Newyan, as a world,” Hwa says, “I think the Hajnal have moved the Frontier here.”

I can’t argue the point. Yes, Frontier space is riddled with pirates. Pirates don’t always behave in predictable ways. If this had been a world out on the edge, the sort of place that Newyan’s media portrayed as common in the Frontier, I would believe it had been a pirate, mistaking a courier for something worthwhile.

My view of the Frontier comes from the Newyan media reports that I saw growing up. That thought stopped me in my tracks. If they could distort everything about what was going on in Newyan, then why should I believe what they said about the Frontier? They’d misrepresented the situation on the Inner Worlds – I knew that. What if…


“Sorry, just thinking,” I replied.

“I give you that it was unusual behavior from a pirate,” Hwa said, “but what gets called pirate here might be some Frontier system’s navy.”

“Doing what? Attacking a courier? Why? What benefit—”

“Attacking a Xian courier.”


Pirates attacked ships carrying anything that had value. That wasn’t only standard trade goods. Xian ships carried technology that would be more valuable than any freighter’s entire standard cargo. Whether the pirates knew about it or not, the Xing Gerchu’s Self Actuated Entity, Xing, would be more valuable than the rest of the ship combined, but even standard Xian navigational computers were highly prized. And couriers were unarmed. A Frontier system, one of the marginal ones, they might think the value of the tech outweighed the risk of the attack.

“That attack was intended to disable this ship,” Hwa said. “Those missiles fired at us weren’t ship-killers. I’d lay odds that pirate had a docking bay big enough to take the whole Xing Gerchu in one gulp. If Besud hadn’t come into the system so fast, and kept accelerating, they’d have had time to grab us and leave before the Biháriz could do anything.”

The pirate would have had a Xian ship with all its technology to trade. And any survivors. There was a market for slaves in the Frontier.

“Still not random,” I said. “That wasn’t a pirate scouting out the system and getting lucky that the destroyer normally on patrol was away just at the moment that the Xing Gerchu happened to be due. Or, for that matter, that no one in Newyan noticed the pirate’s footprint on arrival.”

“Agreed,” Hwa said. “There had to have been collusion with some people on Newyan. And yet, it was the Newyan Defence Force Biháriz who saved us. Clearly, the Hajnal’s grip is not complete.”

And the news we were on the way could only have come from the Annan, carried on the message drone which left Kernow before us. That pirate had to have been close, and someone on Newyan knew exactly where they were and how to get a message to them.

But it can’t mean the Terrans are colluding with the Hajnal, surely?

The air pressure has risen high enough that the couches can open and we’re told we can get out.

We can’t go anywhere outside of this small section, but the restroom facilities are much pleasanter than the array of tubes in the pods. Even if it’s freezing cold and the gravity is erratic. Everyone gets out and makes use of the facilities.

A crewman brings in emergency power cables and air piping. We’re warm ourselves up by helping with the mechanical connections and running tests. The air is thin and we’re soon panting, breath steaming in clouds around us.

Every few minutes, I check the ship status on my pod’s screen.

The ship is basically in four sections now. The remaining shuttle, the bridge, this hi-G section and the engines, all held precariously together by the ship’s spine. Everything else has gone dark.

The deceleration has increased, but it’s still not enough.

Hwa wants to talk to the captain, but he’s understandably busy.

However, he takes just enough time out from trying to save the dying ship for a broadcast message to the Newyan system, which he pipes onto the ship’s general announcement speakers. We all stop and listen.


“This is Captain Besud of the Xian Hegemony diplomatic courier ship Xing Gerchu to all Xian citizens and all Xian registered vessels in the Newyan system. I am an authorized level 2 official of the Xian Hegemony Foreign Ministry, and in that capacity, I am implementing Xian intra-system conflict directive W738. I repeat…”


Hwa’s eyes blank as she consults the data banks, and then widen.


She rushes to one of the bridge crew still checking structural damage in our section and persuades him to hand over his comms unit.

I can’t follow what’s being said, so I check on the couch pad what directive W738 is.

Newyan has been designated as a hostile system. The Xian delegation is being withdrawn. All Xian traders are to cease commerce, regardless of the state of their business dealings. All Xian trading ships are requisitioned for evacuation by the Hegemony. All Xian citizens are ordered to get onto those ships are rapidly as they can.

It’s understandable, but Hwa needs to be down onto the surface of Newyan to initiate her court proceedings, and she’ll need to do it before the Annan arrives. Once Taha and Ivakin present their credentials and declare there’s a Commission of Enquiry in process, they’ll be able to prevent any new proceedings.

