Austin Film Festival 2022

I’m super excited to be returning to the Austin Film Festival – I used to go every year, but haven’t been since 2016. It is the best place ever for screenwriters, with amazing people all excited about the craft, great food, and panels on film and television.

And to kick it off, I’m excited to share our #CreativeWritingLife #Podcat interview with one of my co-panelists, Philip Balli​ – he’ll be joining me and Ashley Poprik on the INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING panel, Saturday 10-29 at 3:00 pm.

Come find me in the Driskill, the event’s BBQ, or one of the many networking events.

Check out the interview HERE.

And more information on the panel HERE.

New Release – Sky Warrior

We have a new YA Mech book (think Harry Potter meets Neon Genesis Evangelion) coming out September 5! I hope you’re as excited as we are 🙂

Living alien mechs are coming for Kevin, but he has no idea why.

He’s a teenager living in a foster home, focused on the latest games, avoiding bullies, and surviving the labyrinth that is adolescence. That is, until strangers show up with an urgent warning – alien assassins want him dead!

Kevin can’t believe it until he’s nearly blasted to pieces by a giant, alien mech. He narrowly escapes and finds himself taken to a secret base under Mount Fuji in Japan.

Now he’s given the chance to pilot Space Ninja Mech Warriors – aka A Sky Warrior.

Will Kevin be able to save Earth, and especially himself, from impending doom?

Sky Warrior is a coming of age story that teaches about life, loss, love and fighting for a worthy cause. If you like Cobra Kai, Harry Potter or Gundam, you will love this action sci-fi space saga for young adults.

New Release – Kari: The Hunt

I’m excited to share that KARI: THE HUNT is now live! It’s a fun book about a safari gone wrong on an alien planet, involving Kaiju monsters and all kinds of fun. Enjoy 🙂

Kari: The Hunt

Massive guns, giant alien monsters, and big egos. What could possibly go wrong?

Tommy is just another guy working for a hedge fund, when the richest person in history invites him and his boss on an alien safari. Sounds great, rubbing elbows with elite playboys and oodles of hotties in outer space, right? But everything goes completely fubar in a hurry. Turns out, a group of alien ninjas already lives on the planet — yeah, you read that right — alien ninjas! And they love to hunt. Now Tommy must choose between crying to his mommy and maybe getting an alien sword in his gut, or manning up to save those he’s come to care about.

If you like Tropic Thunder, Alien, Predator, or even Alien vs Predator (which we won’t hold against you), you’ll love this action-packed sci-fi adventure!

Grab it on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.


I have a new book coming out soon! It’s a standalone, pure scifi novel. Be sure to follow me on Goodreads and Bookbub so you don’t miss the release! Here’s chapter 1.

Kari: The Hunt

“Tell me you’re not afraid of heights,” the tall, slender redhead said. She stepped out onto the glass of the skybridge, pulling her Asian friend with her, eyes focused on me. All I could think was that Manhattan was below her—far below. If the glass gave way and she fell, that would be her end.

Fluorescent lights of blue and red shone through the glass floor of the skybridge, while the walls and ceiling flowed with augmented reality to give the impression of walking through space and looking down on New York. This skybridge wasn’t typical. It, like the rest of the architecture and eccentricities that made up Garrick Calsen’s sky loft, was a reminder that not only was he one of the wealthiest men alive, but that he had leveraged that wealth to become one of humanity’s greatest explorers of space.

Many of us simply referred to him as Mr. Tycoon, as he was the top of the top. The man was elusive, only seen from a distance at these get-togethers he would host, if seen at all. So far at this night’s get-together, nobody had reported seeing him.

“You’re doing it?” John asked, stepping up beside me, nodding. “Come on, man. Take the step.”

John Kim was my boss, technically, but the sort of boss that likes to hang out. The sort I felt bad saying no to, so more often than not ended up in these strange situations. For example, walking on a skybridge when I hated heights with a passion. His watch was there on display as always, a legit Draden—one of the fanciest you could find—to remind anyone he could that he was doing quite well for himself. The guy was half a foot shorter than me, half-Chinese and half-Japanese, but he had taken to calling himself John instead of his given name, Hiro, when he had studied abroad at Harvard.

He didn’t know what he was asking of me, but there was something about all this that felt so magical. Back in the halls, I’d been captivated by the images of the various space stations Mr. Calsen had helped set up, and the expeditions to alien planets. Pictures of strange ruins, metal domes with openings in them, and even the architecture of the penthouse, made to represent some of the most famous ruins found to date. It was also so overwhelming, and almost enough to make me forget any phobias I might have had.

Imagining I was Mr. Calsen and that this skybridge led to a shuttle and my own chance to explore space, I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing as I’d learned in aikido long ago. Opening my eyes, I took a step out onto the skybridge, staring into the redhead’s striking blue eyes. She’d first caught my attention on the dance floor, and she’d let me buy her a drink. Now I was upstairs, stepping out onto glass, and had to wonder whether I was the hunter or the hunted. Considering the fact that I was at the fanciest skyrise loft of the New Horizon zone among Manhattan’s most elite of society, but this lady kept drawing my attention, I think it was the latter. When she had first met my gaze, I’d had a feeling there was something special about her.

If she was able to get me to walk out over the city like this, it was more than most women could have achieved. Even so, with each step out there to follow her, I started to enjoy it. The AR stars and ships moved around us, and for a moment I stood there lost in it all, almost believing one of those ships was coming to pick us up for a great adventure. Then I looked down, watching a hyperloop train as it shot through the lit-up circles below, past massive billboards and holographic ads for the latest in fashion. One was viewable from up here, though only the front appeared three-dimensional, like a real woman applying perfume. At this angle, we could see the projection lights. Two guys on the edge looked high as a kite staring at it all; must have been some of that new orange blow. Supposedly it was like cocaine but from an alien planet, way too expensive for me even if I had been keen to give it a go.

“Stunning, isn’t it?” my redhead asked, stepping over to me.

“It is,” I replied, and looked up to see her leaning against a railing nearby, while John and the other woman were holding each other, and he leaned in for a kiss.

The redhead cleared her throat, noticing too. Stepping close, she looped her arm through mine. “I’m Verity, by the way.”

“Tommy,” I replied.

She considered, eyes on mine, then leaned in to kiss me on the cheek. “You’re cute, Tommy. A buff guy like you, needing someone like me to coax him out here.”

I grinned, hand on hers, and said, “I don’t imagine you often have problems getting men to do what you want.”

“No,” she admitted.

Our surroundings changed from stars and space to moving lights, some sort of show that reminded me of shifting, colorful gas. Maybe a simulation of an alien planet? I was considering going in for a real kiss when John called out for me.

