Announcing release of “Unknown Worlds”

Announcing “Unknown Worlds,” By JB Steele!

Hello, all! I’ve released a small collection of some of my short stories on Amazon.com. For now, it will be there exclusively, per the terms of the Kindle Select agreement. In the future, I may expand to other e-readers. I have a Kindle, so for me this was my first thought.

Here is the description:

Ever feel like you’ve awakened from a dream in which you visited an unknown world? Some of the best dreams stayed with you whether you realized it or not. Here are five stories from the mind of JB Steele, ranging from the days of yore to a time far from now. Sit back with a mug of steaming cocoa on a cool night, or a cold drink on a hot night, adjust the light over that comfortable reading chair and dive into these stories.

The Falls of Beta Tucanae – Humans fight on in a long war that no one knows when the end will come. Can Captain Quinn finish his patrol and bring his crew home alive?

Attack on the Castle – Aleister Greyblade has a problem. It’s one thing to handle the day to day running of the Castle Guard. That’s his job. It’s when someone tries to attack his King in more than one way, that’s when he has a problem. How does he solve it? As directly as possible.

Tenuous Voyages – Perfidy reigns, and the Felin have to find a way to stop the attack. Maybe it’s time to be more careful who they do business with.

An Onslaught Antagonized – She’s had all she can stand and she’s not going to take any more. Major Felicia Màrtainn is done, and there’s going to be hell to pay. She’s not the only one, either.

Waves – Being police detectives on the Gulf Coast is sometimes busy work. Sure, there are tourists walking the white sands and buying things the locals wouldn’t be caught dead with. When people turn up dead in different ways, Detectives Alex Rountree and Stephanie Loenen get a bit busy trying to catch a killer.

 

And here is the link: “Unknown Worlds” on Amazon.com

Check it out!

— JB Steele

King’s Ranger – Part Three

Chapter Three

The dock was no less dirty than the last time the young Ranger had been here. The night air was faintly cloying with the scent of sweaty bodies and fetid water. He stopped in front of the warehouse door again, and knocked using the same pattern as last time.

The door opened quickly, and he was ushered inside. Cuileán saw the same man, Thormond, in the cluttered room with a disheveled man. The Ranger’s eyes narrowed.

“Who is this?” The words came out low, with a dangerous undertone.

“This is our banker, for want of another word. He has the information that you need to hand over the payment. He’ll also handle the transfer of cargo once the arrangements have been made.”

Alarm bells rang in the Ranger’s mind. “If he is supposed to handle the cargo, then what am I here for?”

Thormond wiped his sweaty brow.

“Well?”

The man spoke up.

“I won’t ask for names, since it’s safer that way, but to answer your question….” Cuileán looked at him, and the man shrugged. “There were some business dealings with the captain of this particular ship, some years ago. Things didn’t quite work out. I normally handle the job you’re going to do tonight with other captains, but since he swore to kill me on sight because of that bad deal, well….” He shrugged again. “I wanted to play it safe. I like my head where it is. You’ll get a cut from the pay. Say, ten percent?”

“Of what?” The man told him, and the Ranger was impressed. He didn’t show it, but affected a thinking pose.

“What about the customs officials?”

“They’re already handled. There was a signal from the ship. The usual thing.”

Which meant that the customs officials raked in a take of their own, Cuileán thought. He knew it already, but finding the dirty ones was something that he’d need help with. He looked at the other man.

“If you try to deal me wrong tonight, your head will be the least of your worries.” He tapped the sword slung over his back for emphasis. “I won’t need this.”

The other man raised an eyebrow, but the stark tone of the young Ranger’s words registered. He simply nodded. Thormond spoke up.

“So do we have a deal?”

The Ranger thought for a moment, then nodded.

“We have a deal. What do I look for?”

The anonymous man looked him over.

“Can you read?”

“Yes.”

“Look at this, then.” He handed the Ranger a heavy bag and a slip of thin paper, on which was several markings.

“’Dock Eleven, the Glorieux. Seventy items. Warehouse G.’” He looked up at the man, who nodded.

“If you get anybody standing watch, which you should, the password is ‘Firelight’s chill.’ Give this to the captain when you go on board in a little while.” He handed the Ranger a sealed package.

“And I come back here afterward?”

“No, I will be at Warehouse G, with the others. They will handle the unloading so I don’t have to show my face.”

Cuileán grinned. “And I do?”

“I doubt anyone will give you a problem. You’d just stab them with that sword.”

“Anyone who gets in my way. Remember that.”

The man nodded. “One more thing.”

“What?”

“Be quick. As soon as the cargo finishes unloading and touches the dock, the ship will cast off.”

“Understood.” Cuileán started to wonder what he had gotten into. He didn’t have a lot of time to stop this. A passing thought to getting help wandered his mind, but it didn’t seem like there was much chance of that happening. He was committed. “Let’s do this. I will see you soon. Don’t waste time.”

The young Ranger left the two standing there without any further word. The last few weeks had familiarized him with the layout of the harbor’s dock space, and he found the Glorieux without any problems. It was indeed painted black, with a copper sheath and a row of gunports. He wondered how seventy people could fit in what had to be a small hold, then realized that he didn’t see many people standing watch. The Ranger wondered if the ship was operated with a skeleton crew or close to it.

He whistled, and a head appeared over the side.

“What you want?”

