Sunday, March 31, 2013

The White Willows

This is my second e-book, The White Willows.  It's available on for .99 cents!

Special thanks go out to Ella for the generous use of an amazing picture.  Feel free to indulge...

The White Willows
By A. Octavia

The White Willows. 
By A. Octavia
Copyright 2013 A. Octavia
Smashwords Edition

Smashwords Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person,please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Also on Smashwords from A. Octavia:
 Tales from A Darker Star: A Collection Of Science Fiction Erotica

For Zendriel, Without whom nothing else matters.

Special thanks to Ella Witoy for an endless supply of artwork, Jamie for constantly reminding me where to place a comma, and Monica-- the original Bianca Goulet.

Chapter: 1

 Even from orbital approach, Alpha-Senica looked pristine. The jewel-bright skies gleamed from northern snow-capped mountains to the sapphire-blue equatorial seas. Nine micro-continents migrated across the surface of the world like glacial ice packs. The Mora valley stretched for a thousand miles right down the middle of the sixth continent, Terra Prime. The northern edge was dotted with dormant volcanic peaks that circled the landmass like a crown of thorns. The southern tip narrowed as it left the foothills and leveled out into mouth of the Arden Sea. 
 When they tore through the atmosphere, the colors intensified. Bianca saw dark green grass swirled with brush strokes of neon yellow and blue flora through the viewports. The approach to Brolin Point was short and the reverse thrusters of the Belden Pharmaceuticals ship reverberated like thunder. It jarred her teeth and made her eyes water. Her stomach lurched, and she gripped the armrests so hard her fingers sunk into the thick plastic padding. 
There was a sudden jolt as the landing gears touched down and then the roar of the engines whined into a dull hum. The crew unbuckled their harnesses, stretched, and shuffled to the front of the cabin. Bianca just closed her eyes and took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The air in the ship was stale. It smelled like oil and wood from the supply crates strapped in the cargo holds, but it wouldn't last. The crewmen lined up near the doors and waited for the pilots to release the pressure locks. She unbuckled her harness but didn't bother to stand up. 
 There was a loud hiss as the cabin pressurized. She felt the air stir, and the smell of the ocean replaced the lingering scent of the sip. The bolts on the door hinge slid open, and the light of her first foreign world spilled over her feet. Thirty crewmen spilled out onto the tarmac and mixed with the ground crew moving massive forklifts up to cargo holds. Bianca watched them through the window until a truck with the Coriander University seal pulled up behind one of the flatbed shuttles. Her travel case was strapped to the back of her seat. It was barely more than a carry-on, and the retention clips didn't want to unwind. She stepped back and kicked it until the clip broke loose. She sighed, then shouldered into her backpack and headed for the lift. The pilot smiled and helped her get the case to the ground where she was able to wheel it toward Dr. Vargas. 
He held onto the truck door, head and shoulders over the roof to watch the supplies being offloaded. His face was a combination of wide-eyed curiosity and manic determination. Dr. Vargas had been on Alpha Senica for nearly three months while overseeing the loadout of the base teams, and this shipment was the last. When she got closer, he hopped down and straightened his glasses before he helped her with her case. 
 "Bianca, this is it! Are you ready?" He held out his hand and led her to the back of the truck. 
 Bianca smiled. Enrico Vargas was nearly a head shorter than she was, but what he lacked in physical stature, he made up for in presence. His clothes always looked like they never fit quite right, but now they looked a size too big on him. On Merridian, he had a full face that reminded her of a tanned lawn gnome, but his stay at Terra Prime did him some good. She saw that a decade of sedentary classroom lectures had evaporated. 
 "I think it's a little late to say no, Dr. Vargas." 
He waved the thought away. "It's never too late, Bianca. Well, tomorrow- tomorrow may be too late." He looked around her like she might've hidden another suitcase. "Where's the rest of your things?" 
 "This is it. I didn't think I'd need all that much." They lifted the case into the back of the truck, and she put her backpack next to it. 
 "The last time my wife and I went to Taurus she packed three cases, two carry-on bags, and then wanted me to fill the empty half of my case with crap that wouldn't fit in hers." 
"Sounds to me like she likes to be prepared. How long were you staying?" 
 "Three days, on a beach!" 
 He laughed, and as usual, it was infectious. They climbed into the front seats of the truck and watched the rest of the cargo get transferred to the flatbeds. He tapped a notation into his datapad and sighed when he set it up on the dashboard. "Look, Bianca, I heard about Simon. I'm sorry. If there's anything I can ever do-" 
"You're doing it, Dr. Vargas. I needed to get away for awhile." 
He turned to look at her squarely but she held up her hand. "I'm not running," she said, "I'm just putting some distance between me and everything we knew together." She looked down at her hands in her lap. "I could see his face everywhere I went. Except here." She looked out at the horizon and stared at the point where the sky met the ocean. "Out here, it's just going to be me, earth, and sky." 
 "Uh-huh. And eleven months of solitude. You'll be hosting tea parties with the natives before it's over." 
 "Then it's a good thing I brought my top hat." She smiled at him, and then looked down at the map folded between the seats. "So how's the camp coming along?" 
 He opened up the map and pointed to a spot along the ring of mountains. "It's nearly finished. They have the water pumps working now. There was a recirculation issue, but that's squared away. The solar array is also working really well; we're having to conserve power with all of us there, but once we pack out you won't have a problem. Even if you run all the air conditioners low enough to wear a parka. There's two windmills, and a communications tower up on the eastern peak." 
 "I thought everyone was leaving--who am I supposed to call?" 
 "Bianca," he looked over the edge of his glasses at her. "It's a ten and a half hour drive during the day, even longer if you need to drive at night. A relay is going to stay online here at Brolin Point, just in case. High grade military stuff, buried in a bunker. Nothing short of an asteroid the size of Nebraska is going to hurt it. There's enough extra fuel here to get this place through the rainy season, too." 