I glanced up to see they were already halfway across the skywalk, motioning for us to follow.

“There’s something over here you gotta see,” he said.

Verity looked at me with excitement and gave me a pinch.

“What was that?” I asked, not complaining.

“Making sure you know you’re not dreaming.”

I laughed, but that joy faded when I remembered how far above the city we were walking. Everyone knew a skybridge like this wasn’t likely to break; maybe it wasn’t even possible according to some. Still, no amount of redheads could get me to smile while knowing that sort of fall was beneath me.

She was going on about something—maybe how her friend had been checking out John all night—but my focus was completely devoted to my curiosity. A place like that, what could John want to show me that he would prioritize above making out with that woman? They’d been using some heavy tongue, so I knew for a fact it had to be special. John wasn’t the type to give up tongue. Not for anything.

Once, I’d seen John making out with a woman in the middle of a hurricane, and even when the river flooded up to their feet and she tried to run screeching, he picked her up and kept going. At least, until a heavy gust of wind blew them over. He was technically my supervisor at the Titans Rising hedge fund, but we’d hung out enough to make it clear we were more buddy-buddy than anything else. For example, your supervisor shouldn’t get a tug at the dinner table when you’re there on a double date, but that had happened no fewer than three times in our case. Awkward every time, but it also brought us closer together.

“Tommy?” Verity said, pulling me from my thoughts.

We were off the skybridge, and into what I could only think of as the entrance to an opera box, complete with curtains and a couple of stairs that led to an area out of sight still.

“Sorry, distracted,” I replied, then nodded to John and his date.

“I was asking if you’re ready,” John said.

“For what, exactly?”

“To have your mind blown.”

I chuckled, wondering if this was all part of some elaborate ruse of his to get us both laid. If so, who was I to interfere?

“Always,” I said, giving Verity a comforting smile. Maybe this was about to happen, and if so, I needed to get my mind right. Start setting the mood.

“You’re killing me here,” she said, motioning to the curtains. “What is it?”

John eyed her, then his lady, and shook his head. “Nah, get lost.”

“What?” they both said at once.

I balked, too, adding a grunt of confusion.

John walked over to me, put an arm around my shoulder, and said, “This is for me and my boy, Tommy. You two can meet us back by the elevators later. If you want.”

“Seriously?” his woman said.

“Your friend is kinda being an ass,” Verity added, looking at me with arms folded.

Here’s where it got awkward. As mentioned, John was my supervisor. My boss, you could say. So, while we were buddies, moments like these made the power-matrix a bit skewed. Even more so when he leaned in and whispered, “It’s a work thing, bro.”


I let out a sigh, put a hand on Verity’s shoulder, and said, “Do you mind? We won’t be long.”

“We might,” John countered.

My glare his way made it very clear what I thought of him not being helpful, but I shrugged, turning back to Verity. “At least let me get your number?”

“You two have fun,” her friend said, already walking off to the skybridge.

Verity hesitated, then shook her head in disgust and walked off. Before they walked out of sight, she put her hand on her hip and stuck out her ass, as if to say, “For the record, you could’ve had this. All of this.”

Then they were gone.

“John, what was that?” I asked, shoving his arm away and wondering if he was actually about to make a move on me. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d wondered that about him, but nothing ever came of it.

“Told you, work related.” He took a step toward the curtain, nonchalantly motioning for me to follow. “You won’t regret it, not one bit.”

Without another word, he vanished past the curtains. I thought of Verity, of her cute little plaid miniskirt, and wondered how the hell I wasn’t going to regret missing out on the chance to be with her. John hadn’t led me wrong too often in the past, though, so I stepped in after him.

Passing under the thick, red curtains, I entered an atrium-type room with all manner of trophies and pictures. This was the true collection, not all the other showy stuff back in the main party rooms of Mr. Tycoon’s house. Red rock from Mars formed pillars at the door leading into another room. Before going in there, though, I turned, taking this one in.

Several crystals were on display in glass cases with tiny movements inside—some of his first discovered alien life, perhaps? It was a blur, but I thought I’d read something about his expedition and that early discovery. One wall was decorated with a mounted rifle above a picture of a team of hunters with him at the center. Considering the circles of ground that rose past them, one with hanging purple plants that curled up at the bottom, I had to guess that was one of his other intergalactic missions. He even had a bit of the tech that had made Faster Than Light (FTL) travel possible. An invention of either his father’s or grandfather’s, if memory served.

There was more, but none of that mattered when compared to what came next. I passed the Mars pillars and found myself standing at the entrance to this massive room with no windows. Nothing covered the walls. All there was in this area was the skull that stared down at me, suspended from the ceiling to make clear this was the center of attention. Not some deer or elephant skull, mind you; I’m talking huge. This thing had to be at least fifteen, maybe twenty feet in diameter. The type of animal it had to have come from was beyond me, but I knew without a doubt it had to be alien. It had similar characteristics to a giant squirrel, but with a series of spikes along the top of its forehead. Each tooth was as long as my arm, and they looked like they’d been sharpened.

“What am I looking at?” I asked, taking a step closer, trying to ignore the way my heart pounded. My breaths came short, a line of sweat moving along my temple. This thing was long dead, but it still freaked me the hell out.

“That, dear boys, is my grand prize,” a deep voice said, and we turned to see another man in that room with us. I recognized him instantly as Mr. Tycoon himself, AKA Mr. Calsen. The old man had a full head of snow-white hair, and though I knew he had to be in his seventies, could otherwise almost pass for being not much older than myself. He stepped forward, eyes moving up to his prize. “A kill I’ll never forget. There’s something about conquering a beast of this enormity that makes you realize how great man has truly become. We have ascended to near godhood, gentlemen.”

“Sorry for wandering,” I blurted out, but noticed the humor in John’s eyes, the upturned lip. Hissing to John, I added, “You knew he’d be here?”

John grinned, and it hit me. Holy shit, he’d planned the thing with the ladies, used them as bait to lure me up here. He could have just told me he wanted me to meet someone, but no, this was his way. Always the type to make a show of life.

“Mr. Calsen here has agreed to let us see his collection on one condition,” John explained. With a nod to Mr. Calsen, he waited, hands behind his back, all very formal.

Suddenly, my going-out-on-the-town outfit felt very out of place. It was a suit, yes, but not the type we’d wear to meet with clients.

“I got my trophy here on a safari,” Mr. Calsen said. “Not a safari to Africa or anywhere like that. No, this is far more…” His eyes went up to the skull, then past it to the painted stars on the domed ceiling above. “…More exotic.”