“I’m here for business. You an officer?”

“Naw, I work for a living.”

The Ranger’s eyes narrowed again.

“That wasn’t a request.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Now get your officer.”

“What if I don’t?”

The rock left Cuileán’s hand and smacked between the man’s eyes. He slumped to the deck. Two more sailors ran to the rail. One was dressed better than the other. That one pointed at the Ranger.

“You! Stop right there!”

“I’m right here. You the officer?”

“I am and you’re going to be hung!”

“I doubt it. Not when I have a payment to collect and firelight’s chill to ward off.”

The phrase changed the officer’s demeanor immediately.

“Ah, I see. Come aboard.” He exchanged glances with the sailor at his side, and motioned him to get the unconscious man below. For his part, the young Ranger went aboard the ship quickly.

“I want to see your captain.”

The officer nodded. “Right this way.” No further conversation was given, as the two walked off the deck. The young Ranger listened carefully to the sounds of the ship, but he was unfamiliar with many things relating to the sea. He knew vaguely that a ship floated on the water and often carried things, but how sailors did the things that they did was beyond him. Still, he was here now.

A door opened, and he saw an older man behind a plotting table, with dividers in his hand. The man put them down and nodded to Cuileán’s escort. The officer left without another word. The Ranger’s sharp hearing could detect the footsteps moving back up on deck, and he was moving fairly quickly.

“I’m Captain Sasaki.” The man’s voice was businesslike. “Who are you?”

“I’m your contact, with ‘firelight’s chill.’ I have a payment, but first I would like to inspect the merchandise.” The captain nodded as though this made perfect sense, and Cuileán supposed that to him it did.

“No name?”

“In my line of work, it wouldn’t be a real name anyway, so might as well not bother.” It was only the truth, after all. The captain nodded at this, too, and a slight grin crossed his lips.

“You’re pretty careful, aren’t you?”

“Wouldn’t you be? Now, let’s get to work.” He handed the captain the package, who opened it and read it carefully but continued speaking.

“Sounds good, but since we’re on the subject of being careful, I’d like assurance that you actually have the money.”

The young Ranger reached into a pocket and pulled out the fat bag of coins. The jingle that came from it as he tossed it up and down convinced the captain. Cuileán replaced it with a warning look.

“Are we done with the posturing? And don’t forget, ten percent of this is mine.”

The captain smiled. “We’re done, and I’m not forgetting. I should have a man like you on this crew. You seem like you know what you’re doing.” He lay the letter down, with the rest of the contents.

“Business first, then we can tell each other how great we are.”

The older man laughed, and waved a hand at the door. Cuileán took the hint and both left the room.

* * *

The dock looked to be quiet from a distance. King’s Ranger Harald Morgin was staring at the outcropping. He poked the man next to him.

“Did anyone else show up?”

“No, just you, me, and John.”

“Where did everyone else go?”

“I don’t know. There wasn’t a lot of us sent out, remember.”

“I know, but I thought it was something hot. I hope they didn’t get lost.”

“It is hot. We don’t have a lot of people to send out, and I hope they didn’t get lost, either.”

“Cuileán’s got something going on here, but what ship is it?”

“I don’t know that either. Don’t you just love it?”

“Story of the Corps. There’s got to be maybe twelve ships out there.”

“We’ll find it. Think like a slaver.”

The three men split up, searching for their lost man.

* * *

As they went into the slaves’ hold, Cuileán had a hard time keeping his face still. The captain stood by the door, and the young Ranger stepped among the group. There were many people there, stuffed into the small area like so much trash put into every corner. All of them had restraints on, and most perched on small shelves. The young Ranger made a show of closely checking eyes, mouths, and muscle tones. He mumbled to himself as he did so, and every slave watched his frowning expression. Finally, he stood up.

“These look good.”

“We’ve been careful with them.”

“I’ve seen enough. Let’s handle business.”

The captain motioned to another sailor, who started unlocking chains, while eight more stood by with bared hangers. The way back to the captain’s cabin was as quiet as the first, and the young Ranger watched as the old man counted the coins out of the bag that he dropped on the charting table. Captain Sasaki divided out a portion and put them back in the bag, then held it out.

“There’s your cut.”

Cuileán took the bag, and tucked it away. He watched as the captain unlocked a chest, then poured the rest into it.

“What of the merchandise? How are we getting it off your ship?”

Captain Sasaki chuckled.

“I’ve got sailors for that.”

“You don’t have a lot, I noticed.”

“It’s my habit to let half of them off for leave as soon as we make port. They’re probably laying out drinking or chasing skirts. It’s nice to be young,” the old man sighed. “But I have enough to unload with, then they’ll be given leave, too.”

The young Ranger nodded, seemingly unconcerned, but his senses on high alert. He turned to leave.

Captain Sasaki sprang from the charting table, a belaying pin moving up from the hidden recesses of the wood. Cuileán’s reaction was immediate, and he tipped an armchair in front of him. The high back of the chair impaled itself on the pin, and the weight of the chair drove the captain’s wrist past the breaking point.

The snap of the man’s wrist was loud in the confines of the cabin, and Captain Sasaki began a screech of pain. This was halted quickly, as the young Ranger drew a long dagger and buried it deep in the other man’s temple. The captain’s feet and knees started to drum the rough deck, as Cuileán stared out the half-open door and saw some of the slaves out on deck. He grabbed the package he’d come on board with and stuffed it into a pocket.

