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A crazy couple of months

Hmmm, late 2012 to mid 2013 were not terribly productive for me.  Some health issues.  Pretty distracting.  I really need to get writing again…

But, a few things of note!

The anthology that I am co-editing is coming along beautifully.  Stories are selected.  Cover art is set.  Just editing and assembling the final TOC sequence. 

I had some lovely news that two of my stories were on Ellen Datlow’s long list of honorable mentions for Best Horror of the Year.  See http://ellen-datlow.livejournal.com/408100.html.

Empson, Mae “The Eel Question,” Three-Lobed Burning Eye 22.
Empson, Mae “The Tea-Serving Doll,” Attic Toys.

Yay!

 

Cucurbital 3 is now available in print in paperback and hardback, and can be ordered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Cucurbital 3 is the seventh work published by Paper Golem, and continues the series of mini-anthologies that provide a peek into the writing process itself. Authors are always asked two questions: “where did you get the idea for your story?” and “how do you go from idea to finished tale?” This series offers insight into the second question by handling the book’s authors the answer to the first one. Here are nine short stories that began with the same three prompts: madness, darkness, mattress. They cover the spectra from comic to mythic, absurd to poignant, pragmatic to breathtaking.
Nine Authors • Three Prompts • One Anthology
Edited by Campbell and Hugo Award nominee Lawrence M. Schoen, Cucurbital 3 is distributed by Ingram.
Amazon Kindle: http://j.mp/C3kinAmzn
Barnes & Noble TPB: http://j.mp/C3BNtpb
Barnes & Noble HC: http://j.mp/C3BNhc
My story is the “Cordwainer’s Daintiest Lasts”.
And, then on October 15, the latest issue of Three-lobed Burning Eye published on-line at http://www.3lobedmag.com/issue22/3lbe22_story2.html.
This issue features stories from: E. Catherine Tobler, M. Bennardo, R.S. Bohn, Ferrett Steinmetz, and Michelle Muenzler.
My story is called “The Eel Question.”

I don’t think there’s anything more magical as an author than to realize that people – strangers, voices on the net – are actually reading a story that I’ve written and talking about it.

I found out that the lovely ladies of Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, including Felicia Day, decided to read Cthulhurotica together.   Felicia Day!  Icon of girl geekery.

So, I worked up my nerve to actually look at the forum discussion and see what they thought!  I found lots of comments about my story which re-imagined some Greek myths and history into a Lovecraftian love story, called “Between a Rock and an Elder Goddess.”

Sept 1:  Julie:  “Out of the stories that I read, I liked the one with Circe the best. That one was actually interesting and dare I say – fun.”

Sept 3:  Brianna lists the stories that she liked best as “Descent of The Wayward Sister, The Assistant from Innsmouth, Dreamland on Mars, Transfigured Night, The C-Word, and Between a Rock and an Elder Goddess”

Sept 3:  Michelle:  “Between a Rock and an Elder Goddess was so good!”

Sept 5:  Megan:  “I’m really enjoying the anthology so far, more than I thought I would. So far, the stories that have really stuck with me are: Infernal Attractors, Between a Rock and an Elder Goddess, The Fishwives of Sean Brolly, Flash Frame, Transfigured Night, and Amid Disquieting Dreams.”

Sept 12:  Candy:  “Between a Rock and an Elder Goddess was probably my favorite as well. It felt the most complete out of all of them.”

Sept 23:  Melissa lists her favorites including “Between a Rock and an Elder Goddess- Loved the layered storytelling and Circe’s box of “costumes””

Sept 25:  Ramona:  “The Elder Goddess story was strangely sweet, in my opinion, though forming that opinion weirded me out for a moment.”

On the Sept 25th Vaginal Fantasy Hangout #9 Broadcast: ~23:00 minutes in

Kiala Kazabee:  “I liked … I really liked the one.. the one with all the Greek mythos in it.”

Felicia Day:  “Oh yeah.”

Kiala Kazabee:  “With [Anaximander] and Scylla.  And she had all the hairy mouths. 

Felicia Day:  That was Between a Rock and the Elder Goddess, right?  The one with Scylla.  I agree.   I liked that one a lot.”

Kiala:  “Yeah, I really liked that one.”

[Squeeeeeee!!!!!!]

So, I went fishing out on the net (see what I did there, tentacle-fans?) and found a few more references.