For me, I’m not a Xian citizen, but I had hoped to be able to use the Xian delegation to assist me in retrieving the evidence. And I had hoped to stay there too, as the delegation buildings would have offered some level of physical security that a hotel wouldn’t. Not to mention I’d risk being arrested anytime I wasn’t somewhere covered by the delegation’s diplomatic immunity.

What the sea folk’s vision showed us was the threat of withdrawal of trade that Hwa could use to bring pressure on the Newyan government while, working from the safety of the delegation, I could present the evidence to the Commission that reveals the extent of the Hajnal.

The directive has suspended Xian trade with Newyan already and there is no longer a Xian delegation to assist me.

Directive W738 has just destroyed our plans.

Like a banished nightmare returning, I can hear the screaming of the bleak winds that blew through the dismal landscapes of the piskateller’s vision.



Update and progress

Change of Regime

The serialised story that appeared here on the blog is now available as a novella on Amazon. It’s edited, and there’s also an additional chapter, an epilogue, which didn’t appear on the blog. It’s 25k words long.



The appearance of this novella and also the fact that Bian’s Tale is my priority at the moment has prompted several people to contact me asking why Bite Back 6 is not my priority project. I’ll take the opportunity to answer that here.

Firstly, Change of Regime didn’t actually take any time from my writing schedule. It was conceived, planned, plotted, written and delivered in my development time. Do I need development time? Yes. I want my books to be 20% better than other books and I want readers to tell me the books get better and better. Part of what I do to achieve that aim is I practice and experiment with writing styles and tools. Change of Regime allowed me to look at multiple PoVs, use the present tense and trim down descriptions. It also kept me fresh for Bian’s Tale. I’ll continue to use my development time in this way – which means any new serialised novellas/novels will be produced in the same way – a chapter a week. (Development time is 2-4 hours at the weekend).

Secondly, I’m writing Bian’s Tale as my priority project now for several reasons, not least because readers asked me for it. However there is a hard-headed economic reason as well. I’m losing readers, and I’ve been losing readers ever since Sleight of Hand – each Bite Back book I release has fewer readers than the last. Now, some of those may be readers who love the story and are waiting for me to finish the series so they can binge. Great, but not something I want to rely on. So, what can I do to gather more readers into the series? Write other books, like Bian’s Tale and Change of Regime. Submit stories to anthologies like The Biting Cold (which went into the ‘A Very Paranormal Holiday’ anthology) and Enzili (which went into ‘Vampires of the Caribbean’ anthology). Serialise novels. Marketing. Etc. Etc.

New serialised story

Okay, Change of Regime was well received, so I will continue to use my development time to produce serialised stories. The next will be away from the Athanate storyline. I did show you an example a couple of months ago, a chapter from a steampunk story set in Africa, but the response to that was muted. I will write that story anyway, but perhaps not as a serialisation.

So what do you want to see here on the blog? I have an outline for a Sci-Fi Romance and another for a Horror. Place your votes in the comments.

New pages on the blog

I’ll be adding a new page or pages on the blog to handle the serialised stories (when I work out how to do it!).

Other stories

I mentioned Enzili above. This story is in the Vampires of the Caribbean anthology, but will shortly be available for me to publish seperately. Now… Enzili is a short story and ends with the resolution of one major incident, which was all there was space for. There are three other issues that are left ‘for later’, and I have the plot to resolve these in ‘Enzili 2’ (not decided on a name yet).

Do I publish Enzili now and Enzili 2 when I write it? Hold off publishing Enzili until I have Enzili 2? Hold off until I can put it all together and make 1 novel instead of 2 novellas?

Vote in the comments.


All writing was on hold while I spent the last week with Jessica in New Orleans, where she’s filming ‘Underwater’ with Kristen Stewart and others. Back now.

Bian’s Tale is still being problematic. I’m getting feedback from beta readers on the first 2 sections (out of a total of 5 for the first book), but the feedback is not concentrated on one single issue. It will sort itself out, but it is taking longer than anticipated.

Inside Straight, Bite Back 6: I have some good chapters done and loads of scenes sketched out. This book is nudging me, wanting to be written NOW.


Unbelievably, we are STILL waiting for Angel Stakes to go through ‘checking’ and ‘processing’ at ACX/Audible. I have no control over this part of the production I’m afraid.

Raw Deal is done. I have submitted a minor correction and the audiobook should shortly go into the ‘checking’ and ‘production’ at ACX/Audible.



Update and 2nd part of Tullah & Kaothos

The Angel Stakes audiobook has passed the ACX/Audible technical checking process and is now in ‘production’. Sooooon.

I will be contacting the beta readers next week with parts 1-3 (of 5) for Bian’s Tale. Was aiming to do it this week, but the last couple of chapters need work.

Here the second part of the scene where Tullah first meets Kaothos (if follows straight on from last week). As explained with part 1, this didn’t fit into the books, so I thought you might like to see it here. It’s not a mini-story really, just a scene.

