Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Not-So-Empty Corner

This story is not related to any of my particular couples.  It's just a little mini-story I wrote and am sharing.

A Not-So-Empty Corner

It was barren, but it was theirs.  That made it incredibly special. 
He stood in the empty kitchen, wondering how long it would be till this room and the others in the small house would be furnished.
The apartment fire had destroyed everything.  Renter’s insurance was covering the cost of replacing clothes and some necessary pieces of furniture that they still needed to shop for, but it couldn’t cover the cost of everything.  Not that it mattered.  They had each other, and after the trauma of the fire, they were happy to be able to say that.
They’d talked about finding another apartment, but it was depressing to think of once again having to start from scratch and still share walls with strangers.  A search through the real estate section of the paper and a small bank loan was now making it possible for them to purchase this small house.  It was one floor, a tiny 800 square feet that housed a living room, bathroom, one bedroom, and the kitchen he stood in.
He moved to the room’s window, looking out at the miniscule backyard and thinking that the grass needed mowed.  Strong arms wrapped around his waist as he stood there.
“All right?” the deep voice questioned as he was hugged from behind.
He nodded, but it must not have been convincing as the arms around him pulled backwards.  He found himself urged to the floor, his back pressing against the man he’d committed his heart to and sitting with him in a corner of the small kitchen.
“I know it’s small and empty,” the voice behind him soothed, “but we’ll get the necessities and replace the rest as we can.”
It was comforting to hear, but he didn’t really need it.  His head tilted slightly as he felt a kiss dropped warmly on his neck.  He closed his eyes with contentment.  “As long as you’re here, I can wait for everything else,” he assured.
A hand lifted and cupped his cheek, turning his head so he could see the familiar blue eyes of his husband. 
“I’ll always be here.  Welcome home, Love.”


Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Travelers - Chapter 17

*First Ranking – A hard to attain degree of study, aptitude, or ability.  A first ranking is very hard to achieve, although most of the Travelers do have that accomplishment.  Very few Arlytians have more than one first ranking.  (Charge Seren has four First Rankings, one of them being in Aviation/Astronomy.)

*Med Towel – a towel run through a purification cleaning process to make in suitable to use in medical situations.

Chapter 17

“Go on, lad.  We talked about this last night.  Charge Seren has a responsibility to a lot of people, but you are one of them.  I’m sure he’d like to see the work you’ve done so far on the map.”

Corbin was encouraged, but not entirely convinced by Kel’s words.  Still, he knew Kel believed what he said, so maybe he should follow through on presenting the map to the Charge Pilot.  With a deep breath, he gathered up the carefully-done map and started toward the spot where Charge Seren was sitting down to eat his first meal. 

Corbin allowed himself to study their leader as he approached.  The man’s dark blonde hair had grown since they’d left Arlytia, and Corbin liked the way it brushed the collar of Seren’s clothes.  He was a broad shouldered man, but filled with lean instead of bulky muscles, and Corbin guessed he stood at least five inches taller than Corbin himself.  The best part of Seren was his eyes though.  They were startlingly blue, and Corbin felt like there was always a sparkle to them.  Even when Seren frowned or scolded, his eyes sparkled.

Corbin groaned inwardly.  His thoughts reminded him of poetry classes he’d had as a young teen.  Besides studying their planet’s greatest poets, they’d had to make attempts to write some prose of their own as well.  Almost every girl in class would giggle through their recitations of poems about a boy with dazzling smiles and sparkling eyes.  He’d wanted to gag on the tackiness of their words then, and now he wanted to gag himself for even thinking in such a juvenile way.  Yet, when he stopped in front of Seren and the man looked up from his seated position, Corbin saw that blue sparkle and his mouth went dry.

“Backer Corbin, can I help you?”

“Uh…” Corbin stuttered, momentarily forgetting why he’d walked over.

Seren studied him for a moment before his eyes glanced down at the rolled paper in Corbin’s hand.  “Is that something I need to see?” he asked helpfully.

“Oh, um…yes.  It’s the map…that you assigned me…I just wanted to…um…I thought you might want to see it, er check it.” 