“He’s invited us to go,” John said. “On his next expedition. Can you believe it?”

I blinked, totally caught off guard. Me, go out into space on what? A hunting expedition? There were so many reasons I felt that would be impossible. At first, anyway. Then it started hitting me that I really had nothing tying me down here for the moment. I’d recently gone through a nasty breakup—half the reason John was able to convince me to go to the tycoon’s party to begin with—and my lease on my apartment was up next month. Last I’d heard from my mom was over three years ago, when my brother had been reported dead with the Space Marines. I’d always envied his bravery, and now I had the chance to do something… well, not similar at all, but something that would at least make me feel some of what he must have felt.

Still, this was a huge step.

“What about work?” I asked in a hushed voice, hoping Mr. Calsen wouldn’t hear me.

John winked, then motioned me to join him a few paces away, our backs turned to the tycoon. “First, don’t fuck this up. Smile, show excitement, and nothing less. Second, this is work—we land this guy as a client, and we’re set for life. That means you, baby. You will be set for life, and I’ll personally see to it. Understand?”

I nodded.

“So you’re in?” he asked.

Part of me wanted to say no, but I knew I couldn’t. “Sounds like a plan to me.” I plastered on my best smile. But as we turned back to the tycoon and John told him we were on board, the smile became increasingly legit. By the time we were shaking hands and retiring to the party to celebrate over bottles of Scotch, I was downright giddy.

I, Tommy Kurbratski, was going into space with the chance of seeing real-life giant animals. That thought was only made better when Verity and her friend found us later that night, acting as if we hadn’t completely snubbed them, and spent the rest of the evening with their tongues enjoying our tongues. When we told them we were going into space with Mr. Calsen, their first reaction was to call B.S. on us, the second was to get us back to their hotel rooms for a nice send-off.

If only I hadn’t passed out in the cab and found myself waking up in front of my apartment building, alone, that might have been awesome. Even less great was the text I got the next morning—a picture of John with both ladies, all three topless, and him with a bottle of whipped cream.

“Missed you tons,” he said in the text message.

I was hungover as hell. Deleting the pic, I almost ignored the next text from him. Good thing I didn’t because it read: “Get ready, sunshine. We’re shipping out in three hours.”

My coffee went up my nose and out, and I had to reread the message again. Sure enough, we were really doing this, and not wasting any time at that.He then sent instructions for where to go and what I’d need. I poured another cup of coffee, started the shower, and leaned against the wall as I focused on my breathing to clear my head.

This was about to be the greatest experience of my life, or the worst. Either way, I was damn thrilled to be part of it.

COMING SOON to Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

In the meantime, check out my books on Amazon. Thank you!

Ascension Gate Complete Omnibus

Ascension Gate Complete Omnibus

If you’re into Marines in space kicking butt, I’d like to tell you about the Ascension Gate series. It’s available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Here’s the book description:

What starts as a battle between genetically-engineered super soldiers and an elite group of hackers soon unravels conspiracies that threaten to topple world governments.

Our heroes won’t sit by and do nothing, but soon find they’re involved in more than they could have ever imagined. Get ready for an adventure that takes us from space stations and alien tech to a gateway to the stars.

Fans of STARGATE with a hint of BOURNE will feel at home in this 8-book boxset that combines the Biotech Wars into the Ascension Gate series.


This set includes the following books:

Project Destiny
Project Exodus
Project Ascent
Star Forged
Star Legacy
Star Defenders
Star Exiles
Star Empires

Grab it on Amazon:

Virtue of War – Snippet 2

Chapter 2 of VIRTUE OF WAR. Enjoy!

Grab it on pre-order (Amazon and KU)

Virtue of War


Beck had met a lot of aliens, but this time around, it would be different. If all went well, there’d be way less killing and a lot more hellos and handshakes. That was, if the aliens even had hands. Beck hoped to God they did, because there was no way in hell he was shaking a tentacle.

Somehow, the thought of politely greeting their intergalactic visitors made him more nervous than ever. Killing aliens was the natural order of things. They attacked, humans defended, some humans died, but more aliens did. And humanity lived on. He’d spent years living out that pattern as a soldier in the Resistance.

Now things were changing. With an alien attack from the Ascendancy on the horizon, the killing was about to start again. But this time around, it wouldn’t just be humans versus aliens. Instead, it’d be the Ascendancy versus all intelligent creatures who weren’t keen on being targeted for genocide.

And that meant a new survival tactic—setting aside the past and becoming allies with aliens. Or at least attempting to.

Beck glanced around at the three multi-story buildings bordering the tarmac. Snipers were stationed in every building, just waiting for any sign of trouble. He itched to be up there with them. Beck had trained half of the snipers on this base, and it seemed unfair that his former students were the ones who got to have the comfort of a rifle in their hands while he was stuck down here with the greeting committee.

Not that it was much of a committee. Just him and Nathan, the base commander. Nathan stood beside him, squinting up at the clouds, his war-worn face pulled into a disapproving scowl. That scowl was enough to make anyone on base scramble to fix their mistakes, but it had no effect on the clouds thickening above them.

“This is piss-poor weather for flying,” Nathan muttered.

“We’ll make do,” Beck said, trying to sound more optimistic than he felt.

He flinched as a large raindrop plopped on his cheek. An hour ago, the Florida sun had been shining down on the Resistance base, making the landing tarmac shimmer with heat. Now dark clouds grumbled overhead, leaking fat raindrops onto the dark pavement. If the wind kept picking up, pretty soon no aircraft would be able to take off safely from the base.

Which meant they were officially screwed.

Their assignment was supposed to have been simple: They’d greet an ambassador from the alien society of Rhuramentia, hand over the ancient alien relic the base had been guarding, guide the ambassador into a waiting transport craft, and shuttle him over to Washington, D.C. Easy-peasy. The alien would spend thirty minutes on their base, tops.

But the ambassador hadn’t even landed yet, and everything was already going to hell. It’d all started the night before, when a thief had managed to shut off the security system, bypass all their Tier 4 security protocols, break into the base’s most secure safe, kill a guard, and make off with the relic. All within a matter of minutes.

It shouldn’t have been possible—they had too many safeguards in place. But the ambassador wasn’t going to give a damn about that. All the ambassador would care about was that he’d traveled five weeks in hyperspace to pick up a precious relic that was now missing.

As the chief commander of the base, Nathan had been scrambling to find the thief and the stolen relic, but it was no use. The thief had gotten off scot-free. Now all Nathan could do was apologize to the ambassador and ship him off to Washington, D.C, so all the top officials of Earth could also issue apologies.

They were screwed. So screwed. 