He ran out onto the deck and drew Feraeil’avel. The blue-green blade gleamed readily at the battle upcoming, and the first two slavers died without knowing. The dagger whipped around and Cuileán threw it into the forehead of the first sailor to come up on deck with his hanger held high. The unfortunate sailor tumbled back down the steps. The blade of the cutlass being held by the man behind him rammed through his body. Cuileán took a deep breath.

“King’s Rangers! Stop what you’re doing and down on the deck!” he bellowed. Feraeil’avel glowed brighter. The glow of the Elven blade didn’t stop some of the sailors, who snarled and jumped toward the young Ranger. He countered them, back to the wall of the quarterdeck. Cuileán slashed down with his sword and sent several opposing blades down to the deck, and the return stroke ripped through several arms and chests. A couple of kicks here and there, and wounded sailors flew over the side.

A warning shout got his attention, and he jumped to the side just in time to avoid a cutlass slicing for him. It missed him, but managed to cut off the end of his long coat. He didn’t have time to see where it went, as Feraeil’avel met the cutlass coming in again. Cuileán turned the wicked blade aside as the man screamed something about not getting his command. A hard punch knocked him out.

The young Ranger didn’t waste any time with him, instead turning to engage a couple of sailors with marlinspikes. The sword took off the head of one. His compatriot gulped at the sight, and Cuileán kicked him in the throat. He fell, gagging, and tried to stab the young Ranger with the marlinspike. It scratched him in the leg, which didn’t do the sailor any good. Cuileán ignored him as he passed out.

As the action exploded by the quarterdeck, the slaves rushed the distracted sailors with anything they could pick up. One picked up a dropped mop, another found a length of rope, and a third seized upon a marlinspike that others had dropped. Still others found blades, and soon it was bedlam on the deck. Screams and shouts, and Feraeil’avel’s glint, was drawing attention from below decks. Several of the now freed slaves rushed below with weapons.

Cuileán was fighting for all he was worth. He had four men pushing him back against the rail, and was swinging his sword everywhere. He dimly heard a war whoop from his side as someone clambered over the rail, and thought to himself, Now what?

Boots hit the deck, and the new arrival shouted, “King’s Rangers! Are we invited to this party?” The men pressing Cuileán looked over their shoulders, and he sprang ahead. Feraeil’avel sliced at knees, shoulders and a head, leaving one man standing alone. His eyes widened as the young Ranger advanced toward him. It didn’t take long for him to decide to throw his cutlass down and jump overboard.

“Just like you to find adventure in this place, Cuileán, and not invite us. Your brothers in arms. Your good buddies. Your…” he broke off as a slaver made a desperate swipe to his face, which he parried to the side with his rapier. A dagger opened up the man’s belly, and he fell to the deck screaming. The Ranger’s heavy boot silenced him.

“Figured you’d show up sooner or later, no matter what I did, John. Just you?”

Another set of boots thumped behind him with muffled curses and a couple of punches to a wretched sailor.

“No, and if I’m not mistaken, Harald just made it.”

Cuileán looked at the newly arrived Ranger. He stood with a great-sword in his hands. John looked over his shoulder.

“Took you long enough.”

“Yeah, well, Ralph was a little busy on the docks. He found some of the others that got themselves lost. Cuileán, we got most of the other sailors rounded up. Seems like they were causing more trouble than usual.”

Cuileán nodded.

“Did you get the guys at the warehouse?”

“What guys?”

Cuileán and John looked at each other. John spoke. “There’s more?”

“Yes, waiting to receive these slaves.”

Harald grimaced. “It’s always something else we find out at the last moment.”

“Like you said, story of the Corps.” He got a wry grin.

“You go with Cuileán to get these men. Send Ralph up here. I’ll stay here and secure the ship.”

John regarded Harald’s sword.

“Don’t you think that sword is a little too big for shipboard use?”

The older Ranger made a rude gesture.

“Shut up and go.”

John chuckled at the other man’s expression, but went. He found the Ranger on the docks, standing with other Rangers and the city militia, and clapped him on the shoulder. At the motion toward the ship, the man nodded. John took off and caught up with Cuileán.

“So you caught some slavers, I take it?”

“Caught some. Night’s not over yet.” Cuileán shot a speaking glance at his fellow Ranger.

“Outstanding. So much for a quiet night in Drokan’s Beard.”

* * *

At the warehouse, there were little signs of life, except for a few lights lit inside. The two Rangers stood at a distance away, watching for patrols or sailors out for a walk. Cuileán filled John in on what was inside.

“There’s a man inside that’s a big part of this, with a lot of knowledge. I want him alive.” He described him, and John nodded.

“Got it. What else?”

“There may be more people inside, but I gathered that the majority of the work with the slaves get done with the sailors. The sailors move them off, move them here, stow them with the help of the others inside, then immediately leave on the ship. Then after a certain amount of time, they come back with more, like a regular cycle. When they leave, there are fewer witnesses.”

“Makes sense.”

“Ready?”

“Let’s do it.”

John positioned himself at the side of the building, following the other Ranger’s hand signals. Cuileán reached down and got a handful of dirt. He smeared it over himself to give his appearance a nasty look to go along with the blood on his body. He also ruffled his hair up.

“Quickly,” he mouthed to the other Ranger, who nodded. Cuileán banged on the door, beating it as if he were panicked.