 The hum of the ship's engines faded into silence as the last cargo crates were lifted out of the hold. The cargo on the flatbed was strapped down, and as it backed up to fall in line behind them, Bianca and Dr. Vargas watched a fuel truck move into position. Tomorrow, that same ship was going to carry everyone on Terra Prime back to Merridian. 
 Bianca watched the breeze sweep through the waist-high grass as the distant mountains slowly grew. In the mirrors, Brolin Point slowly disappeared behind them. The road was a single lane of raised dirt packed with loose stone. The hum of the tires on the tarmac turned into a white noise that stole away any chance of idle conversation. 
 Alpha Senica's rotation was thirty-eight hours, making a full solar orbit every four-hundred days. The axis barely tilted, giving the flora an extended growing season that stretched ten months. The animals that appeared on the registry of Terra Prime were almost the same as Merridian. There were birds, and nocturnal prowlers, but nothing lived in the valley except the grazers. The predators lived in the ocean. 
 Bianca kept herself busy with Dr. Vargas' data pad. She looked over the camp inventory, the site schematics, and the maps of the trails mapped out by the advance teams. She leaned against the window and paged through her duty log. "Dr. Vargas, what's a 'weekly psych-report'?" 
 "Ah, well, that's Cora, the computerized psychologist. She's going to be your March Hare." 
 "Cora. Is she a fully-interactive A.I.?" 
 "Strictly a console intermediary. Think of her as a diary that will remind you to write in it. You're required to make one post each week, but feel free to make as many entries as you like. Just don't skip a week or she'll send a signal out through the relay, and they'll have a search party out here tromping through your topiaries." 
 "Even if my data uplinks are on time?" 
 "Cora isn't Belden's idea, it's Coriander’s. The University doesn't like their students to go insane during field assignments, that's what they pay faculty is for." 
 Halfway to the research site, there was plateau where they stopped for lunch. The crew members were quick to spread out folded tables and lunchboxes. Half of them sat in groups talking, while the rest scattered into the grass surrounding the convoy and laid back to sleep. Bianca and Dr. Vargas sat on the tailgate to share a packed lunch. The silence that punctuated each burst of the crews' conversations was pitted with hints of just how empty the continent was going to be when they left. 
 Dr. Vargas looked sideways at her. "You know, when I first arrived here, I couldn't wait to leave." 
 "Something change your mind?" 
 "It stopped raining. The first three weeks were nothing but deluges interrupted by random monsoons. The camp washed out twice before we could get the foundations in place. Workers slept under tarps on the flatbeds. I was lucky enough to get this truck all to myself." He laughed at the look on her face. "It sounds worse than it actually was. The rain was warm, so nobody froze-- it was just frustrating. Things went pretty smoothly once we got all the pylons up. It only took a week to put up the arboretum. The storehouse came next, and then the lab. We used your quarters as a mess kitchen up until yesterday. We gutted it and made it into an apartment for you." 
 "I'm starting to feel like I'm standing on the shoulders of giants here," Bianca said, and then washed down the last of her sandwich with a bottle of water. 
 "You might be. All the controls are in place.  The trees are growing nicely, the foxglove and poppies are both ready to bloom. The dahlias are slow going, but there's plenty of time for them to perk up. If your findings are even close to what Belden thinks they'll be, this whole valley could be full of crops in five years." 
Bianca looked around her and tried to imagine the hectares of natural grass carved up into farmland. She hated to think she was what decided its future. Dr Vargas leaned over and bumped her shoulder with his own. "Hey, listen, the University doesn't care what you find or not. They care about the process. Prove to them you deserved this post and let the chips fall where they may." 
Bianca smiled. "Simon used to say that a lot.  'Let the chips fall where they may'." 
 "Really? I need to stop hanging around you kids; you're a bad influence on me." 
 "Yeah, good luck with that." 
Nobody seemed interested in staying still for too long, so when Dr. Vargas signaled the foreman that they needed to get going again, no one complained. Bianca knew Dr. Vargas was right: the outcome didn't matter, and it was the process that she needed to focus on. Belden Pharmaceuticals was a leader in medical advancements, and they swallowed up xeno-botanists by the hundreds every year for research projects all over the galaxy. Most of those projects were experimental and turned up nothing to offset the costs. To mitigate those losses, research companies like Belden teamed up with a host of different universities and governments to make the initial start-up funds a tax-exempt charitable enterprise. Manning the projects with undergraduate taskmasters rapidly became the industry standard. 
 Bianca spent the rest of the trip reading over the growth charts Dr. Vargas collected. Terra Prime had one key focus for Belden: a plant symbiote that exhibited moprhic abilities. The preparation team had already grafted half a dozen different kinds of plants to the symbiotes and her job was to monitor their outcomes. She had eleven months to record their growth rates, test the potency of the new species, and monitor a control group of hybrid-free specimens. 
The sun was hidden behind the mountains when the camp appeared on the horizon. Nightfall was still a few hours away, but the northern end of the valley was already in the shadow of the mountains. The arboretum was the first thing Bianca saw. The three-story plexiglass building towered over the other three buildings. The road curved around the side of it and stopped. Across from the arboretum was a smaller building perched on four twelve-foot pylons. A wide steel deck surrounded it, and a flight of stairs lowered to the driveway. Dr. Vargas shut off the engine, but he left the keys in the ignition. He signaled one of the workers and told him to carry up Bianca's gear. She watched a crewman walk it to the top of the stairs while Dr. Vargas told the foreman where to unload. 
 Once he finished, he walked her to the doors of the arboretum and led her inside. "Let's give you the penny tour, shall we?" 