And all because of one goddamn, murderous thief.

Nathan wiped his hand over his face, brushing aside a raindrop clinging to his short salt-and-pepper beard. In the dark shadow of the clouds, he looked older than he usually did, his hair seeming grayer and his wrinkles deeper.

“The bastard is late,” Nathan muttered, glancing down at his watch.

“I’m sure he’ll be here soon,” Beck said, raising his voice to be heard over the wind. He glanced behind him at the covered hangar. If this storm got much worse, they were going to have to head inside and wait for the ambassador there.

Nathan grunted. “He’s probably just sitting up there enjoying the sight of us getting rained on.”

Beck struggled to swallow back his unease. He’d only worked with the commander for a year, since Nathan had moved to the base and taken charge, but it’d been plenty of time for Beck to learn that the man was no diplomat. Usually, Beck appreciated Nathan’s brutal honesty, but not now. Because there was something else Beck knew all too well about the commander:

Nathan hated aliens. Period. He hadn’t wanted to store the alien relic at his base, hadn’t wanted the ambassador to land here, and sure as hell hadn’t wanted to play the part of a gracious host. The top leaders of the Resistance had insisted on it, since Nathan’s base was the only Tier 4 security center in the region. But Beck had a bad feeling it was about to bite them in the ass. They could force Nathan to host the ambassador, but they couldn’t force him to be civil about it.

A black dot appeared in the sky. At first, Beck thought it might just be a bird, but then he realized the dot was growing larger every second as it descended toward the tarmac. The back of Beck’s neck tingled with alertness, and his hand automatically shifted closer to the pistol at his waist.

The small spacecraft descended at a rapid pace, not seeming to be bothered by the wind. The ship was such a dark black it seemed to gleam blue. It was long and sleek like a bullet, with short black fins on the top and sides. Beck squinted closely at the craft, but couldn’t see anything resembling panels or doors. It looked like it was crafted from a single piece of obsidian.

“Well that’s sure fancy,” Nathan muttered.

The commander sounded more wary than admiring, and Beck couldn’t blame him one bit. Three years ago, when the Syndicate aliens had tried to invade, the Resistance had barely managed to fight back against their advanced technology. And this ship looked even more advanced than the Syndicate’s.

The ship slowly descended to the bright yellow square painted on the hovercraft landing pad. The aircraft made no noise, but a deep, thrumming vibration radiated off it, making the humid air feel thick enough to choke on.

Right when Beck was about to start gasping for breath, the ship settled on the tarmac, and the vibration cut out. Beck shifted back and forth on his feet, while Nathan leaned anxiously forward, ready to pounce at the first sign of trouble.

Beck had no idea what was about to climb out of the ship. From what he’d been told, “aliens” could mean everything from human-like creatures, to robots, to intelligent plants. Nathan had said this species was “humanoid,” but that label seemed to get slapped on everything with arms and legs, regardless of how different they were to actual humans.

A door appeared in the side of the ship, seeming to melt straight out of the pure black hull. It slid upwards, revealing a man and a woman standing in the doorway. Beck sighed in relief as he realized they looked almost totally human. Hopefully, that meant they also acted human. It would definitely make communicating with them a hell of a lot easier.

A walkway made of the same black material as the hull stretched out from the ship, and the two aliens strode confidently down it, heading straight toward them. The wind tugged at their clothes, sending ripples through the loose, light grey cloth.

The man stood well over six feet tall, and his shoulder-length blond hair was so light it almost seemed silver. He looked like he was in his mid-twenties, but his face had a weary, knowing expression that reminded Beck of an aging grandfather.

The woman followed at his side, and judging by the way her sharp gaze scanned the tarmac, Beck guessed she was the bodyguard they’d been told would accompany the ambassador. She had a similar build—tall and pale-skinned, although she was surprisingly old for a bodyguard, probably around fifty. Beck looked her over closely, but she didn’t seem to be carrying any weapons.

“Welcome,” Nathan said, stepping forward with his hand outstretched. “My name is—”

A sharp gust of wind stole away his words and blew a flurry of raindrops against his face. Nathan muttered a curse and turned around, gesturing sharply for the aliens to follow him. The ambassador and his bodyguard stepped off their ship’s ramp, and it retracted back into the hull, sealing it closed.

Nathan headed toward the south door of the covered hangar, and Beck strode at his side, trying not to ignore the anxiety creeping through his veins as the aliens followed closely at their heels. “Never turn your back on your enemy.” The simple refrain echoed through Beck’s head, the same words he’d repeated to young soldiers hundreds of times while training them.

But these people weren’t his enemy. He had to remember that, even if he couldn’t entirely believe it.

Nathan paused to enter his keycode into an electronic padlock. The personnel door to the hanger slid open, granting them access to the wide expanse of the building. The four of them stepped inside, their footsteps echoing off the metal walls. Nathan quickly shut the door and wiped the last of the raindrops from his face before turning toward the ambassador.

“Let’s try this again,” he said, giving a strained smile. “My name is Commander Nathan Hayes. I run this base, and I’ll be attending to you while you’re here.” He gestured sharply to Beck. “This here is Lieutenant Beck Wright. He’s the head of our sniper training program and our security escort for any visitors to this base.”

Beck saluted the ambassador. “Nice to meet you, sir.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Commander Hayes and Lieutenant Wright,” the ambassador said, speaking in a quiet, grave voice. He bowed low, his left palm pressed to his heart. His bodyguard followed suit, although her bow was slightly brisker.

“My name is Ambassador Liomsrata Alanoserbash-Horenporoma Da’nash,” the man said in his soft, melodic accent.  He reached out to gently touch his bodyguard’s shoulder. “Accompanying me is my guard and friend, Marinasherban Aydenbaris-Emerorey Na’garm.”

Nathan raised his eyebrows. “Those are quite the names you’ve got.”

Beck looked down to hide his cringe. He had been crossing his fingers Nathan would at least try to hide his contempt when meeting with the ambassador. Apparently, he was shit out of luck.

The ambassador tilted his chin up, staring down his aquiline nose at Nathan. Most of the time, Beck completely forgot that his commander was only about five and a half feet tall. But standing next to the towering height of the ambassador, it was impossible not to notice that Nathan was shorter than most men.

“Names are very important to our people,” the ambassador said. “But if ours prove too difficult for you to pronounce, you may call me Lio and my guard Marin.”

“They’re not difficult, Lio,” Nathan said. “Just time-consuming. And I’ve been told it’s vital to shuttle you off to D.C. as quickly as possible.”

Lio’s face remained impassive, but his voice was curt as he said, “Yes. I would hate to stretch out our conversation any longer than necessary.”