Footsteps sounded heavily inside, and the door was wrenched open. It was the same man from earlier, who’d been termed the ‘banker.’ Cuileán didn’t give him a chance to say anything. He bulled his way into the warehouse with John at his heels. He saw maybe eight or nine others, with replacement shackles laid out to receive the slaves.

“What’s all this about? Where’s the slaves? Who’s this?”

Cuileán turned and drew his sword. He grinned evilly.

“He’s a good friend of mine, and works alongside me. I’d like to introduce you to King’s Ranger John Maclochlainn.”

The man’s eyes widened, and he turned to flee out the door. He ran into a powerful punch that wrenched consciousness from him. Sir John stepped more fully into the warehouse and drew both sword and dagger. The blood on him highlighted the quite serious look on his face as he spoke. His Ranger tattoo gleamed as bright as Feraeil’avel.

“I think it’s time to sorting out here. You people have a choice. Put those shackles on yourselves and throw the keys to my partner, Sir Cuileán. Or, you can die. No matter to me, or to him. We’ve relieved several men of their lives tonight – more slavers won’t matter to us.” He grinned, but the hard gleam in his eyes didn’t match the rest of his expression.

One man screamed and ran toward Cuileán with a cleaver. Every man there claimed to see a glowing arc as the man’s body split in two suddenly. The scream gabbled suddenly, then froze. As the two halves of the body came to rest apart from each other, the only sounds to be heard were the clink of a ring of keys landing at Cuileán’s feet and the rasp of the shackles rushing to be used.

* * *

King Samuel, Ruler of the Realm of Cadealith, looked at the young man kneeling before him.

“Rise, Sir Cuileán.”

King’s Ranger Cuileán Abel did so, standing to look his monarch in the eye. He was taller than the King, but the ruler had a force of personality that made him seem bigger than he was. That had been reinforced in the young Ranger’s mind several hours ago, as the King tore a bloody strip off him for going to the slaver ship by himself. The King admitted that he’d done the best that he could do with what he had, and immediately gave orders for the detachment to be reinforced with more Rangers.

Now, Ranger Abel stood before King Samuel. He wore the uncomfortable dress uniform prescribed for such events, and listened as the King spoke.

“Ranger Abel, you have performed a great service to the King and to this town. You haven’t heard yet, but the Blackton’s Noble Raiders had some nobles of the Realm as patrons. Those particulars are being taken care of as we speak.” Surprise showed on the young Ranger’s face. It had never occurred to him, as he was investigating. He resolved to never discount any possibility in the future.

“Also, and you might know this already, the customs officials of this town had been corrupted. When we took possession of the ship, we found plenty of incriminating evidence linking many of the ‘businessmen’ of the town. Those leads are being chased down as we speak. The slaves are being checked over for health, and we’re getting some chatter about some deaths on board. Apparently, the slavers killed the ones that took sick on the voyage over, and so they are also murderers. We knew that already, but couldn’t prove it. Now, we have proof. That proof comes from the statements of the freed slaves, and the log books and other documents that were found on board the Glorieaux. As a result, the surviving officers and crew will be judged accordingly.”

The young Ranger nodded in satisfaction.

“The gold that you gave to the slaver, pretending to be a buyer, has been recovered. You reported the gold that was to be your ‘cut,’ but keep that. Call it your finder’s fee.”

Ranger Abel started in surprise, but knew better than to argue. He nodded, and the King went on with a small smile. He turned to the King’s Chief Ranger, who held out an open box.

“You will be awarded the Legion of Valor for your service, and given two weeks’ leave, but after that I want you back on the job. There’s still too much to do in this village. Understand?”

“Aye, Your Majesty.” He leaned over for the King to place the medal, and stood up straight again to the applause of the others.

“Now, Ranger Abel, draw your sword.”

Immediately, the Ranger obeyed the command of the King. He drew Feraeil’avel, and eyebrows rose. Mutters sounded across the hall as the blue-green blade shone out. The King chuckled.

“I see your family heritage is strong with you.”

“Aye, Your Majesty. It is.” There was a bit of challenge to the young Ranger’s voice, and various courtiers gasped to hear it. The King traded grins with the Chief Master, and turned back to the young Ranger. He stood still, holding the Elven sword steady and motionless.

“No disrespect was intended, Ranger Abel. In fact, I’m very pleased to have Feraeil’avel in service to me.” The King got the name out better than most Humans could. He must have practiced, the young Ranger thought. He listened as the King went on. “I had the fortune of meeting your grandfather, when he carried that sword and I am pleased to see it again. I understand that he has passed on, and I grieve with you.”

The King bowed his head for a moment, and everyone followed his lead.

“Thank you, Your Majesty. I have inherited Feraeil’avel, and I follow his lead and his example in fighting evil, in whatever forms it might take.”

The King nodded in agreement.

“Of that, I have no doubt at all.”

At the Chief Master’s signal, Cuileán let the blade swing down until the point touched the floor. He wrapped his hands around the hilt, and bowed his head. The King rested his hands on the pommel for a moment.

“Ranger Cuileán Abel, may your sword go forth before you ever after, as it has done before in this service. Well done, my servant!” King Samuel removed his hands, and the young Ranger bowed over the pommel. He stood straight and re-sheathed Feraeil’avel. The Chief Ranger stepped from behind the King, and together, he and Cuileán stepped away from the King. The next person came up for recognition.