The review of Cthulhurotica on Innsmouth Free Press references “an ancient figure of Greek myth engaging in a subtle seduction of a scholar chasing her legend in Mae Empson’s “Between a Rock and an Elder Goddess” and the authors notes that its “my personal favourite of the collection – hey, I’m a sucker for Greek Myth”

And I found a conversation on DeviantArt about a really cool picture of a siren.  And in the comments, one of the folks says:  “Have you read ‘Cthulhurotica?’ It’s a short story collection that (tastefully) combines eroticism with the creatures and themes of the H.P. Lovecraft Mythos. Most of it’s pretty good, but I think you’d be especially interested in the story ‘Between a Rock and an Elder Goddess’ by Mae Empson.”

So cool.

Happy day!

In Situ Released!

“From independent publisher Dagan Books, IN SITU is a new anthology of science fiction stories featuring alien archeology, hidden mysteries, and things that are better off left buried.

A quiet man finds more than he bargained for when he sets out with his metal detector on a lonely hill … A soldier meets a new kind of enemy fighting an altogether different kind of war … On a distant swamp planet, a woman questions what kind of human she’s becoming … a pregnant archeologist finds a connection with a long-dead alien child … while deep space scavengers wonder what it ever meant to be human at all.

These fifteen evocative science fiction stories will take you from dusty archaeologists digging up our alien past into a distant future where we’ve become the relics. Thought-provoking and entertaining, IN SITU explores science, theology, preservation, and the art of alien finance, in a whole new way.

Edited by Carrie Cuinn. Contains stories by Ken Liu, KV Taylor, Paul A. Dixon, Bear Weiter, Mae Empson, Jason Andrew, Greg Burch, Sarah Hendrix, R.S. Hunter, Rebecca Lloyd, Alex Shvartsman, Kelly C. Stiles, Graham Storrs, David J. West, and Dawn Vogel.”

Web site:  http://daganbooks.com/2012/07/10/in-situ-is-now-available/

On Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Situ-Ken-Liu/dp/0983137323/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341782551&sr=1-5&keywords=in+situ

 

I’m particularly excited about this anthology.  Great stories throughout.

I’m absolutely delighted to be sharing a table of contents with Ken Liu – @kyliu99; Alex Shvartsman – @ashvartsman; Jason Andrew – @jasonbandrew; Paul Dixon – @10khkungfu; Dawn Vogel – @historyneverwas; David J. West – @David_JWest; and others.

This is the 2nd story that I’ve written referencing the Moche culture of Pre-Columbian Peru.  The first appears in Historical Lovecraft.

My story, “Vessels of Clay, Flesh, and Stars”, takes its inspiration from many things.  I’ll simply note for readers that most of my roommates in college were Latin American studies majors, and that I am identical twin.

Happy reading!

In October last year, I had the opportunity to interview Bryan Thomas Schmidt about his novel The Worker Prince, and we talked about the use of point of view (POV) in the novel, featuring an excerpt with sections from Davi’s POV and from Tela’s POV.

The sequel, The Returning, releases this month.

In this post, Bryan and I chat about the second book, and, in particular, the character of Tela.  There’s also an excerpt at the bottom of the post, showing a scene featuring Tela.

Mae:  Last time we talked, the conversation about POV turned to the challenge of writing for the opposite gender, and you talked about how you tried to approach each character as an individual, rather than a gender, but found that women can be “quicker to acknowledge the impact of emotions in their decision making” which provides some interesting opportunities in describing the character (in this case, Tela) and their motivations.  What kind of feedback have you gotten about Tela as a character, and how readers relate to her POV, in the first and second novel?

Bryan:  It’s ironic. One of the criticisms I got on The Worker Prince, my debut novel, was that I didn’t give some of the characters enough emotional depth. People wanted more. Now, on The Returning, book 2, I am hearing that Tela seems wishy washy. She’s got scenes of strong anger and frustration dealing with her career and her fiancé, Davi, and yet, she also has these little girl moments with her dad.

Mae:  And part of that conflict comes from the resolution of The Worker Prince, right?  [Spoiler alert:  If you haven’t read the first book yet, be warned that we are going to discuss an element of the plot in this next answer.  You could skip down to the next question if you want to avoid the reference.]