Beck watched the ambassador closely, but the alien’s face stayed blank as a slate as he swept his gaze over the hanger and took in its contents. By Earth standards, the ships in the hanger were impressive—two military-grade hovercrafts and a fighter jet, along with three smaller cargo pods. But judging by the spacecraft the Rhuramenti aliens had arrived in, Beck had a feeling their hanger was downright primitive in the eyes of the ambassador.

Beck patted the hull of the cargo pod to his right, having a ridiculous urge to comfort the aircraft as it faced the piercing gaze of the ambassador. What the Resistance lacked in technology, it made up for in cleverness and bravery. It had gotten them through the Syndicate War, and Beck had no doubt that same bravery would carry them through the impending conflict with the Ascendancy.

Just as long as Nathan’s behavior didn’t get them all killed before the actual war even started.

Nathan didn’t say anything for a long moment, seeming to want the ambassador to have to ask for information. When the silence grew strained, Lio softly cleared his throat and said, “If it’s possible, I’d like to be taken to the Virtue of War immediately. My Council is awaiting a report on its status.”

Nathan crossed his arms, as if bracing for a backlash. “Sorry, Ambassador, but I’m afraid I can’t take you to it right this minute.”

In half a second, Lio’s face darkened, and his bodyguard shifted her hand closer to her shoulder. Beck peered closer at her outfit and realized she wasn’t unarmed, like he’d first thought. She had a discreet holster strapped to her back, and the pearly white barrel of some sort of gun peeked over her shoulder.

Adrenaline kicked through Beck’s veins. He folded his arms, resisting the urge to rest his hand on his pistol. He couldn’t risk escalating things further.

“I don’t understand,” Lio said. “You told my people you had the relic safely stored at this base.”

“We did,” Nathan said. “And now we don’t. A thief broke in last night and stole it.”

For a long, painful second, the ambassador didn’t react. He just stared at Nathan with a blank look of shock. Finally, he said in a quiet voice, “A thief?”

“Yes,” Nathan said. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and added, “Look, I know this makes it sound like the Resistance was negligent about keeping your relic safe, but we weren’t. The thief who stole it isn’t some ordinary dumb criminal. He calls himself Goodfellow, and he’s hit over half a dozen secure compounds in the past year. Resistance bases, American military bases, you name it. He’s like a ghost. Nothing can keep him out.”

“And why are you so sure he was the one to steal the Virtue?” Lio demanded.

“Because he’s a cocky bastard,” Nathan said, his tone lowering to a frustrated growl. “Every time he steals, he leaves a calling card. We found it in the safe where the Virtue was being kept.”

Lio took a shuddering breath. “The Resistance informed my people that the Virtue of War would be contained in the highest security vault you have. They said it would be impossible to steal.”

Nathan rubbed at the back of his neck. “And that was the truth. Look, Lio, I don’t even know what to tell you. Whatever tech Goodfellow uses is something we’ve never encountered before. He shut down our entire security center. Cameras, sensors, communications, locks, every safeguard on this base. It all got disabled, which isn’t at all possible. But somehow, it happened.”

Lio didn’t say anything for a long moment. He just stared at Nathan, his look of disbelief slowly morphing into one of horror. Finally, he said in a low, shaky voice, “You must get it back.”

Nathan nodded. “I swear to you, the Resistance and the United States military will be doing everything we can to retrieve it. We understand it’s a very important holy relic to your people.” 

“No,” Lio said, his voice a shaky ghost of a whisper. “No. You don’t understand at all.”

Beck hadn’t been told much about the Virtue of War, but he knew it was some sort of holy object that had been stolen from Rhuramentia thousands of years ago, and that it’d been rediscovered in the wreckage of one of the Syndicate ships. Turning it back over to the Rhuramenti people was supposed to be a gesture of peace and friendship, and it would officially seal an alliance between Rhuramentia and Earth.

The ambassador should be furious, but he hardly even sounded mad. Instead, he sounded downright scared, and that made Beck’s skin prickle with unease.

“There must be some way to retrieve the Virtue,” Lio said.

Nathan nodded. “We’re working on it, but the break-in happened less than a day ago. You need to give us some time to find Goodfellow.”

Lio shook his head, staring wild-eyed at Nathan, as if the commander had just pulled the pin on a grenade and was refusing to throw it. “We don’t have time.”

“I know it’s a tough situation, but we’re making the best of it,” Nathan said. “We have a transit craft scheduled to take you to Washington, D.C. tonight. You can meet with all our top officials there, and hopefully they can help sort out this mess.”

“I do not want to talk to your politicians,” Lio said, his words stiff with anger. “That will do absolutely nothing to help.”

The door behind them slid open, interrupting the tense conversation. A tall woman dressed in a Resistance uniform strode inside, raindrops clinging to her short black hair and a frown weighing down her expression. Beck almost didn’t recognize her. Sierra always had a smile on her lips, to the point where Beck sometimes questioned her sanity. But she looked impossibly grave as she approached them.

Nathan waved her closer. “Ambassador Lio, I’d like you to meet Sierra Lawson. She’s the finest pilot we have on this base, and she’ll be the one transporting you to D.C.” 

Sierra nodded to both Lio and Marin in greeting, and both aliens gave a stiff bow. Sierra froze, unsure what to do, and then dipped into an awkward bow in return.

“Pleasure to meet y’all,” she said. Her Southern accent seemed far heavier than usual, the way it got when she was upset. She turned to Nathan and said, “Sorry, Commander, but we’ve got a problem. We can’t fly out in this storm.”

Nathan scowled at this news. “You don’t think you can handle it?”

“’Course I can handle it,” she said, her frown deepening. “But the brass in D.C. won’t let me.” She tapped at the comm unit clipped to her wrist. “Sergeant Faris just sent out an alert. Says the storm ain’t natural and we need to stay out of the sky.”

Lio tilted his head. “Someone created it?”

Sierra nodded. “Yes, sir. The military satellites are picking up some really weird atmospherical disturbances way above here. Someone’s fuc—” She cut herself off and cleared her throat, nodding to Lio. “Excuse me, Ambassador. I meant to say someone’s messing with the weather.”

Beck tried not to show his shock. No one was supposed to know the ambassador was arriving. That was why he’d landed at such a small, high-security base, and why he was flying out in such a discreet aircraft. But it seemed news of his visit had somehow leaked.

“How can they possibly influence a storm?” Nathan demanded.

“Likely a vapor bomb,” Lio said, a frown tugging at his thin lips. “That technology shouldn’t be available on your planet, but given the circumstances…”

His voice trailed off. Nathan nodded grimly.