At that moment, Corbin wanted to suffocate himself with it.  He’d been about as clear as mud and stammering like a fool.  He hadn’t even made as much of a fool of himself when he’d been in trouble on ship.  But then he saw that spark in the Charge’s eyes and he relaxed a little.

“I thought you might want to see the map so far,” he managed to say without faltering.

Seren smiled slightly.  It was small, but it was warm.  “Sit down, Backer Corbin.  I would like to see what you’ve done so far, but I’d like to finish eating first.  I wouldn’t want to get anything on your work.”

Corbin nodded and sat down quickly, and then silently scolded himself for plunking down like a toddler.

“Have you eaten, Corbin?”

Corbin nodded.  Kel, being the cook that he was, had been making sure Corbin and everyone else in their group was getting enough to eat.  “Charge Kel keeps everyone fed,” he shared.

“Charge Kel?  He’s a good man, an interesting one.  He’s got first rankings in three fields, but he prefers culinary duty over all of them.  I was going to have him part of Group 1 or 2, but he requested assignment to Group 6 at last minute.”

“He did?” Corbin questioned, this being news to him.

Seren nodded.  “He…”

The pilot was interrupted at a shout which had him on his feet in an instant.  Corbin rose just as quickly, his eyes darting to where the shout came from, and a shiver a fear ran down his back when he spotted what was quickly causing terror to move through the crowd.  An animal, a large animal, was standing between two trees—two trees that he and Charge Seren were very close to—its look menacing.

Corbin took in the details of the threat automatically, recognizing it not because it was familiar, but because it matched the description and picture Charge Seren had given of the one animal that they’d encountered that definitely posed a danger.  The creature was larger in person than Corbin had imagined.  Its black/brown fur was long, dragging on the ground, and though it stood on all fours, its shoulder was a good four feet from the ground.   Sharp teeth could be seen as it opened its mouth in a low growl.  Corbin sensed intelligence in the creature, and that was confirmed when the animal’s head moved slowly, as if searching for something, and then held its gaze on Charge Seren.  All the other Travelers were frozen, each doing their best to not provoke the animal to attack; some glancing nervously toward Seren and the other Charges for instructions.  Those who could speak or move without startling the predator were directing the people to be still, but have their protectors ready.

His mouth dry and with one eye on the threat, Corbin looked at Seren, and was shocked to see the man looked determined, but not afraid.  He was staring down the creature, his hand hovering by the protector strapped to his side.  He moved just slightly, putting his body between Corbin and the animal.  The move caused the creature to growl and take one slow, menacing step toward them.

“Backer Corbin, stay behind me,” Seren said lowly, his lips barely moving.  “Do you have your protector with you?”

“Yes, sir,” Corbin managed, keeping his voice as quiet as Seren’s.

“Good.  I don’t believe the creature has a good view of you.  As quietly as you can and with as little movement as possible, take out your protector.”

With almost miniscule movements, Corbin did as directed, thanking the heavens that Seren’s body was blocking the creature’s vision.

“Done, sir,” he whispered.

“Carefully set it to Full Protection,” Seren ordered.

Corbin swallowed.  He’d never used a protector on Full Protection mode.  Arlytians hated to kill anything, but he trusted Seren and knew that the man would not make this decision lightly.  “It’s set, sir,” he said after a moment.

“Good, now slowly put it in my right hand.  No sudden movements.”

Corbin tried to control the need to shake.  He understood what Seren was doing.  If their leader moved too much to retrieve his own protector, the animal could attack before he had the opportunity to set it and fire.  This way he had a weapon ready to use in a moment.

When the protector touched his palm, Seren gripped it, his eyes sparking with even more determination.  “You stay behind me, Corbin,” he reiterated before he made the slightest movement with his head.

Corbin noted the subtle movement and recognized it as a signal to someone else. A bang! rang out, the sound of a protector being shot in safety mode.  Corbin knew the sound.  It was used as a scare tactic to hopefully run off dangerous wildlife so no one would come to harm. 

It didn’t work this time.  The animal was provoked instead of scared by the sound, and his gaze, which still remained on Seren, narrowed as he burst into a leap that was shocking to see.  It had gone from standing immobile into the jump, and the height and distance it was achieving was terrifying.  It was also coming right at Seren and Corbin.