Bryan:  One of the results of the events in The Worker Prince was the release of long disappeared prisoners, including Tela’s father, Telanus. Tela, like many girls, had a very close relationship with her father. But then, in her early teens, he just disappeared one day. He came into conflict with the Boralian Alliance government, and he was gone. She didn’t know if he was alive or dead. She and her mother heard rumors, but nothing concrete. And then her mother died, partially of grief, and Tela was alone. So Tela has had some major paradigm shifts all at once. One, she’s gotten her freedom for the first time and helped secure it by fighting for it. She’s never been free or a full citizen. It’s an adjustment emotionally and in other ways. Two, she’s got a boyfriend. She never really cared about that. Never wanted one. It just happened. But that’s significant. Third, her father is back and alive and in her life.

Mae:  So, the challenge is to show how Tela reacts to all these changes — to show the range of emotions that she experiences — in a way that feels realistic, and doesn’t undermine the reader’s sense that she is a strong protagonist.

Bryan:  Paradigm shifts are confusing to live through. I don’t know about you but I’ve had a lot of paradigm shifts since 2009. And during the time I was writing The Returning, I was the middle of some of them. When your marriage is falling apart due to your wife’s mental illness, you’ve been unemployed over a year and lose your second and part time job, find yourself alienated from friends and others by your wife’s behavior and the stressfulness of your life, then have to deal with bills, hospitals, police and other uncaring, cold authorities, you go through a lot of emotions. Paradigm shifts have that effect. With some people, you are angry and frustrated a lot. With others, you’re sad, depressed, emotionally unstable, weak. With others, you project strength somehow. It may be a front, but it happens. People may consider you confusing. That’s life.

Mae:  Write what you know, right?

Bryan:  As I went through paradigm shifts, I put my characters through them. And so the representation of their emotions became as complex on the page, in many ways, as my own emotions. I make no excuses or apologies. That’s life. Tela is still an officer, a soldier, a talented pilot, a woman, a daughter, a fiancée, a friend, and everything she was in The Worker Prince, but Tela’s life is messy and, thus, so are her emotions. I put her through a lot, but, don’t tell the others, Tela’s one of my favorite characters. She’s the kind of woman I’d like to have in my life.

Mae:  She sounds like the kind of woman a reader would want in a novel, too!  I’ll be rooting for her to come through all of this turmoil.

Bryan:  Her story continues in book 3. The Returning ends on a cliffhanger. Much of this will come to a head and conclude in The Exodus next year.

Mae:  I’m looking forward to it!

Readers, I encourage you to get a copy of The Worker Prince and The Returning now, and to be on the look-out for The Exodus next year.

Here’s an excerpt from The Returning featuring Tela interacting with her father:

Tela and Telanus crossed the street to the park opposite Miri’s building, holding hands. With every word her father said to her, Tela fought the urge to giggle like a little girl. She was just so happy to have him back in her life after all those long years of not knowing if he was alive or dead while he was in prison. Now he was there with her to talk to, give her advice, hug her and cheer her on. He was so proud of her that it was almost embarrassing. But she, in turn, was just as proud of him. She couldn’t believe she’d almost forgotten how great a man he was. She’d idealized him in his absence, of course, but now that he was here, she found the real thing surpassed her expectations. When he’d asked for a quick walk under the stars before racing back to Vertullis for his night shift with Sol, she’d been thrilled to oblige.

“What’s bothering you?” he said as she shivered involuntarily.

She shrugged as their eyes met. “Nothing.”

“Not the night air, girl. With you and Davi. You’ve been down all night.” She looked away. “Don’t lie to me. You’ve tried that on me since you could talk and I always see right through it.” He looped his arm in hers as they strolled together along the sidewalk dividing the park from the street. The strength of his muscular arms brushing against hers made her feel so safe. She had her daddy back. She was a little girl all over again.

Tela giggled. “It’s nothing. Just stuff.”

“Stuff what? With you and Davi?”

How did he know that? Sometimes it scared her—like he could read her mind. She wasn’t sure she wanted a father who could do that. “Yeah.”

“He really loves you. It makes me so happy to see.”

She sighed. “I know, Daddy. I love him, too.”

Telanus laughed. “Then what’s the problem, dear?”

“He treats me like some kind of glass doll or something. Like he has to protect me all the time.”

“It’s male instinct for us to protect our women. He doesn’t mean any harm.”

She stopped walking and frowned. They were standing near the preschool Tela could see from Miri’s window. Miri had commented how much she loved watching the kids play in the playground. “I’m a soldier, too. Not some housewife.” Pulling her arm from her father’s, she gestured. “I’m strong, talented, well trained. I can outfly him.”

Telanus grinned. “How many times have you proved that?”

Tela smiled. “A couple.”

