Hello, everyone! I’m back from my various convention adventures, and working hard on finishing up the first full draft of Repercussions. I won’t be on the road again until early September (Salt Lake City Fan-X), and my goal it to be through the first-draft stage entirely and deep into the alpha-read and polishing stages. I appreciate everybody’s patience through this; as I’ve said before, Repercussions is a game-changer for Astra, her friends, and much of her world. So I need to “stick the landing” as never before. (And no pressure at all.)
Just to reassure everyone, although there’s been hints of other projects (for one, an informal Facebook poll on the possibility of producing a high-quality Astra figure, something on the order of DC’s Bombshell figures), none of that is slowing down the writing.
On the writing itself, I appreciate the feedback many of you have given on the released scenes from Chapter 1; your comments have been very helpful (in one case causing me to go back in a later chapter and expand on a description of the aftermath). I intend to release additional scenes past the first chapter over the next few weeks to return the love. In the meantime, here’s the last scenes from Chapter 1. Enjoy.
Somewhere, On a Beach.
Wisps of cotton floated across Littleton’s clear summer sky, a sky one-hundred percent free of jet contrails and the slight tints of gray from civilizational haze that Hope could see in every skyscape in the “real world.” The whispering warm breeze lulled her into a meditative drowse, unbroken by the laughter drifting up the beach from the water. The breeze had evaporated the last drops from her skin and dried her suit, the warm sand under her towel unwinding the little knots of tension in her muscles, and even knowing their idyll would end in a couple of days couldn’t shake her contentment. She closed her eyes, drifting like the clouds.
The team deserved it. Everybody did. She and Mal hadn’t been back very long from their top-secret space trip to help reduce an asteroid-of-mass-destruction to a really impressive meteor shower, and none of the team had had any real downtime before or since. On top of that the “junior team,” all of them now at least eighteen and fully certified, had caught Mnemomic (their horribly named supervillain-of-the-month) and weathered a total media circus while she’d led them all a merry chase from crime to crime. They’d even managed to tie everything up in time for Annabeth and Dane’s wedding—where of course Astra’s presence as one of the maids of honor threatened to turn it into an even bigger media circus. One with all three rings and aerial and clown acts.
Before what would probably always be remembered as WD, Wedding Day, Annabeth and Dane hadn’t been enthusiastic about Shelly’s invitation for everybody to come to Littleton where they could honeymoon while the Bees and the team vacationed in one of the most secure places on Earth. WD had changed their minds.
Hope still couldn’t believe what one photographer had done to smuggle himself into the wedding venue.
“Are you going to sleep all day?”
She opened her eyes as Shell dropped to the sand beside her.
Her BF had worn her Shelly/Galatea body to the beach. The very first one Vulcan had made for her, the teleoperated body sculpted with muscle-mimickers and syntheskin wrap let her pass as the “real girl” she’d been before she’d died.
“Well, are you?” Shell proceeded to undo the sun and wind’s work by shaking out her long red hair, raining drops of water all over her.
“Hey!” Hope jackknifed up, reaching for her BF as Shell dodge her grasp.
“You could always throw her in the middle of the lake,” Jacky murmured lazily from her other side. “It’s two hundred feet of water and she’d sink like a rock.” As a living breathing Daywalker (the only one, as far as Hope knew), even though Jacky couldn’t exactly tan she loved laying out in the light and warmth of the Sun.
“Shut up, Vampirella.”
“Make me, Robotica.”
Laughing, Hope dropped back down on her towel. “I will separate the two of you.” Looking around, she saw that Dane and Annabeth had left the swimmers to head off down the beach by themselves. Megan and Julie had started what looked like a game of beach ball water-tag with Jamal, Mal, and Ellie, their newest teammate. Ellie’s flock of little Rainbow Drakes darted around their heads and Hope smiled to see it. Despite the rockiness of their first couple of meetings, she’d pushed to bring Ellie—Kindrake—on the team when Tsuris left to join the L.A. Guardians, and it was good to see her in the middle of the fun. Of all the Young Sentinels, only Brian and Ozma had passed on the vacation.
Kitsune had passed, too.
“Hey,” Shell said, reading Hope’s frown. “Missing your hubby already?”
Hope huffed without force. “I haven’t had a chance to get used to him being here, yet. He’s off playing James Bond for the Chrysanthemum Throne again.” She hadn’t seen her husband since just after their short trip to the Bear Mountains to watch the spectacular meteor shower from the cabin. And didn’t that make her parents happy? They were a long way from accepting her coming back from an adventure married. To a non-Catholic, non-Christian spirit-fox.
She’d thought she was past having to fight her parents over her life choices.
Shell sat back and laughed, squeezing water out of her hair to pull it into a tail. “Out of sight, out of mind? The Harlequin’s good with that—she’s going crazy trying to figure out how to spin the inevitable big reveal of you two. I think she wants you to keep your married status under wraps and publicly date first. And your mom would love to throw a big wedding.”
“Noooo . . .” Hope moaned, hiding her face in her hands. Quin really did want to turn the whole thing into a romcom plot. Kitsune would love the idea; introduced to America as Yoshi Miyamoto, sneaking around behind everyone’s back while “dating” under the public eye (he was after all, in Shell’s words, the greatest sneak-master of all time). Her fans would go insane, the media-frenzy would make the one they’d just lived through look like a minor blip of public attention…
Their names would be linked. They’d be Hoshi.
Or Astune? Oh, that’s just awful. Hope swallowed a hysterical giggle. “Don’t say any of that too loud. He’ll try and sneak up on me when he gets back. He always does.” She looked up and down the beach half-expecting to see him pop up from the sand. If he finished his business while they were still on vacation, he’d probably jump at the chance to break into Littleton again just to prove he still could. “At least I can spot him coming now. . . What?” Shell was suddenly looking improbably innocent.