Corbin gasped, his mind uselessly shouting that he didn’t have his protector.

But Seren had it, and the man raised it as quickly as the animal jumped, and he caught the creature in mid-leap, his shot clear through the animal’s neck.

Corbin saw the shot make contact, but in the next second his feet were out from under him as Seren grabbed him and brought them both to the ground.  They rolled several feet, ending with Seren hovering over him as the creature landed, dead, right where they had been standing a moment before.

Corbin lay on his back and stared at the creature, his eyes wide and his body frozen as he tried to take in what had just happened.  He didn’t hear his name being called until a hand cupped both sides of his face and made him look away from the animal.  His green eyes met Seren’s blue ones.

“Corbin, breathe!” Seren ordered, now that he had the younger man’s attention.

It wasn’t until he heard that order that he realized he was holding his breath, and it was definitely starting to affect him because his vision blurred.  He took a gasping breath that didn’t help much, and then a deeper one when Seren spoke to him, repeating the order to breathe.

He managed two or three deeper breaths before some of the worry eased out of Seren’s face.

“That’s it,” the older man approved.  “You’re all right.”

“Are you?” Corbin managed to choke out around another breath.

Seren nodded.  “I am.  Everyone’s safe.”

Corbin’s gaze wandered over the man still hovering atop him, and his eyes saw something Seren, and everyone else who was quickly gathering around seemed to miss.

“You’re bleeding!”

He sat up, forcing Seren to sit back, and brought the Charge Pilot’s attention to the blood seeping through the sleeve of his shirt.  Seren grimaced.  “I didn’t even feel it happen,” he murmured.

In another instant it seemed like both of them were completely surrounded.  Anxious voices filled the air until Seren lifted his unharmed hand in a signal for everyone to quiet down and pay attention.  As soon as the voices quieted, he spoke, his tone and eyes showing his authority. 

“Pilot Sabik,” he called.

“Here, sir,” the woman replied.  She was already at Seren’s side.

“You will pick a team to take care of the creature’s remains…respectfully,” he insisted, “and without anyone unnecessary hanging about.  Make sure a Recorder is present to document the activity.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Charge Carter,” Seren now called.

“Here, sir!”

Seren acknowledged the man with a nod.  “Pick a crew to investigate the area and make sure there are no more threats.”

The man saluted and immediately began gathering a crew from the security team.  Seren turned his attention back to Sabik.  “Sabik, appoint someone from each Group to oversee that everyone is packed and ready to travel as soon as we are able.”

As he was giving his orders, Charge Cayson had knelt by him and was wrapping a Med Towel around the man’s arm and applying pressure to ease the bleeding.

“Sir?” Cayson said, gaining the leader’s attention.  “Pilot Sabik can handle things, but I’d like to get you taken care of.”

Seren glanced at his arm, noting the pressure Cayson was keeping on it.  He nodded once, but then looked at Corbin. 

“I want Backer Corbin checked for injuries as well,” he insisted.

“Of course, sir,” Cayson agreed, and smiled appreciatively when Charge Kel crouched down by Corbin and helped the shaking man stand.  “Kel, you’re qualified,” he stated, surprising Corbin with that information.  “Can you examine Corbin while I look over Charge Seren’s injury?”

“Absolutely,” Kel agreed.

“My shelter is just over there,” Cayson stated, “and I have my supplies there as well.  We can take them both there.”

With a nod, Kel agreed, and a few minutes later the four men disappeared into the minimal privacy of the canvas, with Amrynn and Ozias standing outside in self-appointed guard duty.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Travelers - Chapter 16

*Sustainers - additives to preserve food for travel.  Sustainers also help those who consume them to stay fuller longer, but they aren't as healthy as eating "pure" foods.
*Walking Sentry - a guard who doesn't stay in one place. 