Following a request last week about any such orphaned scenes, I will start a folder of them and eventually provide them as an ebook.

Part 2

Not along the track! Straight up the hill.

The track was a lazy path, winding back on itself. Whatever was coming was taking the shortest route and making a heap of noise about it.

Tullah’s mind seemed to fragment; parts skittered and rippled out and down from where she stood.

What the hell? Totally weird.

She felt the ground. Felt the weight of trees, the grip of roots, the cold, deep strength of rock below, the chill of water, the tiny pulses of life. And, from lower down the hill, the heavy tread coming toward her.

“Bear! Don’t worry,” Dale yelled “I got this.” He threw his hands up above his head. Twin streaks of pale light arced up into the night sky and then fell, soft as feathers, at the edge of the clearing nearest to where the noises were coming from.

Two blossoms of flame leaped up where the light touched the ground.

It was a half-way good idea. Fire would scare an animal away. There were only two things wrong with it.

Adept fire came in many forms, from the gentle light that burned in the hand without harm, to the other extreme, fintyne, the white fire. Dale had just tossed magical napalm down the hill.

That was bad enough, but Tullah knew, because the ground knew, that it was no ordinary bear coming up the hill. She could feel fifty-foot limber pines pushed aside, their roots straining in the earth. She could feel the weight of the paws. The were-bear would not like the fire, but neither would he be scared by it.

There was a sound, like the hiss of water on a red-hot plate.

Her dragon was laughing.

Fire is my element sighed the trees.

The fintyne seemed to hesitate. It diminished and was sucked down into the earth, finally flickering out. The dirt beneath it swallowed it and steamed. The dying fire came to her, and Tullah felt a warmth spreading through her boots, her feet, up her legs. Her skin tingled.

“Huh?” Dale said, walking backwards in a hurry and looking at his hands as if the answer was there in his palms.

A heavy silence. Then the pine sapling at the edge of the clearing shook and swayed and bent.

Old Earl, rumpled and dressed in the same farm coverall as yesterday, pushed his way past, letting the pine spring back after.

He stomped up to the patches of scorched earth where the fintyne had landed, sniffed and scowled.

“A good thing that didn’t catch,” he growled. “Fire burns up hills and down wind, or don’t they teach that these days?”

“Earl. Good…errr…morning,” Tullah said. The stark blackness of the night was just hinting at a change in the east.

“What…” Dale said. “What’s happened? What’s going on?”

Earl came and stood in front of them.

He was standing two foot lower on the hill, and they still had to look up at him.

His head tilted as if he was inspecting them. Tullah’s stomach fluttered, and she felt Kaothos sinking down, out of sight.

“Wind’s changed,” Earl said. “Be too cold for the little uns.”

Truth, Tullah thought, but not the whole truth.

“We’re lucky they didn’t wake up when you shouted,” she said to Dale, partly to get Earl’s attention off her.

Dale blustered and Earl grunted.

“Why don’t I build up the fire,” she said. “I guess the kids should eat a good breakfast before we walk back down?”

“Yeah. Made the call. Their parents will be at the trailhead at noon to pick ’em up.”

They had lots of time, as long as everything went to plan.

Tullah retreated to the fire and fed in the logs she’d gathered.

Dale seemed relieved to have something to do as well, and he fetched the food and pans, ready to  cook when the kids started to wake.

Earl muttered and tramped up and down, disappearing for minutes at a time and sniffing at everything. At least he ignored them while he did.

Tullah knew he’d sensed something, and that was what had him storming up the hill in the darkness. For the change in the weather, he’d have come up at breakfast.

Was a dragon dangerous? Of course she could be. Any spirit animal with such control over fire that she could extinguish fintyne like that could also start fires. But any sort of competent Adept and spirit guide could do that. Even barely competent. Dale for example.


But the trees did not sigh and her dragon did not talk to her.

And spirit above, but it was turning colder by the minute.


Dawn broke even colder and a chorus of sleepiness and irritability came with it.

Here, Earl made himself useful.

He plucked entire tents up in one, and had them wrapped and rolled and tied up in minutes. He shook sleeping bags out, like a bear might hunt for grubs in the bark of a fallen tree.

It worked. As Dale and Tullah were ready to dish out the breakfast, there were shivering, yawning lines of children ready to receive it.

She was too busy to worry about a missing spirit guide then.

Too busy on the walk back down, with just her and Dale to shepherd twenty-seven troublemakers along the path. Earl followed at a distance, growling from time to time.

Busy, busy, busy and the responsible adult, so the last person that would be collected.

Earl had left them at the trailhead.

The last children and Dale had gone.

Ma would be here soon.

Tullah left her backpack on the ground and walked back into the trees, climbing up a way until she found a fallen log to sit on.