The arboretum was easily a hundred yards long, and half that wide. Catwalks crossed the ceiling parallel to the track lighting. Raised planters were pushed up against the walls in tiers filled with poppies, foxglove, and dahlias. In rows down the middle of the room was a grove of white willow and cinchona trees. Through the far glass wall, she could see the distorted shape of the water silo. 
 "Well, what do you think?" Dr. Vargas whispered. 
 "I think I better not screw up." Bianca said staring up at the treetops. They were easily twenty-five feet tall already. 
 "You've got that right, sweetheart." The door clicked softly behind her. When Bianca turned around, she saw a small, thin woman wearing a dirty lab coat. She had sunglasses pushed up over her forehead to keep her hair out of her face. 
 "Ah, Bianca Goulet, this is Dr. Connie Mack. Connie has been our lead ecologist." 
 "Ecologist? What the good Doctor here means is plumber, electrician, botanist, carpenter, and all around handyman. Still, pleased to meet you all the same. Call me Connie." 
Bianca shook her hand while she tried to place Connie's accent.  "Are you from one of the colonies?" 
 "Close enough. Look, we're burning daylight, and there's a whole lot left to do before we can get the hell out of your way, so if you're done pussyfooting around, Dr. Vargas, let's get on with this." 
Bianca soon found that what Dr. Mack lacked in social grace, she made up in organizational skills. Connie led Dr. Vargas across from the arboretum and past the lab to the storehouse where the flatbeds were being emptied. The storehouse itself looked like a steel barn with an open loft in the center. The noise of the winch lifting the pallets was so loud, they had to lean in close to each other to talk. "The upper loft is where the medical supplies and food stores are, and the lower stalls are mainly lab supplies, seeds, and saplings. Everything has an RFID so when it leaves the storehouse, it's automatically logged into the system." Connie yelled. 
 "Is there a general password to access the pallets?" Bianca asked, staring at the thick metal covers and the glowing keypads that marked each shipping container. 
 "Absolutely. You'll assign your own password once we get you next door, but here's all you have to do." Connie ducked around her and stepped into the first stall. Six pallets were lined against each half-wall. The soft yellow keypads all faced the aisle. Connie tapped the interface, and it flashed green. A hiss of air escaped as the metal case opened. It unfolded to reveal a set of supply shelves. The case Connie opened had twenty willow saplings, each about a foot high in individual fertilized pods. "These are control saplings, unmodified. They were imported from Earth last month. All of 'em are ready to go, so in about three months, you just plop 'em in the ground and water them." She picked one out of the case and as soon as it cleared the doors, the keypad recorded the empty space. It added it back in when Connie replaced it to its cradle and closed the doors. "These cases are all sealed, and the powerplant should last about five years. We've had a few go bad on us already, so make sure you keep an eye on them." 
 "And if one does fail, what then?" 
 "Make a notation of it in your reports, Coriander will handle the rest," Dr. Vargas said and steered them both back out to watch the last of the pallets settle in the loft. When the winch powered down, the lights brightened. 
 Behind the storehouse was a camp full of crewmen working out of tents and plexi foldaway buildings. The truck crew instantly transitioned from the flatbeds and supply loads to tearing down the buildings. The tents were going to stay until morning when the last of the camp was going to be packed away before load-out. A barbeque pit had been built at the far end of the camp, and a handful of cooks started putting up generator-powered lights over their workstation. Lanterns started to appear between the throng of moving bodies. Despite the heavy workload, Bianca heard excited chatter fill every space between hammer blows and the whine of power drills. 
 Connie left them on the edge of the camp while she went to oversee the disassembly. Dr. Vargas shrugged, then steered Bianca toward the lab. It was the only other building up on pylons and tucked between her quarters and the storehouse. A catwalk had been built between the lab and the deck of her quarters. The lab itself was a just large square room, twenty yards across with countertops around the edge. One door faced the stairs, and the other faced her quarters. The windows that circled the room had hinged steel shutters larger than her fist. When sealed, she imagined the building could survive a meteor strike. Two countertops had been pushed together in the center of the room to form an island. Four armor-plated computers were spaced evenly across the room, along with a handful of digital microscopes, a centrifuge, a replication generator, and a collection of sample extractors. A rack full of samples was already sitting on the island with handwritten labels dangling from the stoppers. 
 Dr. Vargas stopped at the first terminal and brought up a login screen. "The first thing we should do is set up your password and then get you settled into your room." He stepped aside so she could access the terminal. 
 Bianca stared at the prompt, thought for a moment and smiled. She typed in her code and hit return. 
 "Good evening, Ms. Goulet; my name is Cora.  Welcome to the Terra Prime Research Facility." The soft female voice had a distinct similarity to her own. Bianca looked back at Dr. Vargas. 
He held up his hands and grinned. "Not my doing. I wanted a sultry jazz singer, but Dr. Mack shot that idea down." 
 "Thank you, Cora. I'm happy to be here," Bianca said to the room. She heard a confirmation beep. 
 "Ms. Goulet, please begin vocal recognition parameters." 
 "Cora, call me Bianca." She cleared her throat. "A, E, I, O, U, flibberty-gibbet, Sacagawea, Constantinople, and super-cali-fragilistic-expi-ali-docious.” 
 Another electronic beep chirped from the computer. "Vocal pattern recognized, thank you, Bianca." 
 "Ready to see your room?" Dr. Vargas turned her toward the catwalk and opened the door for her. 
 "It's hard to imagine this place has already been here for a few months-- I mean it even smells new." 
 "We've been living out of the camp for the most part. Here, I'll let you do the honors," he said and stopped at the side of the glowing keypad outside her quarters. 