Chapter 16

“You are one to push your luck, aren’t you, lad?”
Corbin jumped guiltily and shoved his gloved hands in his pockets.  “What?  I didn’t do anything,” he determined as a stride twice the speed he normally walked took him away from the place of temptation.
Kel rolled his eyes, not sure why the younger Traveler amused him with his ability to skirt right up to the edge of temptation, and even on occasion take that step over the line.  His longer legs quickly caught up to his young friend.
“Yes, I know you didn’t do anything…because I stopped you from doing it,” he pointed out.
“I wasn’t going to do anything…”
“Yes, you were,” Kel interrupted pointedly.  “That red water has been calling your name since the message came not to go anywhere near it.”
Corbin huffed.  “I just wanted to get a closer look at it.  I wasn’t going to touch it or anything.”
“Uh-huh,” Kel replied, his disbelief clear.
“I wasn’t!” Corbin argued. 
“Cory,” Kel said, using a nickname Corbin was starting to like.  “I’ve marched with you for the last three days and believe it or not, I’m a pretty observant fellow.  You’re a sucker for negative attention.”
“What?!  I am not!”
“Are too.”
“No, I’m not!”
Kel managed to keep a straight face as he repeated.  “Yep, you are.”
“Shut up!  You’re such a jerk!” Corbin exploded.  He started to storm away from someone he now considered an ex-friend, but was stopped by a heavy arm draping across his shoulders and bringing him up against Kel’s side.
“I’m not a jerk,” the man’s voice said with mild roughness.  “A tease sometimes, yes, but I’m not a jerk.”
Corbin’s stomach twisted a little as he realized he’d hurt the other man’s feelings, and despite his anger he wished he hadn’t.
“Sorry, Kel,” he mumbled.
“I’m sorry too, but you are a negative attention nut.”
Corbin’s eyes flashed and Kel grinned in that strange, understanding way of his.  “Well, what would you call it?  You’ve grumbled about every assignment given you since we started except the two you like…those that include your exceptional drawing skills.  You go right up to the edge of our camps every night at some point, although you manage to keep yourself from stepping over the boundaries Seren has established.  And when the message came through on what we are ordered to stay away from, the first thing you do is go looking for it.”
Corbin frowned, his cheeks heating up a little.  “I just wanted to see it better,” he tried to justify.  “And we should be getting told why to stay away from it.”
“We were told,” Kel said with a frown, wondering how Corbin had missed that part of the message.  “The red water didn’t test as pure, so we need to stay away from it and anything growing in it.”
“But Kel, we’ve all worked in purification at some point.  You know as well as I do that just because something isn’t a hundred percent pure doesn’t mean it’s automatically dangerous.  Sheesh, most of the food we brought with us on ship isn’t pure because of the sustainers that are added to it.  If they want us to stay away from something, we should be given a better reason why or be allowed to know what will happen if someone is infected with something.”
The arm around Corbin squeezed briefly, a quick but tight embrace that pulled the smaller man almost protectively into Kel’s side. 
“Have you ever gotten told that you don’t think things through, lad?” Kel wondered aloud.
“No way,” Corbin insisted.  “That’s what I always got praised about, how I could see the end result of what I wanted to build as well as all the steps to get there.  When I have an idea in my head, I can always think it through—from beginning to end.”
Kel nodded.  “When it comes to your construction aptitude or drawing expertise, I believe that completely, but I’m talking about life outside of that.  I think you’re not always quick to see or maybe comprehend the far-reaching effects of choices you make or actions you do.”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” Corbin admitted.
Kel nodded.  “Talk it through with me then.  We were ordered not to go near the red water or anything growing in it, right?”
“And what reason were we told?”
“Because it wasn’t pure, but that doesn’t guarantee it’s dangerous,” Corbin insisted.
“True enough,” Kel agreed.  “So how do we find out if it is dangerous?”
“By running tests,” Corbin answered with a roll of his eyes.
“Right.  Do you know how long those tests take?”
“Not really.  I’ve never gone that deep into the purification or science fields.”
“Makes sense,” Kel stated.  “But tell me, within your world of construction and building, when you’re testing a new product or wood to see if it is conducive to being an adequate building material, how long do your tests take?”
“It depends,” Corbin explained.  “Some only take a few hours, but depending on what I find, additional test might need run, and I may even use some samples for small models to see how they hold up.  That can take a few days to a few weeks.”
“Would you let someone build with a material that you weren’t sure could hold or handle the stress it would be put under?”
“No way!  If the wrong material is used, roofs could collapse on people, or water dams would leak, or bridges would give out!  I’m responsible with what I do, Kel,” Corbin insisted with a tinge of insult in his voice.  “I won’t put anyone in danger!”
“Corbin, if you have tests that can take hours or days to verify that something is safe, don’t you think that the purification and science teams sometimes have to wait that long as well?  And if they do, doesn’t it make sense that while they can’t say exactly what might happen, they can say that there is a potential risk and it is better to not try anything until the tests can verify things one way or the other?”
Something clicked for Corbin and he finally caught on to what Kel was explaining.  “Oh,” he murmured.  “I didn’t think about that.”
He was silent for a few minutes and only seemed to remember to keep walking because Kel still had an arm around his shoulders.  When he did speak, his voice was thoughtful.
“A lot of the time I thought that orders were given as a power trip.  I mean, I don’t think anyone was giving orders just to give them, but sometimes I thought maybe they exaggerated things just to make it sound like it was more important than it was, ya know?”
“Yeah, I know what you mean, and I even know some people who would be guilty of that, but I think that’s more the exception than the rule.”  He paused and then asked, “Do you think Charge Seren would do that?”
“No way!” Corbin answered immediately.  “Charge Seren wouldn’t do something like that!”
Kel chuckled to himself, thinking not for the first time how there was definitely some hero-worship on Corbin’s part for their Charge Pilot.
“I don’t think he would either.  Just keep in mind for the future that there’s usually a good reason for a decision or order that is made, even if you don’t always see it.”
At his side, Corbin grew thoughtful and didn’t have as much to say the rest of the day, but he stayed away from the red water.