Did I dream it all?


She held her hand up in front of her.


A witch light bloomed in her palm. Warm. Tiny. Familiar.

All a dream then. A strange, strange dream.

Tears rolled down her cheeks. It was no use telling herself she didn’t care whether she had a spirit guide or not, that there was no point being an Adept, because she could remember what it’d felt like when she’d had that wonderful dream. Like she could fly. Like she could reach up and touch the stars. Like she was complete.

A spirit guide like no other. The missing part of her soul.

It felt like something had been torn out of her heart and she would never be whole.

The heat of the witch light was making the freezing air swirl and waver around her hand.

Roiling; that was the old word for it.



Her hands tingled and she held both up in front of her.

The air shimmered and boiled around them. Leaves on the aspen trees above her began to thrash. Branches creaked as they bent. She was surrounded by a wind that spun and spun and lifted two brilliant streamers of harmless witch flames, up from the palms of her hands, up to shake and sway the trees.


And nothing. No flames, no wind.

A yellow leaf spiraled lazily down in front of her face. Another.

“Tullah?” From the parking at the trailhead.

“Here, Ma.”

“Come on, come on,” her mother called out as she walked up to meet her. “They’re going to have a party for all the kids to make up for missing the trip. I promised you’d help out.”

“Gee. Thanks.”

Mary Autplumes-Leung looked her daughter up and down. “Y’know, you always hear the comment that the best children are the ones you can give back at the end of the day,” she said, with a smile in her voice. “It’s not so, really.”

Tullah grinned and started down to join her.

“Old Earl was all stoked up for nothing by the sound of it,” Mary said. “Nothing happened did it?”

Tullah shrugged non-committally.

Mary sighed and turned back toward the car. “You didn’t feel anything, did you?”

Tullah knew exactly what she meant. Her mouth opened and she stopped herself. Shouldn’t I say something?

“Not that it matters, of course,” Mary said.


“Being an Adept isn’t everything in this world. Some people just aren’t quite a match for a spirit guide. It’s not a matter of fault at all.”


“And you know, it doesn’t make any difference to your father and me.”


Tullah lifted her arms up, felt the tingle all down to her hands; the pressure of flames beneath her skin, ready to leap out.

“Yes?” Mary turned and looked at her.

Shhhhhhhhhh said the wind in the aspen.

“I love you, Ma. Gimme a hug.”

Mary laughed and they hugged each other.

“I love you, too,” Mary said. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Yeah. Let’s go play with the rugrats.”

Don’t you call them that in front of their parents.”

“Course not, Ma.”

Tullah and Kaothos 1

I’m not ready to go into a new serial this weekend, so instead, here’s part 1 of a two part scene I sketched out back when I was writing Hidden Trump.

Because Bite Back is told from Amber’s point of view, this would have had to be revealed in some kind of discussion with Tullah, and there was nowhere to put it.

Obviously, if you haven’t read Sleight of Hand & Hidden Trump, this is a spoiler.

What other news? The audiobook of Angel Stakes had to go through the technical checking at ACX/Audible twice due to an obscure issue with the recording level. It’s all fixed and I am still hoping the audiobook will be available this month. Julia Motyka is back in the studio this week to record Raw Deal, and as that’s much shorter, I hope it will not be long before it’s available too.

Bian’s Tale 1 will have 3 (of 5) sections with the beta readers soon. It’s much harder to catch the ‘voice’ of Bian at this stage, and book 1 of any series has to be good, so it’s been the slowest of any book I’ve written.

I’m off to visit Jessica on set in New Orleans for a week next month, so any ‘must see’ ideas welcome, as well as the usual requests for feedback on this weekend writing… 🙂

Oh. A glossectomy? Surgical removal of the tongue…

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Part 1

This is absolute shit! Absolute, freaking, premium grade, steaming shit.

Despite everything, Tullah kept her face neutral and her mouth shut. Mouth shut was important. The hills might not have eyes tonight, but they sure as hell had freaking ears and good hearing. If she let so much as one swear-word slip, the whole group would be chanting it by the end of the weekend, and someone would know where it had come from.

She wanted to scream. Everything had gone wrong.

These trips were supposed to be done in summer, not fall. There was supposed to be one responsible, fully qualified person for every five kids, not two for twenty-seven. The weather forecast was supposed to be gold-plated mild, not cold enough for snow.

And there was a great party back in town tonight. She’d lay odds that at least two of the responsible, fully qualified people who were supposed to be here were going to that party, while she was halfway up the mountain and blundering around in the dark.

But these trips were a tradition for the Adept community of Denver, and traditions had the force of law. Stopping a trip would be like getting toothpaste back in the tube.