“Well, take me up sometime, okay?” He whispered like they were co-conspirators. “I’d really like to see that.”

“I’m sure he’d love that.” They both laughed and Telanus looped her arm in hers again as they resumed walking. Even his scent took her back. He smelled like Daddy, the way she remembered him. She’d thought she’d forgotten that smell.

“Look. He cares for you. So, of course, he wants to protect you. I want to protect you. Don’t you want to protect him?”

She nodded. “Yes. And you, too.” Their eyes met and she giggled again. Why was she acting like such a boob?

“I’ve missed this, you know? I wish we could do it every night.”

“Me, too, Daddy!”

Telanus stopped again, pulling her around to face him and putting his hands firmly on her hips. “But you’re all grown up, Tela. From now on, our moments are limited. You’re an adult and you have to make your own life. And Davi’s a big part of that.”

Tela’s eyes misted. “There’s time. You can see me whenever you want. I’ll come to Vertullis more often.”

His fingers pressed to her lips to silence her. “Shh. You’re not listening. I couldn’t be more happy for you two. He’s a wonderful son and he’ll make a terrific son-in-law someday. Now I know you’ll be well taken care of no matter what happens. That’s all any father could ever want for his little girl, Tela.”

Tela hugged him, feeling the tears drip down her cheeks and onto his shirt at the shoulders. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Little Girl. And so does he. A whole lot. Don’t let him get away.”

His use of her childhood nickname gave her butterflies. For years, she’d never expected anyone to call her that again. Tela blinked then reached up with the back of her hand to clear away the tears. “It’s just hard sometimes.”

Telanus chortled. “Relationships are the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it’s so worth it when you find the right one. And I know you, if I don’t help him out a little, you’ll keep pushing him away. You’ve always been so independent!” He pulled back and stared into her eyes. She giggled again. “Am I right?” Tela just smiled and nodded as their eyes met. He shook her gently as if knocking sense into her. “Okay then. Don’t mess this up.”

Tela stiffened and raised her hand to her forehead in a military salute. “Yes, sir!” They both laughed as he looped his arm in hers again and led her back the way they’d come.

 

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

On speculative poetry

This week, I was invited to provide a guest blog for the Inkpunks on speculative poetry 101.

Check it out here:  http://www.inkpunks.com/2012/04/25/720/#content

On Goodreads

So, I think I am the last writer on the planet to actually figure out how to use Goodreads.  What a cool site!  If any other writers aren’t using this yet, I hope this post is a helpful nudge.

I still need to start rating books, and listing the ones I am reading, and will, but it’s so immersive that I have to budget my time, or I wouldn’t get any writing done this week at all.  So far, I’ve been able to set up my profile, use Twitter to quickly find writer friends whose ratings and reviews would most interest me, and look at the reviews of my own stories. 

My favorite part so far is the ability to connect so directly with readers.  I noticed a review for the anthology Historical Lovecraft in which the reader mentioned my story as his favorite and indicated that he was trying to figure out who I was. 

The best of the batch would be the story about the young priestess who has to sacrifice her lover because she has failed the gods. (I have been trying to find who wrote it, and failed as it doesn’t seem to be posted anywhere) It has the benefit of being memorable, of being of an unusual real culture, and of being a good all around story.

How cool is that?  And, there was a little comment box where I could reply and answer his question — It’s me!  I’m on Goodreads now! 

And he wrote back and said:  Your story was an amazing story and the only one in the anthology that had me looking up the historical facts of the people they wrote about. Very well written and very enjoyable!!

Happy happy day to hear such words from a reader!  🙂   Squeeeeeeeeeeeee

I also found a neat review of Attic Toys that referenced one of my stories:

Attic Toys, edited by Jeremy C. Shipp, is a collection of short stories, all based around the idea of killer toys or killer children or killer attic spaces, mostly from the horror variety, with some noticeable exceptions being the stories from Piers Anthony and Mae Empson, which are more like grown-up fairytales…As I mentioned, noticeable exceptions to the horror theme were “Living Doll” by Piers Anthony and “The Tea-Serving Doll” by Mae Empson. These were interesting changes of pace that were curious additions to this collection. While they stuck with the “toys and attics” theme quite well, the tone of these stories was different enough to change the pace and almost give the reader a short breather from the other more twisted stories. In addition, the quality of the writing is so high that I can understand why exceptions were made.

This review gave me my own fan moment.  A reader liked my story!  And me and Piers Anthony in the same sentence!  One of my absolute favorite authors growing up.