“We’re probably dealing with the same people who stole the relic,” Nathan said. “Someone who has technology that’s definitely not human-made.”

Sierra nodded. “The military said exactly that. So they’re demanding we wait until the storm ends before we leave.”

“A wise decision,” Lio said, although he sounded more frustrated than impressed. “Whoever set off the bomb did it for a reason. It’d be foolish to walk into whatever trap they’re setting.”

“You’ll have to stay here tonight,” Nathan said, nodding to Lio. “We have empty quarters you can sleep in.”

Lio’s bodyguard turned and spoke to him in a low, hushed tone, using what Beck assumed was their native language. The Rhuramenti language was delicate and slow, with soft syllables that flowed seamlessly together. Despite the tension in the room, she sounded like she was reciting somber poetry.

Lio replied in the same language, and they spoke together for half a minute, seemingly oblivious to anyone else in the room. Finally, Lio turned back to Nathan, primly clasping his hands behind his back.

“We will accept your offer of lodging,” he said. “But we will need to use your communication facility in order to contact our Council. They need to know of the situation immediately.”

Nathan nodded. “Of course. I’ll contact our technicians and get the communication station set up for you.”

“Thank you,” Lio said. “I must also request that you continue to keep our presence here discreet. I would prefer to stay in rooms away from your soldiers.”

Nathan hesitated slightly before nodding. “I assure you my men on this base are as loyal as they come. But if you insist, we’ll keep your presence on the down low.”

“Much appreciated,” Lio said with a nod.

Nathan gestured sharply at Beck, making him stand a little straighter. “Beck will lead you to your rooms, and then to the communication station, whenever it’s set up. If you have any concerns about your security, he’s your man.”

Lio’s eyes raked him up and down, his expression impassive. “Thank you, Beck,” he said. “Your guidance is appreciated.”

“I’m happy to help in any way I can,” Beck said, using the sincerest tone he had.

“Right,” Nathan said. “Now, I need to get back to my office to make some calls. We’ll get that relic back soon, I promise.” He gestured to Beck. “Beck, take them to the North Quarters. If they want seclusion and safety, it’s the best place.”

No. No, it definitely wasn’t. It was secluded, that was true—the North Quarters were used for housing new recruits during their training, and since it wasn’t a training season, the building was empty. But it was also the oldest building on the base and a broken-down piece of crap. Always twenty degrees too hot, leaking faucets, shitty beds. Beck wasn’t any sort of expert in intergalactic politics, but he was pretty damn sure putting an ambassador in the North Quarters was the quickest way to get Earth nuked.

“All right,” Beck said, forcing himself to nod.

Nathan reached out to shake the ambassador’s hand. “Nice meeting you, Lio,” he said gruffly. “I’ll see you later at the communication station.”

Lio nodded and returned the handshake, and then gave another bow, although it was short and stiff. “Peace and duty, Commander Hayes.”

Nathan gave a curt nod, clearly having no idea how to react to the farewell, and headed toward the door that Sierra had come through. Sierra gave a hurried goodbye and followed after him, leaving Beck alone in the hangar with the two aliens.

“Right this way,” he said, gesturing for Lio and Marin to follow.

He took them out the north exit of the hanger, as if he were actually heading that way. But as soon as they exited, he veered toward the left and took off toward the South Quarters.

Lio and Marin followed closely behind him, walking side by side. They spoke to each other in their quiet, flowing language, but when Beck glanced back, he could see concern crinkling the face of the ambassador.

Beck cleared his throat and quietly said, “I’m sorry Nathan was a little… abrupt. He’s a great man and a great commander. But he’s very suspicious of, um, visitors from other galaxies.”

Lio nodded. “I can see that.”

Beck hesitated. He knew he had no right to speak to the ambassador about this sort of thing, but he couldn’t just let the subject drop. Nathan had always treated Beck like a son, taking him under his wing from the moment he’d joined the Resistance. The commander was a damn good man, even if he could be a strong-headed ass, and Beck wasn’t just going to stand by and let the ambassador get the wrong impression.

Beck halted and turned to face Lio. “Look,” he said quietly, “I know Nathan is being really difficult, and I apologize for that. But just… His wife and daughter were killed by the Syndicate, and his son was maimed. It all happened right in front of him, and I think it just kind of… messed with him.”

Lio merely nodded, giving Beck an impassive stare.

Beck cleared his throat uncertainly, but he decided to push on. “Nathan distrusts all aliens. It’s not just you or your people, it’s all of them. So please don’t take his behavior personally, and please don’t think all humans feel the same way. Most of us are eager to work alongside you against the Ascendancy. We want this alliance to work. And I think Nathan will, too, once he sees that it’s best for humanity.”

A little bit of the hardness melted from Lio’s expression. “I appreciate the explanation,” he said simply.

Beck nodded and then turned around, heading back toward the south quarters. In the grand scheme of things, his words probably changed nothing. But he would sleep easier knowing he’d done his part to try to keep this fragile alliance alive.

*Grab it on Amazon and KU!

Virtue of War – Snippet 1

Here’s chapter 1 of VIRTUE OF WAR – enjoy!

Grab it on pre-order (Amazon and KU)

Virtue of War
Coming September 16, 2021, with audio!

Kaylin never planned on having to break into her own home. Then again, she also never planned on getting tossed out of her home and threatened with death if she ever tried to come back. But fate was a bitch, and here she was, scouting out the perimeter of the military base where she’d lived for two long years.

So much had changed since she’d left, but the base still looked exactly the same. A fifteen-foot wall marked the border of the compound, stretching around six square acres of wilderness smack-dab in the middle of the Florida Everglades. Inside was one of the most secure Resistance bases in the world, outfitted with a cutting-edge blend of human and alien technology that was supposed to keep any intruder at bay.

“This was a bad idea,” she muttered under her breath.

Her buyer had made it sound so simple: slip into the base, retrieve an alien medical device that was stored inside, and slip back out. With some special codes to disable the security system, it’d be a total cake-walk compared to some of the thieving jobs she’d taken on before.

So far, it’d been just as easy as her buyer had claimed. One of the gates on the outside perimeter had been left unlocked, and the motion and heat sensors were dead. When she’d tested the video signal coming from the security cameras, she’d found the footage was on loop, showing an empty landscape with nothing but sawgrass and gnarled pines.

But Kaylin still couldn’t shake the anxiety chewing at her gut. Something was off. It was just too damn easy. The Resistance could be overly cocky sometimes, but they weren’t sloppy, especially not when it came to security.