 Bianca typed in her code, and the orange keypad flashed yellow before she heard the lock open. Her quarters were the same size as the lab, but designed to be a complete apartment. The door opened into a sitting area to her right, and a small dining table to her left. Past that was a full kitchenette, and next to that was a bathroom with a bathtub and a shower stall. Next to that was a large wardrobe built into the bottom of a narrow staircase that led to the sleeping loft. There were windows everywhere with the same hinged shutters she saw in the lab. The floors were made of polished steel, but covered with thick grey throw rugs. Bookcases were built into the walls behind the couch and a small desk was set up next to the door. An orange holoterminal floated over the back of it. 
 "Well?" he asked, smiling. 
 "It's better than anything I could have asked for," Bianca said, and reached out to touch the holoterminal. She pinched it with her fingers and was able to drag it with her anywhere in the room. She let it go next to the refrigerator, and it hovered against the door. 
 "I'm glad to hear it. Look, I'll let you get settled. I'm sure Dr. Mack is up to her neck in aggravation by now." 
 "Thanks, Dr. Vargas." She walked him to the door and watched him skip down the steps. The twilight yielded to darkness, and the glow from the arboretum lit one side of the buildings while portable lights from the camp lit the other. She dragged her case inside and came back for her backpack. When she closed the door, Cora locked it behind her. Bianca turned around and looked at the door handle. "Is that really necessary, Cora?" 
 "My apologies, Bianca, do you wish to adjust the default security settings?" 
 She thought about the people working outside, the fact that they were staring down the final hours of their stay on Terra Prime, and she sighed. Bianca hated the fact that she always thought the worst in people. "Ask me about it again tomorrow, Cora." 
She unpacked her case and put away her clothes. Her backpack had her personal items, notebooks, computer tablet, and a small soft-covered case that she put in the nightstand next to her bed. She put two digital photo frames on the end tables next to the couch and plugged them in. Her Mom and Dad's faces appeared on one screen, and Simon's appeared on the other. Both started to cycle through her memories at a snail's pace. 
She found a drinking glass in the cupboard and a bottle of water in the refrigerator. She sipped slowly while she watched the camp collapse in on itself outside. The smell of mesquite wafted over everything from the fire next to the grill. 
 "Sorry to interrupt you, Bianca, but would you like to make your first journal entry?" 
 Bianca finished her water and set the glass aside. "Sure. How should we begin, Cora?" 
 "Let’s start with your first impressions of the research station. Have the preparations Belden Pharmaceuticals provided seem suitable to the scope of your research project?" 
 She thought about it for a second. "At first blush, certainly. I'm impressed with the amount of time they've spent thinking about my comfort. The lab looks great, and the supplies look satisfactory. The arboretum is beautiful, and I think this going to be a good endeavor, for all of us." 
 "Do you wish to give a rating of Dr. Vargas, or Dr. Mack at this time?" 
 "They've both been great so far; open to my questions, and friendly." She looked out the window again. "Come to think of it, If I had to rate them purely on the condition of the site, I'd say they've done an amazing job." 
 "Do you wish to make any predictions about the coming year, Bianca?" 
 She glanced at the photo frame on the end table. "No. Let's let the chips fall where they may. End of entry, Cora." 
The door unlocked once her hand touched the handle, and locked again when she closed it behind her. She found Connie and Dr. Vargas talking quietly next to one of the flatbed trucks. The plexi buildings were already disassembled and being loaded. The only thing left to clear away were the portable bathrooms and the tents, both of which were slated for first light. 
 "Once we get this mess up on the trucks, then I'll relax, Dr. Vargas. You may think this place is some kind of paradise, but I'd rather be back at home setting fire to my bed if it’s all the same to you." 
 "Just promise me you'll do it when Griff's not sleeping in it, okay? I wouldn't have been able to pull this off without you, Dr. Mack, and I'd like to call on you again for the next one." 
 "And the second thing I'm going to do is get rid of that bastard's name, I'm going back to Chambers." Connie looked over her shoulder at Bianca. "You have a sweetheart waiting for you at home, Ms. Goulet?" 
 She saw a concerned look pass over Dr. Vargas' face but Bianca forced herself to smile. "No, Connie, not any more." 
 "Well, then you were a lot more sensible that I was." She looked up at the mini-crane loading a set of frames onto the flatbed behind them. Her face turned red, "no, you tit, turn it around! Turn. It. Around." The muscles in her jaw flexed. "Oh my god, I'm going to kill him..." 
 As Connie stormed off toward the operator's cab, Dr. Vargas sidled up to Bianca and lowered his voice. "She's not normally so short-tempered. She made a video call to her house today when the operators arrived at Brolin Point. Her husband, Griff, was entertaining a young lady from his office in their marital bed." 
The crane operator was nearly twice Connie's size, but the way he pressed himself back against the glass to put every inch of space he could between them was a testament to how angry she was. Bianca had seen volcanoes with less heat. "If I were Griff, I'd hire a good lawyer." 
 Dr. Vargas adjusted his glasses. "I'd run like hell." 
 It took two more hours for the trucks to be locked down for transport, and once Connie was satisfied that there was nothing left to do but wait for morning, she finally relented to the pressure of the work crews and sat down long enough to eat. 
 Bianca sat off to the side on her own, but noticed that the crew didn't segregate themselves like most workgroups she was used to seeing. Cliques usually formed, or groups broke off based on gender. The men and women in the camp were commingled. It was a fascinating example of balance. 
 Dr. Vargas made it a habit of vanishing from time to time. She turned it into a kind of game where she would focus on something and count to ten before trying to find him again. She spotted him up near the cooking station pushing a pallet jack toward the tray line. He opened up the case and took a bottle from the shelf inside. He signaled the cook who banged a ladle against one of his pots. Once everyone quieted down, Dr. Vargas cleared his throat nervously. "Okay, I'm not good at this sort of thing so I'll make it quick. We've been working out here for months, and by our blood, sweat, and tears, we're finally done. All that's left is for us to fold up our tents and walk away. I'd just like to thank you all for your hard work and dedication toward making this research station possible. Dr. Mack, would you please come up here. You too, Ms. Goulet." 