All the children in the Adept community spent weekends in the Rockies. As they got older, the support system, supervision and numbers in the group dropped until finally, each was expected to look after herself or himself on a solo trip. Those solo trips were hardcore: no tents, no packs, no food. Just some water, a knife and whatever small items they could carry in a pocket.

It was all geared towards the Adept’s version of the Native American vision quest. The first people in this land had fasted in the wilderness to find their totem animal. The Adept spin on it was that one of the solo trips would result in the appearance of the spirit guide that was so important to the working and manipulation of the energy, that indefinable essence that linked everything.

No spirit guide, no Adept.

Not that the kids this trip were anywhere near that stage. They were an unruly, unmanageable, ungrateful mob of ankle-biters, aka normal kids. Tullah would have cried many tears if the trip had been called off, as it should have been. Tears of pure joy.

This was a clusterf—no! Don’t think it, and you won’t say it.

It wasn’t just the party back in Denver, the number of supervisors and the weather. It was the knock-on effects that had rippled through the whole day. Because the other three supervisors had pulled out at the last minute, valuable time had been spent fruitlessly trying to organize replacements. Because of that, they were late to start. Because of that, they were late to get up the mountain and because of that, they were so late to set up camp, most of it had to be done in the dark.

It had taken over three hours to settle the kids down for the night.

She suspected there were a few who were still awake. Lying in their tents, listening for her to swear, probably. Little devils.

At this age, they were allowed tents. She had been the one to put most of them up. Dale had managed to put up two. The third he’d attempted, she’d had to pull down and re-erect.

At least everyone had gone along with her idea for fewer tents and more kids per tent. They’d need to crowd in and keep each other warm.

Where the hell has Dale got to now? Why hasn’t he lit a fire?

Dale was the other responsible, fully qualified person on this trip. He only came camping as a supervisor for the kids. He didn’t do solo trips any more because he already had his spirit guide. He’d gotten his early; he’d been twelve when he’d come down from his very first solo trip and announced his spirit guide. Beaver.

Tullah snorted. Appropriate. Dale was stuffed full of dreams and little else.

Heavens preserve me from getting a beaver spirit guide.

But at eighteen, and a veteran of a dozen unfulfilled quests, Tullah couldn’t afford to sneer. If she heard the phrase late-blooming again, she was going to perform a glossectomy on the speaker. Without the benefit of anesthetic.

Enough. We need a fire.


Dale wasn’t in their tent. Wasn’t in the camp as far as she could tell. He was probably communing with nature. Chewing wood, or whatever it was beavers did in the dark.

Tullah sighed and started gathering sticks and pine cones.

A spirit guide would be handy right now.

As the child of powerful Adepts, Tullah had some natural ability. For example, she could make a faint light which helped her to see the twigs and windfall branches on the ground. But she needed to concentrate to do it. If she was hurrying or even if she had her hands full, there were too many things to juggle mentally, and her witch light went out. Wouldn’t happen if she had a spirit guide.

Suck it up, girl.

Half an hour later, when she finally had enough wood gathered, the real fun started.

A lot of it was green wood. Some of it really damp.

She sighed and slumped down. The kids had eaten the pre-prepared cold meals for dinner, so she didn’t really need the fire for cooking until tomorrow.

It wasn’t for safety from animals either. In this part of the mountain, no expedition of young Adept children set off to make camp without passing by Old Earl’s cabin. The kids didn’t really like him, and he did smell a little strange. They didn’t understand why they had to pass by and talk to him, or that, occasionally, he turned groups back. But, late as they were, Earl had told them that they should go up and take a left at Echo Lake and camp where the lightning had cleared some pine. They’d be safe enough there. He’d even hauled some of the tents up.

No, it wasn’t dinner or safety. The real benefit of making a small fire tonight was it could be used to dry out some of the wetter wood, and tomorrow wouldn’t be a repeat of today, with delays rippling through until she had a complete meltdown.

And without drying it, she was going to need lightning to get some of this wood to burn.

She was smart enough not to want lightning.

Grumbling quietly to herself, she peeled dry mosses and bark off the branches she’d gathered and made a separate pile of that with twigs and pine cones for kindling. Then she split the remaining wood into dry and green piles.

Now to start the fire.

She knew how to make a bow and string firelighter, but she also knew how to keep a flint and steel kit in her pocket.

Still no sign of Dale.

Screw Dale. No, not literally. Not going to happen.

She bent her attention to the steel and flint. Ten minutes later, she had a steady flame and could start feeding one of the bigger logs into it.

Just as the log caught, Dale ambled into the light.

“Where the hell have you been?” She spoke quietly, desperate not to wake any of the kids, but with enough hiss in her words to give him an idea how pissed she was.

“Oh, girls are better with kids. You were doing fine.” He yawned and made a waving gesture as if dispersing smoke. “I was checking there were no predators around.”