“How do you know it’s him?”
She tapped her nose. “My super-duper sense of smell. I’ve got his scent, now. Male, female, whatever of his thousand faces he wears he always smells the same under it. And he’s got some tells—that lopsided smile, the way he stands. Stuff like that.” Within thirty feet, she could spot him every time now.
“Yeah . . . Not so much.”
Shell sighed, gave up on her hair. “I’ve got hours and hours of video files of that sneaky fox in lots of shapes now, and motion analysis only confirms it’s him when you’re around. Chemical air analysis also only finds a consistent olfactory signature when you’re nearby. He does all that just for you.”
What? Wait, what?
Jacky burst out laughing. “So Kitsune’s developed a ‘secret signal’ just for Hope?”
Shell started laughing too, probably at Hope’s gaping-fish expression, the traitor. “Duh. Everything about him’s a trick. Okay, it’s a thoughtful trick maybe, but he—” She collapsed right on top of Hope, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
“Shell? Shell?” Hope rolled her friend’s robot body off her, easy enough even with her heavy carbon-alloy bones and musculature. When she flopped limply to the sand Hope almost reached to feel her pulse—which was absolutely stupid since she was a dronebot. “Shell?” No virtual-Shell popped up to explain why her teleoperated body had suddenly collapsed.
Jacky stood up beside them, eyes scanning the sand, sky, and water like she expected something else to happen any second. “You can’t hear her?”
“No, she’s not in my head at all.” Rising to look around, Hope couldn’t see anything that shouldn’t have been there and her senses were even better than Jacky’s vampire ones. “But her body’s still live—I can hear her micro-servomotors going, the tiny ones that power her fake respiration.”
“Do you think Littleton is testing a new security measure? Something that blocked her connection?”
“Yes!” That would do it. Hope looked around for her cellphone, which rang. There she is. The first thing Shell would do if something blocked their quantum-link would be to reach out the fastest low-tech way she could. She snatched up her cell. “Shell—”
“Astra,” Dr. Leiman Hall said in her ear. “Ms. Hardt is on her way to you. She said Shell has gone silent, and she believes it’s a sign of an imminent attack on Chicago.”
A burst of wind blew Hope’s hair in her face and, clearing her vision with her free hand, she watched Brian and Ozma come rushing out of nowhere to wipe out in the sand. She dropped her phone.
Shelly leaped out before the security minion brought the jeep to a stop, her office loafers slipping on the sand as she ran. She almost tripped over the blur of fur that scrambled from Grendel’s pack and hurled itself at her as the big guy got to his feet—somehow he’d managed to face-plant into the sand without squashing Ozma under him.
She hugged a stiff-furred Shell. “I’m not there!” Shell hissed, and she didn’t need to ask what she meant. Back from Oz, even in the pocket-reality of Littleton, cat-Shell should have reconnected with herself. She looked once at Shell’s fallen Galatea body, lying too much like a corpse, and looked away.
“We’ll be fine,” she whispered, scratching cat-Shell’s ears before clearing her throat. “Guys, there’s a coordinated strike going down against hydroelectric dams across the country. And a minute ago electronic and quantum interdiction cut off all links to Shell at her source.”
“Her source?” Hope squeaked, dialed her voice down, and tried again. “Where’s her source? Shell’s AI core is in some super-secret base somewhere, right? So secret only God and you guys know where it is?”
Shelly scratched harder, trying to calm cat-Shell’s continuous low yowling. “Yeah, but the super-secret location is under the Chicago Dome. The Teatime Anarchist set it up by going back to when the Dome was being built and installing us under the foundation before the final concrete footing was poured. It’s completely shielded and self-powered.”
“He knew we’d likely be joining the team. Or we’d at least be hanging around there virtually because of you. Psychologically, it helps us to feel present by being present.”
And now it was too present. If something destroyed the Dome it might just take out Shell. Shelly tried to imagine what having a piece of her quantum-twin permanently stuck in a cat body would mean. If Shell was gone, would Ozma be able to keep cat-Shell from eventually transforming back into a drone? If her transformed drone-body did change back, then would the piece of Shell in it now disappear too? She tightened her grip on her furry twin. “So something’s happening at the Dome and I can’t think of any move to isolate it on every level that’s not a prelude to an attack on it or Chicago.”
“But—” Hope sputtered until Ozma caught everyone’s attention with the sparking blood-red orb she held up. “Right. Ozma, if you have any Travel Dust left we need to use it now. Everyone!” She hadn’t needed to shout; Jamal popped in behind her and the others had started wading ashore when Grendel and Ozma appeared. “In uniform, now! We’re going home!”
She matched her words by twisting the tiny gem-green ring she wore, changing into her Astra outfit complete with armor in a flash of light as Malleus appeared in her hand. Jacky, Grendel, and Ozma followed suit as down the beach Mal and Ellie got to the sand and triggered their own transformations into Megaton and Kindrake. Julie and Megan watched it all from the water, Julie wrapping her arms around the shorter girl.
Hope absently gave cat-Shell a quick ear rub. “Shell will be safe, I promise. Take care of everyone while we’re gone?”
Shelly nodded, stepping back and clutching her furry twin tighter as the team circled up to link hands and Kindrake’s rainbow of tiny drakes settled on her like birds covering a tree. When Hope nodded, Ozma flung her pouch-full of Travel Dust over them and the team disappeared in a blast of wind.
“So that’s it,” she said to herself—or to cat-Shell, pretty much the same thing. Toeing off her sand-filled shoes, she headed down the beach to brief the Bees. At least it was something she could do.
“Keep me out of the water,” Shell muttered in her arms.
That’s all for now! Have a great weekend.