If there had been a Goodreads when I was in my teens, he would have had so many 5-star reviews from me!  And that makes me realize that there is nothing stopping me from taking the time this month when I have a chance to use the site to rate the books that have meant something to me throughout my life. 

All in all, Goodreads is reminding me how much fun it is to be a reader and fan.

And that’s a great motivation to keep on writing and reading.

I’m excited for Rainforest Writers Village, and thought I’d share my prep process.  This is similar to the process I followed last year as well.

It’s rare to have that much time to write, so I want to be ready.  My primary goal is to be able to stay off the internet as much as possible — i.e., what would I want to have to hand as a reference so I can just write, and not get distracted?  Plus, there’s no guarantee of an internet connection.

First, I pulled together a list of upcoming theme calls (magazines, anthologies), and made a table of due date, payment, length limits, and whether it’s for fiction or poetry.  At this point, I’ll include any topic that pays at least semi-pro. 

Then, I create a massive Word document with a section break and related header for each call.  Then, no matter how much stuff I drop into that section, I’ll still be able to quickly scan through and find the section that I want. 

And then I copy in research notes.  At this point, I haven’t planned what I’m going to write.  I’m just trying to pull stuff that might spark an idea.  So if the topic is “dreams”, I pull some notes about the scientific process in case that becomes relevant, superstitions about dreaming, folktales involving dreams, etc.  For a poetry call, I’ll also copy some reference notes about formal poems so I don’t mix up the refrain pattern of a villanelle, etc.

Then, I add a list of my stories that are currently out, and my stories that are “loose”, in case I want to cannibalize or re-frame one.  (I have the files in my laptop already.)

For this weekend, the doc is about 250 pages long.  I wish I’d had time and focus to pull even more research content. 

Recognizing that I don’t, I use the doc to also pull books from my shelves that might be useful additions.  This primarily includes non-fiction references, but can include other things.  Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  A book of Poe stories since there is a “Poe” call coming up.  As a lifelong gamer, I can also raid the shelves for relevant gaming supplements, which can be treasure troves of timelines, glossaries, and other peculiar and inspiring facts about time periods and settings that might come up.

My goal isn’t to have everything I’d need to get every detail “right”.  I’ll have time to edit stories after the retreat.  I just want to have enough resources to hand that I won’t get bogged down…

Anyway, I think that’s my main process for writing-related prep!

Winter 2011 will remain in my memory as a kind of lost time. 

I have never been so sick.  I was in the hospital, and in and out of urgent care.  To recover, I’ve had to change everything about how I eat.  Happily, the foods that remain:  chicken, turkey, and fish; cooked spinach, carrots, mushrooms, and butternut squash; pasta, crackers, and white bread; eggs, skim milk, lowfat cheese; applesauce, cooked apples, and pears — it’s enough to eat well and happily. 

I wish I’d written so much more in that time, but I couldn’t stay awake, let alone write.  It was a good day to be awake after 3 pm in the afternoon.

But, things are improving!  And a new spring is dawning (though we are still getting snow in Seattle).  I am eager to see what is possible in this body that is working better, and with a mind that is rested.

I’m particularly looking forward to the Rainforest Writers Retreat coming up next week. 

Finally — time to roll up my sleeves and do some uninterrupted writing, with a brain that can manage it.  I’m so happy, and eager!

Today, I have an opportunity to interview Bryan Thomas Schmidt about his new novel, The Worker Prince, which published on October 4.  An excerpt from the novel appears below the interview. 

In the excerpt, from Chapter 7, as Davi Rhii gets to know the workers on Vertullis, he also meets an intriguing fellow pilot, a woman named Tela, who takes an instant dislike to him. The problem is, Davi can’t keep his eyes off of her or her off his mind.

Mae:  In the excerpt, you have a section from Davi’s point of view, and then a section from Tela’s point of view.  How many point of view characters do you have in the novel? Why? What influences you as a writer in deciding when to add additional points of view? 

Bryan:  Twelve or thirteen. But there are four major ones and then some supporting characters who serve as POV characters for specific scenes.  I choose the POV character for a scene based on who has the most at stake in a scene and whose arc thus can be most advanced by said events. Sometimes, you can choose a character and advance multiple arcs just through the internal dialogue combined with the action/dialogue in ways you might have needed multiple scenes for if you’d chosen differently.

Mae:  Have you found it helpful in writing about romantic relationships specifically to include both perspectives? 