 The faces in the crowd split to look at them both, and Bianca suddenly felt like a spotlight was shining on her face. She wanted to hide, or at the least politely refuse, but Connie was already walking forward so she grudgingly climbed to her feet. "Connie has been an extraordinary lead on this project, and Bianca here is going to make every effort to put our hard work to use. So, to show my appreciation, I have what, fifty bottles of champagne here. Let's go out on a high note!" 
 After the cheer that swept across the camp died down, Connie held up her hands. "Okay, okay. Settle down a second 'cause I only want to say this once! If any of you gets so knackered you can't get yourself up in the morning, I will personally roll you up in your tent and pack you on the back of that truck myself, are we clear?" 
The second cheer was even louder than the first. While Dr. Vargas handed out bottles, someone pulled the Corriander truck up behind the grill and used the stereo speakers to pelt out a collection of rock and blues classics. Bianca spent the next few minutes ducking flying corks on her way back to the deck outside her quarters. She watched the crew celebrate their success for more than two hours, and eventually, the portable lights dwindled to just a handful. 
Bianca was about to turn in for the night when she heard footsteps on the stairs beneath her. She looked over the rail but the shadows were too deep to see who was coming up. "Cora, bring up the stairway lights, please." 
 The lamps along the stairs warmed up and she could make out the top of Dr. Vargas' head. He glanced up and smiled. "Thanks, Bianca. I thought you might like to have a glass of champagne with me." 
 It took him a little longer than she thought was necessary to reach the deck, and he set a glass on the rail for her using both hands. He filled it from an open bottle and slowly handed it to her. "A toast, to you and Terra Prime, let the chips fall where they may!" 
Bianca tapped the edge of the glass against his bottle and took a sip. Dr. Vargas tipped up the bottle to take a drink and almost fell backward. She caught him before he could topple over. "Whoa, I think you might have already had a bit more than you needed." 
 "I think you might be right," he said and took a farewell sip before pouring the rest over the edge. "I should probably get to sleep too, or Connie's going to kill me in the morning. Or worse." 
 "Are you sleeping down in the tents?" 
 "Yup, that one right over there by the-" He leaned over the rail to point but stopped himself. 
Bianca took him by the arm and helped him down the stairs. They were halfway through the camp when two of the crew stopped and asked dif they could help. Bianca made sure Dr. Vargas made it into his bunk, and then covered him with a blanket before turning out his lantern. There were only three lights still on in camp, and the music coming out of the truck had stopped. The kitchen was clean and ready for its final meal in the morning. She drove the Colander truck back to its home by the arboretum and left the keys in the ignition like Dr. Vargas had done. 
 The lights of the arboretum were dimmed, and the only other light came from the stairs to her quarters. As she rounded the back of the truck, she saw someone's shadow dash around the pylons under the lab. Bianca stopped under the shadow of the truck and waited. Her heart started beating fast. She squinted, but the light from the stairs made it hard to see anything clearly. "Cora, shut down the lights on the stairs of my quarters, please." 
 There was a faint confirmation beep, and the stair lights faded to black. A moment later, her eyes adjusted to the gloom and she saw two people locked together in a tight embrace: the crane operator, and Connie. Bianca let out a deep breath and felt her heart start beating again. The crane operator had Connie's back pinned against the pylon, and their mouths were locked together. Bianca could just hear their breathing and saw an empty champagne bottle at their feet. 
 He leaned back, but only long enough to peel open her lab coat. Connie grabbed him by the back of his head and pulled him down to her chest. He groped blindly at her in the dark, and she hissed when he pushed her shirt up over her breasts. His head moved back and forth between her nipples. She groaned loudly but stopped short and cursed. She looked around and said something Bianca couldn't make out but Connie pushed against his shoulders until he dropped to his knees in front of her. 
 Bianca watched him hook his fingers into Connie's pants, and he suddenly jerked them to her ankles. She kicked one foot loose, and he picked Connie up and ducked his head between her legs so they hung limp over his shoulders. Her pants hung off one of her ankles, backlit by the dim camp lights. Connie leaned back against the pylon and dug her fists in his hair. A noise from the camp made Connie freeze, but the man's head kept rocking up and down between her legs. 
 Connie looked down at him, whispering continuously while she started grinding in time to his movements. She hissed again and threw her head back. She bit into her hand to keep herself from crying out and used her other hand to beat against his shoulder until he stopped and slowly lowered her. He stopped before her feet could touch the ground, and she wrapped her legs around his waist. He shifted his hips, and Bianca heard a faint "yes" as Connie reached down between them. Bianca didn't see Connie open his pants, but she heard Connie moan a moment before he started rocking his hips against her. He thrust up against her, and she clung to his shoulders while he pinned her against the pylon. 
 Connie moaned over and over into her fist and she stiffened an instant before he did. She clutched to him like a second skin and neither of them moved for at least a minute. "My god, that was..." Connie gasped, and then cleared her throat. "I think it's safe to let me down now, Mitch." 
 "Yes, Ma'am," he said and lowered her gently to the ground. He buckled his pants and found her other boot while Connie untangled her own pants. They both straightened their clothes and shared a quick kiss before turning back to the camp at an arm's length away from each other. Bianca's mouth felt dry, and she took another long slow breath before she turned for the stairs. As she climbed, she tried to ignore the dampness between her legs. 


Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Churning Black: Part 1

This will be a new series exclusive to the blog, something that I've wanted to do for a while.  It's an experiment in how deep the rabbit hole goes.

The Churning Black-Chapter One: 

I could almost feel the heat. Almost. I watched the low flames silently carve a path across the floor, and waited. The flickering tongues looked hotter than they really were, though. The temptation was too strong, and I bet low enough to run my fingers through the yellow-orange crests. They weren't even hot enough to singe my flesh. A path was scrolled through the dirt and grime as if drawn by a steady calligrapher’s hand. The swirls and loops bent and twisted around themselves until they formed a perfect circle around me. I used to know the name of each glyph, but after all these years, it just didn't seem to matter anymore. 
I waited. I’m not sure how long it was, but the flames slowly burned lower. All I could hear was silence. I’m not sure what angered me more, that I was left standing there for hours on end, or that I had grown so accustomed to it. The stone beneath the flames started to melt like candle wax, and still no one appeared before me. 
Linear time was a concept I fought with constantly, but the flames never lied. It was hours before the darkness on the outside of the circle finally started to thicken. I heard the sound of wind, so faint at first I thought I imagined it. It carried the crackling of the great pits, and the distant thunder I once knew so well. I tried not to let my chest swell around the familiar ember. I wanted to go home so badly it hurt, but I had my pride. By the gods, I had my pride. 
The darkness became absolute, so thick not even my eyes could penetrate it. It swirled and folded in on itself, swallowing reason. I smelled sulfur, and I felt my shoulders stiffen. Of course it would be her… 
“There’s something different about you. No, don’t tell me…” Her voice was softer than I remembered. Despite my better judgment, my ears opened to the sound like a flower at dawn. I waited for the knife, “oh, that’s right, it’s desperation.” 
“I’m surprised she let you out, Syra. Won’t her kennels get lonely?” I saw the faintest outline of her appear on the other side of the circle. She took her time moving around the edge. She studied me like a bug under a glass. She didn’t bother to dress, and her breasts stirred the ether separating the worlds. She stepped lightly, and her hooves pointed beneath her ankles like six-inch stilettos. It made her pale legs flex and gleam in the firelight. 
“I missed you too, Amdusias,” she said, and turned to face the edge of the circle in front of me. She stuck out her bottom lip, and fluttered her eyelashes. Syra was raven-haired now, olive skinned, and her tail matched her hair. It tapered to a thin cord that fluttered behind her like a loose whip. “She was going to send Briel, but I convinced her not to. The Lords from Horan’s Deep weren’t finished yet.” 
My mind filled with images of Briel being taken by the Infernal Lords, and the back of my hand itched to meet Syra’s face. “There will come a day when I will be free, Syra, and when I do-“ 
“You’ll what, cut me into pieces?” She reached up and dragged a fingernail down her cheek hard enough to draw blood. “I’ll cherish it, Amdusias. Every. Barbed. Lash.” 
I bit my tongue and scowled, but she just threw her head back and laughed. Out of the deeper black behind her, I could hear the winds of the damned calling me home. I even took a step toward the flames before I realized what I’d done and caught myself. Syra’s eyes suddenly narrowed on me, and her mouth curved into a smile that stretched from ear to ear. It twisted her face hideously. 
“My poor, poor Lord,” she blinked and her eyes and forced a tear that leaked into the thin line of blood on her face. When I didn’t respond, she sighed and dropped into a crouch, holding her hands over the flames. I watched her fingernails start to glow like charcoals. “She wants you to tell me about the girl.” 
I rolled my eyes and looked over Syra’s head into the inky darkness. “I bet she does. But why you?” 
“Because she knows how much I love watching you crawl on your hands and knees.” Syra glanced up, and the grin on her face parted to reveal a row of razor-sharp teeth. “And, because every time you lie to me, I’ll add ten years to your sentence.” 
“It might be worth another few hundred years just to have my words spill from your mouth in her open chamber.” 
“Try me, Lord.” Her eyes glinted black, and the flames shone like mirrors in them. 
I smiled. “Fine, let’s just pretend I give a damn what you believe for a moment. By ‘the girl’ you mean Angelica.” I watched Syra’s tail swish behind her, and then it snaked between her open legs and began to toy with the fire under her hands. “There’s not much to tell, really.” 
“She wants answers. You are in exile, Lord, you cannot bring a Duchess into her court unannounced!” 
I laughed, and Syra’s smile contorted in her rage. “Ten years!” 
I folded my arms across my chest and sighed, but I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. So, Angelica actually made it to court without being cut down. It had been a long time since a mortal impressed me. “Fine, you win. I’ll tell you what I can.” Syra’s head tilted against her shoulder and watched me closely. “I can’t remember how long ago it was, time moves sideways here.” 
“Quit stalling, Lord, the heat is already fading, and if I return with nothing to report, I will heap as many centuries down upon you as she will allow. And then, I’ll take my time tearing your bitch to pieces.” 
“You’re the one who left me here waiting for hours on end, Syra, so don’t play the innocent victim, it doesn’t suit you.” I tapped my chin and took a deep breath. “I first saw her perform at the Kenton palisade. Her voice was phenomenal. But the role was completely wrong for her-- a peasant with that kind of power shouldn’t have been an understudy for the lead.” I pursed my lips, thinking back to that night. The opera house was full of aristocrats in overpriced suits, wearing jewelry handed down through generations. The smell of polish lingered under the rich perfumes. 