Seren gave the ok for the Travelers to remove the splash gloves and any other protective gear when the group stopped to set up camp that evening.  He knew there would be relief at that announcement.  The day had been hot and the extra protection, while necessary, was uncomfortable and not pleasant to be worn in the heat. 
Seren had made sure to be very aware of their surroundings before he made that announcement though.  The group of them was still within the wooded area they’d been marching through, and he knew that there could be a greater risk of danger hidden in the density of trees and brush: plants they were unfamiliar with, animals concealed amid the trees and foliage, etc.  He’d taken advantage of Charge Amrynn’s expertise and had her accompany him around a large enough plot to host the Travelers for the night before deeming it safe to make camp.
Everyone was starting to settle in now, and Seren’s eyes scoured the area for a good spot to stand guard for the first part of the night.  It was harder to determine an advantageous viewing area now that they were within the Nevean woods.  From the looks of it, he might have to be a walking sentry instead of an overseeing one. 
“Charge Seren?”
He turned and gave his attention to Pilot Sabik, feeling glad to see her face.  He’d missed having the woman nearby to bounce ideas off of as they had on board ship.  She was a good right-hand.
“Sabik.  What can I do for you?”
“It’s more what I thought I could do for you, sir.  I think you could use a full night’s sleep as much as the rest of us.”
Seren’s lips quirked up slightly.  “Do I look like I’m suffering from sleeplessness, Sabik?”
“Look it?  No, sir.  But you’ve taken first guard watch every night thus far.  I’m volunteering to take the watch, sir.”
Seren was about to graciously decline—he had a hard time turning over something he saw as his responsibility—but he stopped his refusal as he noticed Backer Kemp just a short distance away.  It was only a moment, but there was something in the Traveler’s look that gave him pause. 
“You have someone guarding you, Pilot Sabik,” he said softly.
Sabik’s collected gaze showed a flash of uncertainty.  “Sir?”
Seren didn’t answer the inquiring look she gave him.  Instead, he asked a question of his own.  “Has Backer Kemp given you any problems since we left the ship, Sabik?”
“No, Charge Seren.  He and the others have caused no problems.”
Seren nodded once.  “I believe you.  Does he know that you were going to volunteer tonight?”
“Possibly.  I was telling Eris of my intentions a short while ago and he was nearby.  He could have overheard.”
Seren offered his single nod again.  “I appreciate your offer, and your concern, but I’ll still take first watch tonight.”
Sabik looked like she disagreed, but she wasn’t one to fight his authority.  She wasn’t one to withhold her questions though either.  “If that’s your choice, Seren, but why the inquiry about Backer Kemp?”
“I believe you’ve made an impression on him, Sabik.  A good impression.  Settle in for the night now.  I’ll be fine.  I feel better being the one to stand guard.”
Sabik’s eyes narrowed slightly in scrutiny, but she nodded and turned toward her shelter, her eyes darting only momentarily to where Kemp stood a short distance away.
Seren waited only until Sabik was in her shelter to go to where Kemp was standing.  The man was bigger than him, but he stood at attention respectfully when Seren approached.
“Backer Kemp, walk with me,” Seren ordered crisply.
The Backer immediately fell into step with Seren.  The Charge Pilot started leading them through the camp.  They weaved among the canvas shelters and trees, and occasionally acknowledged Travelers as they passed.  Eventually Seren led them more along the outer camp areas and addressed the man with him.
“You heard Pilot Sabik offer the guard duty to me tonight,” he said forthrightly.
“Yes, sir.”  Kemp didn’t deny it.
“You didn’t like the idea of her in that role.”
Kemp hesitated before responding.  “Is that a question, sir?”
“More an observation.  My question is why you don’t like her in that role?”
“I…don’t know, sir,” Kemp answered haltingly.
“Is it because she’s a woman?”
There was a moment when it looked like Kemp was going to shrug, but he held himself back.  “Partly, Charge Seren, but I know she can hold her own.”
“Mmm,” Seren murmured in casual agreement.  “Is it because you’d like that job instead of her?” he further questioned.
“I’m not in security, sir.”
“No, you’re not, but every Traveler has had required training in offense and defense…and you didn’t answer my question.”
“No, I don’t want the responsibility of guard duty for everyone, sir,” he said obediently, but Seren caught something in the way the man answered.
“You wouldn’t mind the responsibility of guarding Sabik though, would you?”
The slightest of flushes appeared on the Backer’s cheeks, but that was the only thing that gave some of his inner turmoil away.  “Yes, sir, I would mind.  I don’t need a woman around.”
“We all need a woman around,” Seren countered easily.  “Just as we all need some men around too.  Think about that, Backer Kemp.”
They had stopped their walking during the last couple minutes of their exchange, and Kemp stared off into the growing darkness within the woods.  Seren placed a hand on the man’s shoulder and squeezed gently.  “Bitterness doesn’t suit you, Kempley Jenns,” he stated, using the man’s proper name.  “Let it go.”
Seren walked away then, continuing in his guardianship over his people while Kemp continued to stare into Neveah’s unknown.