“Earl already told us that.”

Dale snickered. “What does a smelly old man at the foot of the hill know?”

Tullah was stunned into silence for a minute.

The kids, the five and six year olds, couldn’t see past Earl’s appearance. You kinda expected that. It had to take monumental stupidity and genuine effort for an eighteen year old like Dale to keep that mindset. Especially as he was an Adept with a spirit guide.

Wait, maybe beavers are short-sighted or something?

“How clever,” she said sweetly. “You spotted he’s old. How old do you reckon?”

“I dunno. Sixty? Seventy?” Dale was just about smart enough to sense he was being set up. “You telling me you know? Big deal.”

“No, actually, I don’t know exactly. But I do know he was called Old Earl the first time my mother came up here. She was six at the time.”

Dale squinted at her, not believing.

Tullah ground her teeth. “Have you ever actually, really looked at him?”

Dale waved his hands again. “Whatever. There’s no point talking if you’re going to get so wound up about nothing. I’m going to bed.”

She practiced deep breathing for five minutes.

There was no way she was going to share a tent with Dale tonight. No way she was even going to fetch her sleeping bag from the tent. She didn’t care how cold it was, bed was going to be beside the fire. Besides, there should always be one responsible adult on duty, and Dale failed that description on two counts.

She banked the fire and shoveled dirt around it to keep the air intake low. That would keep it alive without consuming all the wood she’d gathered.

They hadn’t put up all the tents, so she made a bed of the unused ones and wrapped herself in one of the groundsheets.

Neat. She was snug and comfortable.

She realized she’d forgotten to eat dinner. Too intent on getting the kids fed. Lunch? Ah. Too busy trying to rustle up some last-minute help for the trip. In fact, no breakfast either. And only a protein bar yesterday.

She was not going to move now. Not going to fetch a snack from the Dale-infested tent, any more than she was going to sleep in there.

It was much better to be out here in the open air, under the huge bowl of night.

With silent stars, hard and cold, shining like a bucketful of diamonds thrown across the sky.

Ashes settling, wood turning into the ghosts of trees, softly as the flutter of moths.

The clean smell of pinewood smoke, full of happy memories.

The deep glow of embers.

Like … eyes.

Red eyes.


Stupid. Nothing up here.

Her own eyes closed.

It was time to take stock. Take a long, hard look at herself. There was no point coming up here two or three times a year and wandering off for a little constructive fasting and meditation. Nothing was happening.

In fact, she was pretty sure nothing was going to happen. Spirit guides didn’t creep up on you in the night while you experimented with fasting-induced hallucinogenic meditation. Didn’t sit watching you from the shadows with red eyes, wondering if you were their host. Wondering whether their soul matched with your soul.

No. That’s what the Adepts said, Ma included, but Tullah wasn’t as indoctrinated as some of the kids. She was a modern, scientific thinker. With a side understanding that science hadn’t explained everything yet. She was pretty sure that spirit guides were an integral part of a person. A sort of mild schizophrenia that manifested around puberty.

Dale was a beaver. Always had been, always would be. A goofy dreamer.

And she was a nothing.

She’d always known she was different to the other Adept kids. It was time to face up to exactly what that difference was. She had no spirit guide. She wasn’t ever going to be a full Adept.

So it was time to make a positive decision. Stop waiting around for her non-existent spirit guide to manifest, and do something with her life instead. Plan ahead. Her grades were good enough for med school. Or law. Pa would love to be able to say my daughter the doctor, or my daughter the lawyer. It’d go some way to making up for his disappointment that she wouldn’t ever be an Adept.

Ma was more difficult.

If only she had a bear spirit guide like Ma’s.


Time to stop wishing.

It was no great thing to be an Adept. Yeah, it was cool being able to do things. But RULES. Oh, my God. She couldn’t show anyone who wasn’t an Adept. Couldn’t do it to benefit herself substantially or materially. Couldn’t do it to hurt someone. Couldn’t do it without another Adept present. Couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t, until there was no real reason to do anything with the gift. And the meetings! Sweet mercy! Discussions that never reached conclusions. Blah, blah, blah.

It should have been cool, but it wasn’t, and it wasn’t going to happen anyway. No loss.

So suck it up. Move on.

The fire was dying, and from those cooling ashes rose the ghosts of all her childhood hopes and wishes; grey wisps, vanishing into the cold, clear air.

She shivered. Rolled over.

Constellations hung above. Pictures made of stars. The water-bearer. The goat. The scales. The dragon.

She tip-toed on the edge of sleep.


Embers glowed in the darkness. Big embers. The whole fire must be one huge ember fanned by the wind. Two fires?

Itchy. All over. What?

Shit! Ants!