“I was borrowing a young man from a townhome a few blocks away. He was rich, handsome, and normally quite shy. I rather enjoyed the charade for an hour or two, but I got bored before long.” Syra didn’t take her eyes off of me, and her hands stayed in the center of the flames to keep warm. 
“The opera was something inane, a tragedy in three acts. It had a queen, a scheming courtesan, and a collection of sinister figures posing as her heroes in order to overthrow the kingdom.” I smiled at her, the irony was monumental. “During the second act, Angelica took the stage and began a long, sorrowful aria that drove every other thought from my head. I heard something rare in her that I hadn’t heard in years.” 
“Like what, celestial purity?” 
“Hardly. And since you don’t have an ear for anything less than a kennel whistle, I won’t waste my time explaining it.” 
Syra scowled at me. “Ten more, my Lord.” 
The price was worth the look on her face. “I didn’t wait for the show to end, just made my way to the dressing room backstage. It wasn’t hard to persuade one of the stage hands to let me in. I sat at the row of dressing tables and waited for her.” 
“According to the clock on the wall, I had just over two hours left until I would be stripped from my host. One of the queen’s more delightful limitations, Syra.” I closed my eyes for a moment and drank in the memory. When the stagehand walked Angelica in, I could hear the quiet heat in her voice. “This is completely ridiculous, I told you that I’m--” Angelica stopped when her eyes fell upon me, sitting by the dressing table. I stood slowly and she rounded on the stagehand, but he just bowed slightly, and closed the door after him. 
“I don’t know who you are, or what calling me in here was supposed to accomplish, but—“ 
“I was moved by your performance, and felt compelled to meet you. I apologize if it comes as a shock.” 
She glanced around nervously, then squared her shoulders. “While I appreciate the sentiment, sir, I hardly think ambushing me here is appropriate. If you’ll excuse me.” 
Syra threw her head back and laughed. When her mouth opened, I could see diminishing rows of teeth leading to her throat. “She walked away from you? You have been among them too long, my Lord. They’ve even made you start to think like them.” 
I waited for her to finish. “If you’re ready, I’ll continue.” 
Syra’s Cheshire smile was back and she bent impossibly low to the flames and swept her arm out. “By all mean, Amdusias. I forget myself.” 
“I stepped closer to her, and crafted a single long-stemmed rose behind my back. I handed it to her, and then smiled with all the charm my host could create. She looked confused for an instant, and then blushed. I told her she should get back to the wings before she was missed, and she nodded.” 
“How saccharine.” 
“I waited until midnight in the alley behind the opera house, and left poor Joseph laying against the trash cans. I passed through the basement windows, and then drifted under the stage until I found the trap doors. The lights were already turned low, so no one noticed the darkness seeping up through the floor.” 
I skipped over the finer points of how I managed to track Angelica through the streets, following her cab like a stray current of air as it slipped through the city streets. Syra wasn’t interested in the nuances, and the chances were heavily stacked that she wouldn’t tell the queen any of them anyway. I remember thinking it was strange that Angelica kept the rose. I saw it in her hand, the tip peeking out under the edge of her garment bag. 
“She lived in a tall apartment building, one that only had one window and a balcony. I watched her put the rose in a vase, and she stared at it for a long time before getting ready for bed.” 
“And that was when you claimed her as your own?” 
“I did nothing of the sort. I watched her undress, her limbs tired from the constant anxiety of performing. She fell into bed without a care in the world. I didn’t have long to wait. The glass was inconsequential, and I only had to whisper my name to plant the seed of my desires into her.” 
Syra hissed. 
“She turned over in her sleep, and I pulled back enough to watch her completely. Her eyelids fluttered, and her breathing started to rush between the soft whimpers mortals make. She didn’t wear clothes to bed, so when her hands moved to tease her breasts, there was nothing to stop them. Her thighs squeezed together, and when her fingertips pressed tightly against her nipples, she moaned aloud.” 
I watched Syra’s tail lash between her legs, and despite the anger on her face, her own nipples were growing hard. “Angelica was lost in her dream. I could have thrown her through the window, and she would never have awakened before hitting the pavement. Her eyes shot open, but it meant nothing. The desire pulsing through her veins was for me, and me alone. Angelica reached for the wetness seeping between her legs and ran her hand over it like I wanted her to. She teased the soft folds and ran her fingers up and down the edges of her labia. She toyed with her clitoris, rubbed it, made the pliant nub of flesh stand proudly for my inspection. She mewled, a sound so close to begging for release that I allowed her to climax. She clenched her teeth and groaned before curling into a tight ball of delirium.” 
“And then…?” 
I saw the look in Syra’s eyes—she wanted more. Her tail barely moved between her legs. The flames were almost gone, and darkness was bearing down on her. “And then nothing, Syra. I let her sleep with the thought of my fingers touching the outermost edges of her delicate folds, of my tongue savoring every inch of her.” 
Syra howled in rage as the flames blew out. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dysfunctional At Best.

 There are days when the words crash over me in waves.  I live for those days:  there's nothing better than reading over something I wrote in a flurry of mad inspiration.  I often edit those passages without remembering writing a damn thing.  It's an alien voice ringing in my ears, and I get caught up in my own worlds.

 I spend entirely too much time creating something from nothing.  Every story, every post, everything--it's a labor I wouldn't wish on anyone.  I obsess over statistics, I scroll through email accounts like a rolodex, and absorb conversations like a sponge.  