She should turn back. It’d be easy enough—she could just leave the base the way she’d come, cut off contact with the buyer, and drop the assignment. Sure, it’d probably damage her reputation on the black market for a bit, but it was the best option.

Or maybe that was just her guilt talking. No matter how much the Resistance had screwed her over, she still felt bad stealing from them. She’d spent two years working as their soldier, and it was hard to shake that kind of loyalty. Once a Resistance fighter, always a Resistance fighter.

Something brushed against her waist, making her gasp in surprise. She instinctively reached for the tranquilizer pistol holstered at her waist, but her hand froze as she spotted Red. Her pet vater lizard had crept up from behind, his scales camouflaged a mottled green and brown color to match the grassland Kaylin was crouched in.

The sight of him brought reality crashing back to her. If the Resistance had their way, Red would be dead. They wanted every single alien species killed off, even the harmless and innocent ones.

The Resistance might have saved humankind, but they were hardly a bastion of morality. And they certainly weren’t her masters. Not anymore.

“You’re supposed to be on guard,” she muttered at Red.

He snorted softly in response, swishing his tail back and forth in a signal of boredom.

She shook her head. “I don’t care if you’re bored, you need to do as you’re told.”

Red made a low grumble in the back of his throat, as if protesting her stern tone.

Kaylin sighed and rubbed her temples. When she’d first adopted Red, she’d resisted the urge to talk to him. It made her feel like one of those crazy old cat ladies who lived alone and only talked to her pets.

But at this point, Kaylin had embraced her life as a crazy lizard lady. She spoke to her clients and to Red, and she didn’t bother with anyone else. It just wasn’t safe to have friendly conversations with people. And besides, humans were totally overrated.

Red reached his nose up and nudged at the treat bag clipped to Kaylin’s tactical belt, letting out a small, pitiful whimper. At only a year old, the vater lizard was already getting huge, his body the size of a large dog and his leathery wings stretching eight feet when they were unfolded. But he still made sounds that reminded her of a helpless little puppy.

“Shush,” she muttered at him. But there was no way she could resist the pathetic whimper, and she drew a small piece of carrot out of her treat bag, tossing it to him.

Red leaped up and snapped the treat out of the air. His jaws easily crushed it to pieces, reminding her why vater lizards had gained such a notorious reputation as pit-fighting beasts. Abuse one for long enough, and it was a seven-foot-long killing machine.

But they weren’t naturally aggressive. Far from it. A well-trained vater lizard was as smart and docile as a dog, and just as useful.

“Guard,” Kaylin ordered, pointing to the thick grass behind her.

Red swallowed his treat and rubbed his cheek affectionately against her thigh, smearing saliva and some stray carrot bits on her pants. Kaylin shoved his scaly head away, but not before scratching him lightly under the chin.

“Go on,” she said.

He gave a quiet, rumbling purr before slinking off into the tall grass, disappearing with only a slight rustle to mark his passage.

Kaylin turned her attention to the steel door five yards ahead of her, knowing Red would alert her if anyone tried to approach from behind. The door should have had a guard with a rifle in front of it, but no one was there. Once again, it looked like her buyer had come through on his end of the deal. She had no idea how he’d managed to jack up the base’s security system so royally, but she suspected it was an inside job.

Kaylin checked the small screen strapped to her wrist—it was one of her favorite pieces of alien tech, a hypersensitive heat sensor. She had it programmed to alert her if anything with the temperature of a human body came within twenty feet of her.

The screen stayed blank, reassuring her that no one was nearby. The door’s guard was really gone. Kaylin darted to her feet and jogged to the door, keeping a careful watch on her surroundings.

Thunder rumbled ominously overhead, as if reminding her to hurry the hell up. Just an hour ago the weather had been perfectly clear, but now dark clouds blocked out every trace of the blue sky. Kaylin hadn’t planned for a storm, but she’d make do. After all, that was why her buyer had hired her—she was known for getting a job done, no matter what got in her way.

She reached the door and crouched in the shadows at its base, checking her surroundings one more time. The only thing around was the towering wall and the swamp grass waving wildly in the wind. She let out a low whistle, and a moment later Red crept up to her side, still perfectly camouflaged.

A bolt of lightning streaked through the air, making Kaylin’s heart kick. She took a steadying breath and reached into her pocket, drawing out the data chip her buyer had sent.

This was the real moment of truth. Her buyer had promised the chip contained a master key that could unlock any door on the base with only a simple four-digit code. If he was wrong, and she triggered some sort of alarm…

Kaylin shook her head, tossing aside the worry. So far, her buyer had come through perfectly. She had no reason not to trust him.

Before she could second-guess herself, she pressed the chip against the surface of the biometric scanner on the door’s lock. A blue light blinked at the center of the small, silver chip, telling her it was transferring information into the lock’s internal computer.

Nothing happened. The lock didn’t budge.

“Come on, come on,” Kaylin muttered under her breath. She was already starting to shift backward, ready to make an escape the moment a guard appeared.

The biometric scanner suddenly blinked green. Then a number pad appeared on the digital screen, and Kaylin hurriedly keyed in the code her buyer had given her.


A muted thunk came from within the door. Kaylin tried the handle again, and this time, it opened.

She was in.

She slipped the chip back into her pocket, drew her tranquilizing pistol from its holster, and looked down at Red.

“You ready?” she asked.

He snorted in response and shifted closer to the door, preparing to follow her as soon as she slipped through.

“All right then,” she said, cracking open the door. “Let’s do this.”

*** Find the book on Amazon, KU, and on September 16! And more of my books at

RespectAbility Summer Lab

I’m in! The 2021 RespectAbility Summer Lab with some awesome people! And there’s a Hollywood Reporter article about it HERE.

Headshots of 30 participants in RespectAbility's 2021 Summer Lab. RespectAbility logo. Text: Summer Lab 2021.

RespectAbility– the non-profit that seeks to combat stigmas for people with disabilities— has announced the participants for its third annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities.

The eight-week lab, which takes place from June 22 to August 12, will be offered in a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic (the 2020 lab was also held virtually) and consists of two tracks: Emerging and mid-career. Participants include people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health, and other disabilities.

Participants in the mid-career track are Amanda Upson, Anna Marr, Bella Cosper, Cashmere Jasmine, Courtney Wold, Diane J. Wright, Jennifer Valdes, Julia Skikavic, Juliet Romeo, Justin Sloan, Sam Zapiain, Sarah Granger and Tameka Citchen-Spruce.