Bryan:  I learned about writing romantic lines in large part from both television-movies and Nicholas Sparks novels. I love the emotion Sparks packs into his vivid prose. And in both cases, these mediums use multiple POV characters to build tension and character and emotion in romantic plot lines. In this case, it served very well to advance both the Davi and Tela characters. In Davi’s case, we see his overconfidence being a liability for the first time. In Tela’s case, we see her feminine nature at war with her self-reliance. Those are just a couple examples of the layers involved but they show how advancing character arcs is aided by multiple POVs perhaps.

Mae:  Have any other authors influenced your use of point of view in your fiction? Who does this well, in your opinion?

Bryan:  Well I mentioned Sparks. I certainly admire how Ken Scholes handles it. I borrowed as well from Orson Scott Card, Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, and Mike Resnick, amongst others. All of them do it quite well. John A. Pitts stunned me recently with a skilled combination of 1st person and 3rd person POVs in the same book. Masterfully done. Some authors are most comfortable writing their own gender. 

Mae:   How do you find the process of writing a male character and a female character? Any insights into your process that you’d like to share?

Bryan:  Men and women are individuals, not genders. If you write them as stereotypes, they will be stereotypes and stereotypically boring. It’s important when writing characters to look at all aspects of individualism. How would Tela handle this situation vs. Davi, for example? And then find ways to reveal their uniqueness through actions and dialogue in the course of writing them. I do tend to deal with things on a more emotional level with female characters over male. Males express emotions more subtly through actions and such rather than women whose emotions tend to be more vocal and apparent, if even direct. And women are quicker to acknowledge the impact of emotions in their decision making whereas men tend to just act the response rather than reason or think it. “I don’t know why I did that but I just had to” v. “You hurt me and I had to make you understand by hurting you,” for example.

 

Excerpt:

FROM CHAPTER 7 – The Worker Prince

As Davi Rhii gets to know the workers on Vertullis, he also meets an intriguing fellow pilot, a woman named Tela, who takes an instant dislike to him. The problem is, Davi can’t keep his eyes off of her or her off his mind. Here’s some of what ensues…

 

A week after their argument in the corridor, Davi found Tela sitting at the controls of her shuttle, reading through maintenance charts. He took care to make noise as he entered the cockpit so as not to sneak up on her. She turned her head and frowned when she saw him.

“We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot,” Davi said, sitting in the copilot’s seat. “I’ve been trying to figure out how it happened.”

“Maybe your charms won’t work on me,” Tela said. “I’m pretty good at seeing through people. Especially men.”

“Well, that’s just it. You seem to have taken some of the things I’ve said the wrong way,” Davi said, hoping she’d take another look.

“Like what?” Her eyes remained on the charts.

“I didn’t bring up your name in class to isolate you from the other trainees,” Davi said. “I was trying to pay you a compliment. I’m impressed with the way you flew the shuttle.”

“Well, thank you,” she said, still avoiding eye contact, focused on her charts. “But the last thing I need is people thinking you’re showing me special treatment. I’m there to learn the same as them.”

“And I’m there to teach you,” Davi said, “but someone with your flight experience is an asset for the entire class. You can help me to help them learn what they need to know.”

“I didn’t sign on to be a tutor,” Tela said.

“I won’t ask you to be, if you don’t want to,” Davi said. “All I’m asking is if they don’t understand something I’m trying to explain, maybe you can jump in and help me clarify it.”

“See?” She said, looking up for a moment. “You’re asking me to teach. No thanks.” Her eyes turned back to the charts as Davi wondered why he always seemed to choose the wrong words when he talked to her. A familiar buzz filled his stomach as heat rose within.

“Whatever you feel comfortable with,” Davi said. “The last thing I need is someone getting killed because they didn’t understand.”

“I wouldn’t let that happen,” Tela said.

“Good. I can use all the help I can get,” Davi said. “I’ve never been an instructor before. And I’ve never been a worker before either. It’s all new to me. I pretty much have to relearn who I am.” I wish someone would teach me how to talk to you!

“You’re doing fine. You explain things well,” Tela said, her blue eyes meeting his for a moment.

“Was that a compliment?” Davi melted inside like icicles in a desert. He smiled. “I might have to write that down. It might be ages before I ever get another compliment from you.”

She laughed, rolling her eyes. “Don’t get too cocky, okay? There’s always room for improvement.”