“Well, Sir Cuileán, what are you going to do for your two weeks?”

The young Ranger wasn’t sure what he was going to do, and he looked around the room as he thought about what answer to give. Suddenly he knew exactly what to say. A blinding smile came his way as Anna came out of the crowd to take his arm. A knowing look came over the Chief Master’s face and he winked at the young Ranger.

“I think I can think of something to fill the time, Chief Master.”

The Chief Master snorted loudly and waved the young Ranger on. Soon, Cuileán Abel was nowhere to be found in the meeting hall.

The End

Part 2 of the Vampire Story (14)

Arriving back at the Estate, Edmund is already there having heated words with Chris. The men remain in the truck at the front entrance, as John’s ear picks up their conversation.
“He took out all of my seconds Chris, I want this man.” Edmund growled.
“How do you know they even have him?” Chris retorted as he heard the wheels of his trucks tires hit the gravel in the drive.
“I just know, and when they arrive, I will take him. It is my right Chris. You know it is.”
Chis glared at Edmund. He knew Edmund was right. According to the entente, he was well within his rights. “Let’s just wait until they return. If he is with them, he is yours, if not, then he is your responsibility to find. Agreed?”
“Agreed.”
Chris kept the conversation going and Edmund, he hoped distracted from the fact the others had already returned.
“We can’t bring him here.” John announced, as he quickly rolled the windows up.
“Why, what is going on?” Neil questioned.
“Edmund is there. And Chris said he has the right to take Thomas, according to some treaty that is in place.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know. But we can’t just hand him over to Edmund.”
“Hey y’all, right here. I’m not afraid of him. He is after all a,” he looked at John, “Vampire.”
“Yes, and that vampire, will tear you head off the moment he sees you.” Neil asserted as his eyes began to glow. “Now sit back and let us figure something out.”
“You know your eyes are glowing, don’t you?” Thomas asked Neil.
“I would stop talking,” John chimed in. “If he changes here before you, you could go blind.”
Thomas swallowed hard, and that was the last sound either John or Neil heard from the back floor boards.
“What if you throw it in reverse, and we take him further up the mountain? You could stay with him, while I return with the truck. I could say you were hunting.”
“I don’t know if it will work, but it’s the only shot we have.”
John carefully shifted to reverse, and backed out of the drive. Drove a good mile down the road, and then he exited the vehicle, telling Thomas to stay put for the time. John went to the back, and looked in the toolbox on the back of the truck. He was lucky. Inside, he found a coat of Chris’s, some trash bags, duct tape, and a can of scent off. He quickly sprayed Thomas with the spray, “I’m kind of worried about the stuff Chris carries in his tool box. There were cable ties in there too,” he adds as he throws the other items on the front seat.
“I think he just likes to be prepared up here in this weather.” Neil stated.
“Cable ties, duct tape and trash bags,” John began. “What is he prepping for an abduction and murder?” A hint of laughter entering his voice.
“He is a hunter John, and he has human’s he cares for. The coat, I would say is for Amy, or his doc, in case they get stranded. The duct tape and bags, to cover their feet in the snow to keep them dry.”
“And the rest?”
“Oh we don’t have time for this, ask Chris when you see him and just be grateful now.”
“Yes sir,” John patronized.
Once again Neil’s eyes began to glow.

Copyright MLSteele 2016

New Piece, or a Fragment of a piece

Hello, all. I’ve been considering this one and I’m not sure where I’m going to take it. Read it and tell me what you think.

— JB Steele

Tech Problems

The babble of voices around me ebbed and flowed, not unlike a surly tide. I scrunched myself a little farther down in my auto-chair and tried to ignore the excited voices of the others in the kaffeshop. On a planet like Theta Maxia, out in the Beta Tucanae System, there’s not one bit of telling what species you’ll find at any given moment. Still, women are women, or at least the sociable species versions are. Get them interested in whatever the subject of the moment is, and off they go. Listening in for a moment, I heard the general conversation go from one subject to another, with the occasional interjection from a member who’d check her GalaxyNet feed and found something funny.

Me? Sure, I’ll talk with others. I tend to focus on whatever I’m working on at the moment, and at that moment, I was working on a piece of new equipment that needed attention. Damn things never come out of the box with software properly updated. Never mind that in this day and age, they’re supposed to interface with a server somewhere and update even while sitting on a store shelf waiting for sale. I’m a tech troubleshooter for my company, and I work alone. Still, every so often, I would surface to hear whatever caught my attention.

“Are you alive?”

The speaker was a brunette, of the Rosizen species. Appearance and genetics close enough to human to look like us and mate successfully with us, they still do some things that throw us for a loop. I should know. One of my great-uncles was of that species, and holiday gatherings was always an event in suspense. Something always happened, and I’m still not sure some of them were just stupendous pranks on his part.

The Rosizen standing before me stood right there next to me, tapping her foot impatiently. Apparently there had been a discussion on my state of consciousness and I’d missed it. So, this one decided to settle the question in a direct manner. I could see that I might as well give up on the cursed machine sitting next to my kaffe. Might as well dump the kaffe on the machine, for all the good it was doing, anyway. I sighed.

“Yes. I’m alive. Go away.” Okay, so I’m not the most social. Diplomacy was not my strong point anyway. Did I mention that I work alone?