(Read more)

Ascension Gate Book 5

I’m excited to announce that book 5 in the ASCENSION GATE series is coming soon (late May 2021). To get you ready for STAR EMPIRES, read on for a sample! #MilitaryScienceFiction #SpaceOpera

Ascension Gate Book 5: Star Empires

Colonel Amy Pfeiffer knelt at the side of the glowing stone, one of several her team had recently discovered in the tunnels of Krastian. Orange soil and stone surrounded her in the dim tunnels, and she was on alert in case the vibrations started, which would signal an approaching sand snake. Mostly those were taken care of these days, but not when out on expeditions beyond their colony’s borders.

She ran her tongue along her top teeth, wondering if the stories she’d heard were true. Could they have really found a new sort of stone that held more power than the others, one that could be harnessed in ways yet to become comprehensible.

“Think it’ll do the trick?” Master Sergeant Espinoza asked.

She turned to look at  him, and nodded. The idea of having his kind in her command was only starting to feel normal, but she had a feeling it would always be a bit out there. Vampires, they were called, in spite of their origination being a factor of genetic engineering to create super soldiers. It had gone wrong, leading to the uprising on Earth and so many other conflicts, at least, until the vampires had learned to control themselves and both sides had learned to work together. While Pfeiffer had been in the military, she had been junior at the time and only involved in the Earth conflicts. Her trip through the gateway to the stars and her command here on Krastian had come much later.

“Take it in for testing,” she said, giving Espinoza a nod. She stood, taking in this massive cavern, and couldn’t help but wonder if the carvings had been a result of the Goldies or the Apophians. Considering the Goldies and those they served had once been slaves to essentially mine this planet for the Apophians, he had to imagine this had been at least done by the latter group, or by the slaves for them.

What her intel work led her to believe, though, was that regardless of the origin, this was a factor of the traveling system they’d once had in place. The Apophians had used portals fueled by the energy in these rocks to travel, at least until the Goldies had first fought them off. When later the one known as Apophis had woken, thanks to the poking around of those on Earth—related to the genetic engineering efforts—Earther warriors had helped close it all back up again. Unfortunately, Pfeiffer hadn’t arrived until after that war had ended. Years later, they were still working to make this place habitable. Those former slaves had stayed clear at first, but within a year of the Apophians being defeated and pushed back through the gates before closing them, the fighting was back on.

Goldies were, once again, on the offensive. For several years now the fighting had dragged on, especially as Earth Command had issued orders for expansion. In general, they stayed clear of the Outer Wars, but recent rumor had it they’d made efforts to colonize three other planets, and were having issues with them.

Pfeiffer stepped in, eyes roaming across the team, and then to what was clearly metal walls, partly covered by collapsed stone and soil. It looked like someone had tried to hide it, to bury it. Then again, on a planet like this, the sand snakes or any number of battles could have caused the cave in.

“What is this place?” Pfeiffer asked.

“My guess,” Espinoza said, “it’s an old command center.”

“Buried,” another voice said, and they turned to see Shrina in silhouette at the entrance. Shrina wasn’t a Marine or soldier, and she wasn’t a vampire, exactly. She was something else—with powers more directly related to Apophis, her transformation had been one of death and rebirth. At least, that’s what the stories said. And when she’d woken, it was with new powers, fangs and whatnot like the vamps, but also with wings. Leathery wings with curved hooks on the end. Gray, almost purple skin. And scales, not all over, but in some places. Claws instead of fingernails. It was indeed a transformation, to the extent that when Pfeiffer had first laid eyes on the woman, she’d wondered if she was wrong about religion and had found herself staring at a demon. In fact, since then she’d learned that Shrina was about as far from a demon as one could be, having proved her friendship and loyalty over and over.

Pfeiffer raised an eyebrow as their new arrival knelt to fit in, then joined them. “I’d love to have seen this place in action back in the day.”

“And I’d love to know who buried it,” Shrina said, confirming what Pfeiffer had been thinking about the place.

“This was beyond the capabilities of the Goldies,” Espinoza said. “My guess, Apophians before they were kicked out by them.”

Pfeiffer strolled over to their visitor, voice low so the others couldn’t listen in.

 “Shrina, may I ask what you’re doing here?” Not that Pfeiffer didn’t appreciate the help, but Shrina had proven herself an invaluable part of the fighting forces, off scouting new locations for expansion more often than not, lately.

Having taken a moment to inspect the stone, Shrina finally answered, “My sister… sensed something.” She was referring to Alicia. At the frown Pfeiffer gave her, Shrina continued, “She’s been… changing, lately. Finding that the stones she’s been experimenting with help her to understand this planet better than anyone. If she says there’s something down here, I listen. Looks like she was right.”

The how didn’t need to make sense, because so much of this place didn’t. So Pfeiffer nodded, further assessing the area. Along one wall was a series of small, colored stones with lines connecting them. Maybe artwork, or possibly some sort of war table, but on the wall? She frowned, trying to make sense of it and the runes carved along the top and bottom.

“You know what we’re looking at, right?” Shrina asked.

Pfeiffer shook her head. “No, what’s that?”

“Travel plans.”

Pfeiffer frowned, assessing the carving and the bits of precious stones along the various lines. Only a few were lit, but as she analyzed them, she noticed patterns.

“You seeing this?” she asked, turning to Espinoza. He already had out a small screen, which took on a larger form, projected, when he ran his hand across it.

“Good eye,” he said, and expanded the screen further to overlay against part of the carvings. Not only did the stones line up with some of the planets on the map, most notably some newer discoveries, but one of the lit-up stones lined up with the new colonies. Which planets, exactly, she wasn’t sure.

“They’re somehow making contact with the new colonies,” Shrina said, shaking her head with worry.

Pfeiffer nodded, then noticed something else. Another stone was starting to glow, just barely, but there was definitely a light there that she was fairly certain hadn’t been moments before. It was Earth.

“We have to warn Earth command,” Pfeiffer said.

They all stared at that stone, watching its glow intensify, knowing that this was undoubtedly a symbol of dark times ahead. When Pfeiffer finally looked up, it was to see Shrina already exiting, wings folded back to fit through the narrow opening.

“Where’ you going?” Pfeiffer asked.

“While you brief Earth command, I’m going to ensure our army is ready,” Shrina replied. “Seems we have a fight to prepare for.”

She was gone from sight then, leaving Pfeiffer and Espinoza to share a worried look.

“Go with her,” Pfeiffer said, stepping back to get a recording of this room. “The troops will need your experience.”

“Roger that,” he replied, and then jogged off to catch up with Shrina.

Pfeiffer was the only one of them who hadn’t been here for the last fight with the Apophians. She’d seen her fair share of action elsewhere, but had a feeling that wasn’t good enough preparation for this. If the glowing stones in any way signified the return of the Apophians, they were going to need all the fighters they could muster.