“Okay, so don’t get mad at me when I suggest areas you can improve,” Davi said. “It’s my job as your teacher.”

“You can’t improve on perfection,” she said, smiling. Was she joking?

“Now who’s cocky?” He teased as she laughed. “Some of the cadets seem to resent me because of my past. They don’t seem to realize, I’m on your side.”

“Can you really blame them?  You’re the Prince.”

Davi sighed, disappointed. “No, I suppose not.”

She slid back in the chair and her face softened a bit. “Give them time. They’ll come around.”

“I don’t suppose you could put in a good word for me?”

Tela’s face crinkled. “First I have to convince myself.”

“But you saw me at the rallies! Do you really believe—”He stopped as Tela broke into laughter. “You’re giving me trouble?”

She smiled and nodded. “I couldn’t resist.”

“Well, I’d better let you get back to your work here. I wouldn’t want anyone to know we actually had a civil conversation.”

She smiled at him and his heart fluttered. “You like making jokes, don’t you?”

“When it makes you smile like that,” Davi said. Her eyes turned quickly back to her charts. “Okay, well, thanks for letting me explain.”

She nodded. “See you in class, professor.” It sounded so formal. He contorted his face, and she laughed again, twirling strands of her hair around her index finger. “I’m trying to work here.”

He nodded, stood, and backed out of the cockpit. The conversation went better than he’d expected. She’d laughed and joked with him. It was a start. And she’d twirled her hair—was she flirting with him? Best not to make too much of it. For some reason, all the way back to the command center, he found himself whistling a happy song.

 

* * * *

 

Tired of watching Brie throwing herself at Davi, Tela had stormed out of the training room. It was disgusting, shameless—totally inappropriate in the classroom. She’d grown more and more irritated, until deciding she needed a breath of fresh air.

As she wound her way through the corridors, she started feeling silly. Why did it bother her so much? You don’t like him, remember? She’d known women who acted like Brie before. It wasn’t like she had any claim to Davi. They were barely friends.

Sure, things between them had settled down since they’d talked in the shuttle. He’d asked Tela’s opinion from time to time, and she’d done as he requested, helping him explain things when the trainees didn’t understand. So what was the big deal? Brie had every right to flirt with him. She’d acted like a fool. Why did she have such a tendency to do that when Davi was around?

She spent a few moments calming down, then turned back toward the classroom. Rounding a corner near the classroom, she spotted Davi exiting and heading up the corridor away from her.  He looked very discouraged. She hoped not because of her.

She followed him across the hangar and into a smaller cave on the far side, where the Skitters sat parked in several rows.

Long slender bodies topped with leather seats and two handlebars attached to a control panel, Skitters had been designed for recreational use, but were so fast and easy to handle, they’d been adapted for other uses. Borali Alliance ground patrols used them on a regular basis.

She stood in the shadows as he began looking them over. Two mech-bots entered through another tunnel and began working on some of the Skitters behind him. As she stepped out of the shadows into the cave, Davi looked up at her.

“Hey,” she said, with a slight wave and a smile.

“Hey,” he said, going back to examining the Skitters.

“How’d the rest of the session go?”

He shrugged. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Not even eye contact. So maybe he was upset with her. “Sorry I left. I needed some air.”

“I was disappointed you didn’t stay for your turn,” Davi said as he examined another Skitter. “Seeing someone actually succeed on the simulators would have been encouraging. I sure could’ve used it.” His voice sounded tired.

“Was it really so bad?”

“You tell me. You saw how some of the students did,” Davi slid into the seat of a Skitter, fiddling with the controls.

“Some of them are a long way from being flight-worthy,” Tela said, watching the mech-bots working behind him.

“Some make me wonder if they ever will be.”

It saddened her to see him so discouraged. He had always been so positive and supportive of the students. She wanted to do something to cheer him up. She took a seat on another Skitter and turned it on, hearing the steady hum of the engine and feeling it rise up off the floor to float on the air as she adjusted the controls.

“Come with me.”

“For a joy ride?”

Tela smiled. “Sure. There’s something I want to show you.” She waved toward the Skitter he’d been examining.

He shrugged, climbing onto the Skitter. The engine hummed as it rose into the air. “Okay. Lead the way.”

She slid the Skitter into gear and drove it out of the cave into a small tunnel. Davi accelerated his own Skitter and followed along behind her.

They emerged into the dense forest along a path. Sunlight streamed through the tall cedars, creating a patchwork of dark and light areas on the ground. The chirping of birds and insects blended with the hum of the Skitters as a light breeze tousled their hair. The sweet smell of cedar filled her nose.