The Rosizen was undeterred, of course. This was one of the characteristics of their race, and for some people, it was a good thing. Not me. Great-uncle Nate was okay, but he could really work a nerve. All the others I met I could do without. I usually told them so, since diplomacy wasn’t my strong suit. I think others have made that observation, too. Old Nate could be as stubborn as a mule.

I don’t even know what a mule is, much less how stubborn it is. That saying goes way back, but it still fits. Sure as hell.

“Why should I?”

She set her jaw and waited. Great. Here I am, with a piece of damnfool junk the company calls ‘the next big thing,’ and I have an audience. I’m tempted to just throw it out the recycling lock and file a claim on it as ‘damaged goods, molycircs fused,’ except that it’s transmitting a carrier wave. The kaffeshop’s public serverbots had already found its signal and linked up with it, so I can’t do that. Plus, whatever impulse I had to come down to the common room and do my work is working against me. If I’d done the smart thing, I would have stayed in my room and sabotaged it in private, then tossed it.

But no, I had to come out here and smell the kaffe. Plus, get irritated by the junk in my hand, and get some unwanted attention. Great.

I glanced up, out of the corner of my eye, and saw that she was still standing there. I sighed, chucked the communit back into its box, and slapped it back into my bag. Maybe it rattled hard enough to break something inside, but I wasn’t too hopeful. Not with the integrated molybdurite circuitry. That stuff shrugs off electromagnetic pulses, over-currents, voltage spikes, radiation bombardments throughout the spectrum, and spilled drinks. I doubted physical impact was going to do it in.

I sighed.

“What do you want?”

“Advice.”

Well, this is a new one on me. Advice is not something anyone is going to ask me for, especially a second time. If they was smart enough, they wouldn’t ask the first time. I opened my mouth to tell her to shove off and go ask the Dear Paulettedroid. She beat me to it.

“Here, let me get you another drink. You must be thirsty, judging from the arcane and strong words you was muttering under your breath.”

I closed my mouth. She smiled, with a knowing look in her eyes and sat down. When the drink came, I gulped it down straight.

Big mistake.

My eyes watered, and my throat tightened up. I could feel my chest heaving. My lungs felt like they could get out and walk around a bit. After the initial quake and a few aftershocks, I wheezed half a lung of air in.

“What in the hell was that?”

Before answering she took a sip of her drink, which I noticed was the same thing I just suffered through. Didn’t bother her in the least.

“Arcturan moonshine, fire flavor.”

I could believe it. Give me a match and I could burp fireballs, just from that sip. Probably do more than burp, once that evil brew worked its way through my system kicking my rear and taking my name down.

“Look, miss, is there a… “

“A reason that I’m sitting here, watching you suffer from Arcturan moonshine, and feeling very amused? Yes, actually. I want to hire you.”

Oh, boy, here it comes. I get a new one every week. I looked at my chronometer, and sure enough, like clockwork, it was due. Pardon the pun. People always want to hire me. Fix their computers, fix their electronics, fix their little ‘personal’ toys. I had one guy with an astounding collection that simply could not grasp that he needed to replace the power cell every so often. Guy looked like he was needing a fix, too. He was all jumpy. When I put a new power cell in, he chirped in delight, shoved money in my shirt pocket and rushed me out the door. I still don’t know what I fixed, but for a c-note and two minutes work I wasn’t going to complain.

I looked up at the woman. I usually brush off people, but what the hell. I was bored.

“I’m on the clock right now, and I don’t take outside work.” Let’s see what she says. She squinted at me.

Part 2 of the Vampire Story (13)

“What in the hell happened here?” Edmund demands.

Neil starts, “We heard their attack, and tried to stop it.”

Edmund makes his way to the woman, “Her? She is why half my seconds lay here dead, on my territory?”

John nods. Edmund picks the woman up from the ground, she isn’t even worth their time this lowly whore.” He then snaps her neck right in front of John and Neil.

“No! John lunges.” His eyes fill with rage as he stands their helpless at what Edmund had done.

“Let this be a lesson, human’s lives are not important to me. I spare them when possible, and don’t make it a point to kill, but if the question is my men or a human, then every time the human must be the one sacrificed.” A smugness floats around Edmund as he speaks.

“John no,” Neil begins. He realizes what John wants to do, and realizes that if they are not careful there will be a war on their hands and humans will be the ones who will lose the most.

“I’ll be at the truck,” John stated through gritted teeth, as he moved back in the direction which they had arrived.

Neil stayed in his hunter form, out of fear of what Edmund may do if he were human. “Who was that man?” Edmund asked. “And why was he here?”

“I don’t know the answer to either of those questions.” Neil stated.

“Why did you tell him to leave?”

“Because I knew you would kill him, just as you killed the girl.”

“You are correct. However, now I’m curious. I think I will see if I can track him. Tell Chris hello for me.”

“But our meeting.”

“That will have to wait. I have a human to find.” And with that, Edmund was gone. Neil was fast. He was back in human form and to the truck faster than he thought he could be.

“John, we have to find the man, before Edmund, Drive!”

John shifted into gear and was on his way. He watched for Edmund along the trees as they drove parallel to the path which Edmund had run.

“There, speed up!”

John didn’t even stop, as they neared the stranger. As he drove by, Neil opened the window and grabbed him up pulling him into the truck. Neil then pushed him down into the back and out of sight. “Get back to the house John, now.”
Neil didn’t have to tell John twice, he drove faster than he had ever in his life.