She leaped up, dancing, brushing frantically. Lungs bursting as if she’d been holding her breath.

The kids! Oh shit, they’ll be eaten alive.

But she couldn’t see. Night folded around her, as dark and depthless as raven wings. No fire. No stars. No camp. Nothing.

Nothing but the wind. A hot wind; hot as if it’d just slipped over sun-baked rocks. It rushed through pines that she couldn’t see, until the noise was like the sea on the shingle. Sibilant.

It spoke. “Greetings, Tullah Autplumes-Leung. Well met.”

“What? Who’s that? What’ve you done with—”

“The young ones are well and asleep, and they are not here, exactly.”

“What do you mean, here?”

“Here. Where we are.”

“But I was right there.”

“Yes, but now you are right here. With me.”

This was all kinds of crazy. “Who?” she said.

“I am Kaothos.”

“Chaos? What kind of a name… Have I gone insane?”

Kaothos, Tullah Autplumes-Leung. No, you are not insane. You are not even mildly schizophrenic.”

“You’re quoting things I was thinking. Now I know I’m crazy. Or dreaming. This is all happening in my head.”

“All basic human experience is inside the head. Philosophically.”

“Thank you for that. So much. What is happening?”

“We are having a conversation.”

A frustrating conversation with an invisible entity. And I’m not crazy?

“What are you?” Tullah said.

“Your spirit guide, of course. As to what type…something that’s best to keep our secret, for a while. Look.”

The darkness moved. Flowed into a shape, then seemed to retreat a little from her so she could see better. Stars appeared at the edges, so there was an outline. A great sinuous body. Eyes like lamps. Wings!

“Oh, my God.”


No-one had a dragon as a spirit guide. Bear, horse, lynx, wolf, moose, eagle. All of those and more. Even beaver. Known entities. Real animals.

No-one had even mentioned the idea of a dragon. Tullah was suddenly sure there’d be a rule against it. Anything that freaking cool obviously had to be forbidden.

Cool? Ultra, super, hyper, über cool. Beyond cool.

“A dragon! A dragon. Now I’ll show them—”

“Nothing. You should show them absolutely nothing.” Kaothos’s voice whispered around them.

Tullah mouth dropped open. Was this going to be the ultimate Adept experience? Not able to do anything with her abilities because of Adept rules, and not able to even show what she had as a spirit guide?

“Why?” She tried to keep the whine out of her voice.

“Because this is something very rare. I’m not sure how or why it happens. I don’t even know why my instinct is to keep this secret.”

“Does it have some kind of purpose? Having a dragon spirit guide?”

“I believe so. One we must find, while we discover many things together.”

“We can’t hide it from everyone, Kaothos. Dale might not notice, but Ma…”

“We can say that I have not fully revealed myself to you. Some spirit guides are shy like that, are they not?”


“Then that is what we should do, Tullah. Tullah.”

The darkness flowed again.

“Tullah? Tullah! What the hell are you doing?”


She blinked and turned around.

He had to be able to see. It had to be as plain as if it were branded across her forehead: I have a frigging dragon spirit guide!

“What?” she said. “What do you mean? What’d you think I was doing?”

“Err…dancing, sort of.” Dale rubbed his eyes.

He snapped his fingers together. A flame sprang up in the palm of his hand. He peered at her in the light cast by it.

“Was that some sort of Native American dance?” he said.

He hadn’t a clue. Not a clue, about Kaothos.

“Very ancient dance called keeping warm,” she said.

Tullah pulled another couple of logs and eased them into the quiescent fire.

“Yeah, it is cold,” Dale said.

He was right. This wasn’t just a chilly fall night.

“Too cold,” she said, and put another log on the fire.

She didn’t want to say let’s take the kids back. You didn’t call off the trip or cut it short unless something was massively wrong. Tradition had that sort of inflexibility.

And she had some powers now that she hadn’t had when they’d come up the mountain.

“Better the mundane path than reveal the secret,” whispered the wind.


“Maybe we should think about cutting the trip short,” she said. “Aim to be down by the end of the day.”

“Nah,” Dale said. “Don’t want them to think we’re weak. We got the tents, we got the fire. We can handle it.”

Oh, ‘we’ got, did we?

Tullah didn’t have time to snark. Her head lifted, turned. There was something coming up the track from the lake. Something big.



Closing chapter of the Long Island Athanate

Ooooh. Here already. If this was a novel, I’d put this writing aside for a day or two and then re-read and edit it. I think it would be better. However, the whole idea of a weekly serial is it comes out every week. It’s good discipline for me to be inflexible with my writing schedule.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will go back over the whole novella, edit it and append an epilogue (basically to tie up the Elodie situation neatly). That will be what I publish. I think the name will be ‘Regime Change’ with ‘Long Island Athanate’ as the series name in case I write more with these characters. I may need to add a couple of lines of explanation and background of the Athanate for those people for whom this will be the first experience of the Bite Back world.