Tela sped up, forcing Davi to speed up behind her. She admired the fluidness with which he maneuvered the Skitter. She’d never seen him fly, of course, but it seemed to her he must be as skilled as the commanders said. She wondered if he’d had much time to explore the forest around the base yet. She hadn’t seen him in the Skitter bay, but then she hadn’t been there much until the past few days herself.

She led him through several twists and turns then around a bend into a clearing where she pulled to a stop and waited for him to come alongside.

Amid cedars at the edge of the course on both sides there were several wood pylons with various markings. As his Skitter pulled alongside hers and stopped, she smiled. “Well, here it is.”

“What is it?” Davi said, trying to make sense of the pylons and markers.

“Our Skitter training course,” Tela said. “Aron asked me to set one up.” Why was she so anxious waiting for his response?

Davi looked around and smiled. “You did all this yourself?”

“Well, I may have borrowed some from a schematic of one of the Alliance’s training courses. With a few minor adjustments to compensate for ours being on land and not in outer space.”

Davi nodded, looking pleased. “This is impressive. You amaze me!”     

He’s impressed! She almost blushed. Why did she care so much what he thought? She’d never had time for men, not since her father’s disappearance. She’d been too busy for much of a social life.

“Thanks. Wanna give it a try?” She opened the side pocket on her Skitter and pulled out a helmet. “Gotta put on the helmet to see how it works.”

She slid the helmet on as Davi opened the pocket on his own Skitter and retrieved the helmet. As he began to put it on, Tela flipped the switch to activate the weapons simulator on her Skitter.

After they’d both adjusted their helmets, Davi nodded. “Ready.”

Tela accelerated and took off like a flash, zigzagging in and out between the pylons. Wind nipped at the skin of her face like tiny bugs. Trees passed almost as blur as she focusd on the markers and pylons. She glanced down at her control panel, verifying the weapons simulator was fully charged. The visor of her helmet showed a targeting frame as she passed the next pylon. Everything seemed to be working right.

The next pylon she came to, she maneuvered the frame to aim at the pylon and then hit the fire button. The visor image flashed as she hit the target.

She flipped her communicator on and keyed the switch. “Flip the red switch on to activate the targeting simulator. The black button on the joystick is for firing.”

She slowed down, allowing Davi to pull alongside as he fiddled with the controls. “Do you see it?”

“Yeah,” his voice came in through the helmet. “You did all this?”

“Well, I had some help. Go for a run,” Tela said, accelerating again and aiming as she came to each target.

Davi raced his Skitter alongside her, also aiming and firing. They raced in and out of the pylons, keeping pace with each other. The visor kept count in the bottom right corner of hits and misses. So far she had been dead on.

The total time for the course at full speed was less than four minutes. They reached the end in what seemed like a few seconds. She pulled to a stop as Davi stopped beside her.

“How’d you do?”

“Missed two.”

She smiled. “I didn’t miss any.”

“Well, you designed it. It’s my first time.” He said with a shrug, but she saw disappointment in his green eyes.

With an exaggerated shrug, she laughed. “Excuses, excuses.”

He scowled. “Wanna go again?”

Gotcha! She grinned and accelerated her Skitter like a rocket.

Davi raced to catch up with her.

They followed a curving path which took them back to the start of the course, and then both launched into it again. Davi gave it his best effort. She had to accelerate a few times to keep up with him.

As they neared the end of the course, he zipped in front of her. Her Skitter misfired. She groaned in frustration, pulling back alongside and getting back on course. He laughed as they raced onward, finishing the course in less than four minutes.

“Perfect score,” he said with a smirk.

That’s the Davi I know. She shook her head. “I missed because you distracted me.” But she knew his move to cut her off hadn’t been the only distraction. She had butterflies in her stomach.

“Oh right, like the enemy won’t ever try that,” he said, shooting her a look.

She laughed. He was right. They couldn’t count on total focus in a real battle. Maybe there were some things he could teach her on her own course after all.

“Shall we go again?” he asked, shifting excitedly on his seat. His voice had regained its usual energy, and she noticed the usual sparkle had returned to his eyes. The smell of adrenaline mixed with sweat wafted to her nose.

“Wanna switch sides?”

He nodded. “Catch me if you can!” He took off like a rocket.

She raced to catch up, determined that this time she’d be ready for any distractions.