“You don’t have to worry, I threw him off my trail, I know what I’m doing.”

Neil looked in the visor mirror back at the man in the floor board, “who are you?”

The man looked offended and said “More importantly who are you and why do you consort with the eternally damned?”

Neil openly gawked at the man, unable to believe his nerve. “We just saved your life, and you won’t tell us who you are.”

John added, “Not to mention you are being incredibly rude. We are vampires. And if I were not driving at this moment, I might just let you see what it is like to be one.”

“You wouldn’t dare.” The man demanded.

“I would. In fact when we get to the estate, I may do just that, seeing as Neil broke your weapon.”

“You think that is the only weapon I carry?” The man snarled.

“Enough!” Neil shouted. “Let’s get back to the others before Edmund catches us and has all our heads.”

“You are a hunter Neil, no vampire can kill you.” John stated.

“You’re a hunter?” The man asked. “That is what I am. I’m from a little place called Texas.” The man revealed as he held his hand up for Neil to shake.

Neil snubbed the man. “We have nothing in common. I do not go searching for vampires to kill. I was made to protect the innocent, whether they are vampire or human, it matters not to me. You on the other hand, murder any vampire you meet, or at least try to. And your stupidity has cost an innocent human her life today.”

The man slunk back against the seat. “My name is Thomas Holiday.”

John then spoke. “I’m John, and this is Neil. Our first names is all you need to know. John then turned on the radio, turned it up and kept his eyes peeled on the road and his mirror. Watching for signs of Edmund or his crew.

Copyright 2016 MLSteele

Part 2 of the Vampire Story (12)

How much further?” John impatiently asks.
“Let me look at the map again.” Neil replies.
“Map, type that into the controls on the dash, the truck will then take us right to the front door of the pub.”
“I prefer a map. I don’t much go in for all the new technology they have now,” Neil states. “Take a right up here and it should be just on your left.”
John kept driving past the right he should have taken. “Where are you going? You missed our turn.”
“I hear something, you can’t? It sounds like a woman screaming. I can’t just pass it by, could be trouble.”
“Yes, and it could be a trap laid for us.”
“I’ll take my chances. Besides who would want to mess with a vampire and hunter?” John question as a grin appeared on his face.
Suddenly John throws the truck in park and leaps out. He is on his feet and running before Neil can even blink. Neil sighs, then transforms and draws his sword, and follows after John.
When Neil reaches John, John has a group of three or four vampires coming after him. He has placed himself between the other vampires and a woman who lays on the ground barely conscious, clothing ripped from her body. Neil swallows hard, and moves in on the ravenous vampires as they repeatedly goad John.
“John, think of Edmund. They are in the same state as he was. Surely they are from his clan. We have to try and not kill them unless necessary, we don’t want a vampire war on our hands.” Neil then cut his own palm and watched as the frenzied vampires watched the blood dripping down his hand. “Come and get it boys, you know you can’t possibly resist.” The vampires stood there as their mouths visibly began to water for the blood which escaped Neil’s hand. They began moving towards Neil, the whole mob, just as the woman made a noise, and brought their attention back to her blood and body there incapacitated on the ground. John snarled his body language daring the others to make a play for her. The biggest of the lot took the dare and lunged at John. Neil was quicker than the human eye, as he knocked the vampire to the ground and off to the side of John away from the girl. Neil too then took a stance, guarding this innocent woman.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” Someone questioned as they edged down the alley where this all was taking place. The stranger was tall and quite thin. His hair long and blonde and slicked back. Dark glasses covered his eyes, and a long duster covered his clothing, cowboy boots covered his feet and he moved with slow intent moves. “You boys look as though you could use a bit of help.” He then spotted the female laying on the ground.
Neil and John stare at the stranger, as he approaches the group. “What in the hell does he think he is doing?” Neil questioned.
“Got me.” John responded.
“Who are you?” Neil asked as he continued his defensive stance.
“I think the question here is who are you?” The stranger stated in response. “And why do you think you can handle these damned creatures alone with,” and his words dropped as he raised his glasses examining John more closely. “Shit, you’re one of them too, aren’t you?” Pointing at John.
“Now is not the time,” Neil stated as the pack began moving towards the three of them once again, having lost interest in this new blood donor.
“John. John!” Neil started, but it was too late. One of the vampires had reached him and knocked him to the ground, as his attention was drawn to the man who appeared to be a cowboy, extracted a gun and fired in his direction. John pushed the body of the vampire off of his, and returned to his feet. His teeth were bared and he was ready to attack this man, however the other vampires prevented this as they charged forward.
The battle was brutal and gory, and in the end, only Neil, John, the cowboy and woman survived. The man then turned on John after fighting side by side with him moments before. “And now it’s your turn.”
Neil was quick and bent the man’s gun before he could fire the special bullet he used to kill the others. “What are you?” The man asked, just as Edmund appeared.
“I suggest you get out of here, and fast,” Neil urged.
The man looked hard at Neil, then at John and finally at Edmund. He then turned taking his weapon with him.

King’s Ranger – Interlude

Interlude

The Senior Ranger had just gotten to his small office, when his assistant caught up with him.