 My wife puts up with me for the most part.  She watches over my shoulder most of the time; a little voice of reason when I'm banging my face against the desk because a sentence won't come together.  It's amazing how agonizing a single word can become when it stands between me and the end of a project.

 Tonight I put together the e-book cover for one of my new stories, 'Something Wicked', and after everything was said and done, my little angel of salvation whispered over my shoulder,"I've never liked red letters..."

 I screamed internally, I felt my blood heat to a boiling point.  I wanted to say I didn't make it for her, but I didn't, because I did...  That's when I started over in a new color.  She hates doing that to me, almost as much as I hate having it done.  The new color looks great, and I'll be able to share it alongside a tease of the new work here in a few days, but not just yet.  I want to savor the victory quietly first.

 I love her dearly for pointing out my artistic flaws, but damn...I still have two more covers to put together and I have the distinct impression it's going to hurt.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Earthbound Eroticism Presents: Auralism Episode 02

Auralism, Episode 02
Sci-Fi Fantasy Erotica.
Explicit Content.

This podcast is intended for mature audiences only and is not safe for work.  It contains erotic audio, descriptions of a sexual nature, coarse language, and adult sexual themes. presents 'Assassin.'  Bryce is a paid assassin, but getting to his next target proves one of his most challenging assignments.  

This story and others are part of the collection of erotic science fiction: 'Tales From A Darker Star' available on and other e-book providers.

We're introducing a brand new segment this episode: 'Ben and Ivy'. These two are a beautiful couple and our newest conspirators. They'll be talking about sex and relationships, and anything else that crosses their minds!  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tales From A Darker Star: A collection of science-fiction erotica.

My first e-book is now available for free on!
Each of these erotic short stories gives us a glimpse into the lives of extraordinary people.

In 'Windows Of The Soul', Vane and Shyla are two psychics who pool their talents during one incredible night.  At 'The Silver Rose', Morgan gets more than she expected from the hotel masseuse.  When Dr. Somers lends 'A Helping Hand' one night at his office, it changes his life.  Dana makes a startling discovery at a genetic research facility in 'Eve', and in 'Son Of War' we'll find out if Karen and Jack can share true love before the gods go to war.

It's been a long week, and exciting all at once.  The new podcast is flourishing and  I've spent a lot of time adding links to the blog, and making the rounds to self-promote.  The next episode of Auralism will go out later this week, and will be a two-part installment.  I would love to make it all in one go, but the upload restrictions on my provider make that impossible.  The full written version of the story will be posted a couple days after the podcast so I won't be leaving you all in suspense for long...

Carpe Juggulum,

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Earthbound Eroticism Presents: Auralism Episode 01

Auralism, Episode 01
Sci-Fi Fantasy Erotica.
Explicit Content.

This podcast is intended for mature audiences only and is not safe for work.  It contains erotic audio, descriptions of a sexual nature, coarse language, and adult sexual themes.

Earthbound presents 'Windows of the Soul.' When Vane and Shyla go to a party together, they share a mental link that reveals more than just their feelings for each other.

This story and others are part of the collection of erotic science fiction: 'Tales From A Darker Star' available on and other e-book providers.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Quick Preview

Just a quick progress report: 3/13/2012

Earthbound Eroticism Presents: Auralism!  

Each episode will feature a short commentary followed by a story donated by an author.  The first episode will feature Octavia (who else?) reading 'Windows of the Soul.'

The next episode will be read by a guest reader, Ivy, and the story 'White Willows' will have to be broken into two parts because of upload limitations.  ( For those keeping score: the difference is about 17 thousand words) For those of you who can't wait, a full transcript will be posted a day or two after the air date.  

The podcast is now available on iTunes and Stitcher, as well as linked right here on the blog.  The links will be posted to the Auralism page.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Pendulum Swings

This month I'm going to start an erotic podcast.  

There, I've said it.  

I've been going back and forth for awhile on this, but since I already have the tools, the experience, and the material, my guess is that it shouldn't be too difficult.  I just need to get over the fact that writing isn't the same as reading aloud.  Words have power.  When spoken aloud, they have definition.

Ever talked dirty to your keyboard?  Out Loud?  Give it a shot next time you write that hot scene between two ravishingly passionate lovers in a torrid embrace, you might just choke on those words so easily tapped out in monotone keystrokes.  I read most of my work aloud once I'm finished editing it and the x-rated bits almost always make me blush.  And that's without thinking there's a global audience listening to my inflection of the word "cock."

I'll use the same title as the blog, link everything through this site, and start out with recitations of my own fiction.  I might take submissions a bit down the road, but for starters it's going to be pretty close to the vest, and only my public domain material.  Hence the reveal of my upcoming ebook cover that's going to grace the archive at Smashwords.  Free is such a powerful motivator.

I don't know where this is going to lead exactly, or what else I'm going to talk about or even how often I'll post episodes.  That's the evil twin of 'free', it always wants more than the time you have to give.  What I do know is that episodes will be available for free on iTunes and Stitcher, and linked through regular posts here purely for the sake of simplicity.

So why on Earth would someone do such a thing?  Because I feel it in my bones.  For the same reason we're here writing, taking pictures, feeding each other with nuggets of praise by posting comments, patting each other on the back, and acting like, well, sex bloggers.  I'm going to do it because I feel compelled to.

I listen to podcasts all the time, and two of my favorites are Sonic Erotica, and Erotica Ala Carte.  The former being straight up aural porn, and the latter recitations of erotic fiction.  I'm going to set up links to both in the Sycophancy page so you can see what I'm talking about.  Shame EAC is on hiatus indefinitely...

So let the chips fall where they may...