Next serial…we’ll see. Certainly posting a serial on this blog has been popular enough to keep going in the way I have. Something different perhaps. Comments below 🙂

What else? The Angel Stakes audiobook has been paid for and Audible/ACX have acknowledged and processed the payment, which only took 10 days(!). Next step is their internal technical and checking processes, which have taken a couple of weeks for previous audiobooks. I’ll post of FB and here when it’s finally published.

< * * * >

Thank you for visiting one of the posts from Change in Regime. This novella is now available on Amazon, and to also make it available on Kindle Unlimited, I have to remove these posts from my blog.

Anyway, here is the cover copy and link:

Like an electric current, arcing from ear to ear through the New York underworld, the word comes; he’s here. The city has a new Master of vampires, House Altau, and the existing, unaffiliated community is now facing a sentence of death.

The storm builds, and one of the leaders of that community, Livia or Julius, must chose to be the lightning conductor to save the rest from destruction. But will that be an acceptable sacrifice to Altau?

And if so, which one of them will it be?


Long Island Athanate – the Warder’s Court

Quick roundup first.

Vampires of the Caribbean went up to #1 in the Zon for anthologies in UF. Thank you all! I hope you liked Enzili, and I would love to get your feedback in reviews (Amazon or Goodreads) or messages here, Facebook or to the usual email.

Angel Stakes audiobook – I’m still waiting for the *last* audio file before I can press the button to send everything into ACX/Audible’s internal processing. The technical problems with the studio (not with our actual recording) have been terrible on this project, but the actual work is the best yet that Julia has done. This is an *awesome* audiobook, I’m just so frustrated that unrelated bits keep delaying it.

Writing progress on Bian’s Tale and Bite Back 6 (Inner Game? Inside Straight?) – slow. This was a disrupted week, what with the book launch, my wife’s birthday and the first episode of Iron Fist airing. I really enjoyed Iron Fist Ep1. I was always going to love seeing Jess as Colleen Wing, of course, but I actually thought the whole episode was very well done.

Long Island Athanate

I really have to reorganise the blog to make this episodic story easier to access. I will be publishing this as a novella once it’s complete. There are a couple more chapters to run…

I started this at what became chapter 1 as an unrelated scene with characters that don’t appear in the Bite Back series, but affected by what was going on in the Athanate world. It was just a little Christmas present for readers. It was popular, so I wrote another scene… Then I started to put it together with some doodles that I wrote on my visit to Brooklyn last fall. I thought it should be entirely stand-alone, then I realised that there’s too much back-story if I did that. I only write these scenes on Friday evening or Saturday, so there’s a limit to the planning and plotting and ‘crafting’ of it. And so on. Anyway, I hope you’re still enjoying it, and it serves to keep my mind fresh and my writing skills exercised, so I’ll continue posting novellas in episodes on this blog. We’ll have to see what comes next; there was no definitive preference expressed by lots of readers for what I should write next in this fashion. Maybe I’ll do a little survey. Tell me what you individually want, and we’ll see if there’s a consensus…

< * * * >

Thank you for visiting one of the posts from Change in Regime. This novella is now available on Amazon, and to also make it available on Kindle Unlimited, I have to remove these posts from my blog.

Anyway, here is the cover copy and link:

Like an electric current, arcing from ear to ear through the New York underworld, the word comes; he’s here. The city has a new Master of vampires, House Altau, and the existing, unaffiliated community is now facing a sentence of death.

The storm builds, and one of the leaders of that community, Livia or Julius, must chose to be the lightning conductor to save the rest from destruction. But will that be an acceptable sacrifice to Altau?

And if so, which one of them will it be?



Audiobook competition – last day!


Like audiobooks? Like Urban Fantasy?

Get your mouse over to the Urban Fantasy Audiobook Giveaway at:

There will be 24 winners who will each get one audiobook from this list:

The Baine Chronicles Books 1-3 – written by Jasmine Walt and narrated by Laurel Schroeder

Sleight of Hand – written by Mark Henwick and narrated by Kimberly Henrie

The Devil’s Fool – written by Rachel McClellan and narrated by Veronica Fox

Dead Man – written by Domino Finn and narrated by Neil Hellegers

Southern Bound – written by Stuart Jaffe and narrated by Stuart Jaffe

Shifter Legacies Special Edition – written by Mark E. Cooper and narrated by Mikael Naramore

One lucky winner will get all 6!

And everyone who enters gets a copy of this eBook:

The Catalyst – C.M. Raymond & L.E. Barbant

If you get a friend to enter, you get another 3 goes.