“There’s a woman here to see you. She’s asking for you by name and she was very insistent.” The man traced a voluptuous figure with his fingertips and winked. The Senior Ranger raised an eyebrow. This could be something interesting to start his day. Better than some dry report he had to read before training.

“Where is she?”

“Right this way. Her name is Anna.” the Ranger said, with a grin. His boss thought she had to be something, the way he was acting.

When he turned the corner and saw her sitting primly in his small wooden chair, he couldn’t blame the man one bit. She was a looker, but the way she was fretting indicated that there was something big on her mind. There was a package on her lap with suspiciously familiar handwriting.

“Hello, my name is Sir Will. I’m the Senior Ranger in charge. You must be Anna.”

She looked up and gave him a big smile.

“Yes, I am.”

“What can I do for you?”

The young woman held up the package in her lap. “I have this to give to you, from Sir Cuileán.”

His interest sharpened at the name. The Senior Ranger gestured for it and she gave it to him.

“What is it, Anna?”

“I don’t know. He didn’t tell me.” She worried some more, wringing her hands. He broke the seal, but didn’t open it yet. He looked up at her.

“Excuse me, but are you all right?”

“I’m worried about him, and I know I’m not the only one. I know that he’s doing something dangerous.”

That’s probably true enough, he thought. On the heels of that thought was, the boy doesn’t let any grass grow under his feet, does he? Out loud, he said, “I won’t lie. He’s a King’s Ranger. We do have to do things that can be dangerous, but Sir Cuileán is a very careful man.”

“He said that.”

Wondering what else he’d said to this girl, Sir Will continued. “Then you can take that as a truth. He will be. Sir Cuileán isn’t the kind of man to say anything idly. If he gives his word, then you can believe it, beyond reproach.”

As he spoke, he opened the package and pulled out a letter, two books, and what looked like maps. He read the letter quickly, and had to quickly control his expression. Looking up, he realized he hadn’t done it quickly enough.

“He’s in danger, isn’t he?” Her eyes filled with tears. “Tell me, and don’t lie.”

Trapped by his own word, he simply nodded and she sobbed. Sir Will spoke quickly.

“Anna. Look at me.” She looked up, into his face. The imploring look in her eyes steeled his resolve. “Anna, I promise you. We will help him. He’s one of ours, and we don’t leave one of ours behind.” He stood up. As he did, so did she. Sir Will watched a weak smile appear on her face.

“I believe you. Cuileán is a man of his word and so are you.”

He put the package’s contents on the table, and she came closer to hug him.

“Go get him, and bring him back.”

He nodded. Anna broke the embrace and quickly left, wiping her eyes. The Senior Ranger watched her go, and thought to himself that the young Ranger was a lucky man. He stepped out to see his assistant approaching the door with an appreciative grin for Anna. It didn’t last long.

“Get a group together for Drokan’s Beard. As many as you can, back here.”

The snap of command quickly sent the man on his way with no questions asked. Senior Ranger Thomas sat down to await the group and to quickly look over what Ranger Abel had sent him. Halfway through, he realized that he’d been right. It was an interesting start to his day.

The Train

I sat quietly on the train as it chugged along, trying to drown out the noise in my head. My eyes darting around examining my fellow travelers. If they knew what I was no one led on. A woman across from me , caught my eye. My mind began dancing around at the sight of the woman’s large protruding belly. Would I ever have this fate? Deep down I knew the answer. I could know motherhood , but at what cost? Could I truly pass this on to my unborn child ? My mother had passed it .
I smiled at the woman as I got to my feet. The woman smiled back as I walked by. I found the restroom, and washed my face. I could do this , it was destiny. As I travel back to my seat all of the thoughts came rushing in. My hand brushed the pregnant woman’s as I passed her by . “ Oh excuse me dear,” she exclaimed! I stared at her as her life flashed in front of my eyes. This was the normal, this was my life. I asked her to come and sit with me as they began bringing the dinner carts around. “You’re to kind.” I smiled at her as I see deep inside why she travels alone, so close to delivery. We receive our dinner , and chat as we eat. She then excuses herself to the bathroom. While she is gone, I look through her bag, searching for it. It has to be here.
Just as she returns , I find what I seek. She sees and frowns. “If you needed money, I would have given you some , I don’t have much , but I would share. I smile. You are so kind. I was just trading my bank roll for yours. Her mouth then drops as she sees the size of mine. I place hers in my bag and tuck mine neatly in her purse. I then get up and take her seat by the window. “I don’t mind sitting by the window,” she smiled. I grab hold of her hand and hold on tight . Suddenly the train lunges forward , something is wrong. I watch as her life changes right before my eyes. Everything moving so fast.
Finally everything stops , I lay in a pool of blood beside the woman . She smiles as she tries to care for me.
“Ma’am lay down , you are bleeding. How far along are you?”
“ I’m only twenty seven weeks.” Suddenly her water bursts as they lay her down beside me. We hold on tight to one another as my life slips away. I look up into her eyes as she realizes her child will be lost. She mumbles “ Why, why did you switch seats?”
I manage a smile , “because I love you mama.”
As the child inside her dies , I fade.

Hello

Just popping in for a quick hello and to let everyone know, writing has unfortunately been put on hold so to speak ATM…. Long nights with little to no sleep have taken their toll on my brain, and my writing unfortunately….

I hope to have something soon , my apologies to those who like my posts & look forward to them 🙂 Happy Reading MLSteele