Corbin, his partly completed map in hand, sucked in a breath as he watched the Charge Pilot affectionately squeeze the Backer’s shoulder.  With Kel’s encouragement, he’d wanted to show Charge Seren what he’d done so far in his assignment to map out Neveah, and he’d looked forward to having a few minutes alone with this man he admired so much.
Pilot Sabik had been talking with Seren when Corbin first sought him out, and he’d tried to wait patiently for her to finish; but then she had left and Seren had immediately gone to one of the other Backers and started walking around with him.  Corbin told himself it was nothing, but seeing Seren touch the man several minutes later cut more deeply than he could say out loud.
Refusing to watch anymore, he turned back to head to the canvas he was sharing with Kel. 
The bigger man looked up with a smile when Corbin returned, but it faded quickly when he saw the storm on the young man’s face.
“What’s the matter, lad?  Did something go wrong?”
“It’s fine,” Corbin said harshly, not looking at Kel.  “Charge Seren is a busy man.  He has other people to attend to.  I’ll show him the map when it’s done.”
He disappeared into the sheltered and Kel looked sadly as he went in.  He wondered if maybe he shouldn’t have encouraged his friend to show the Charge Pilot the map, but he knew that Corbin was aching for praise from the man and Kel had been sure that showing even the partially done map would get it.  It looked like things didn’t quite work out that way.  Hoping to cheer Corbin up, he poured two cups of nectar and followed the younger man into their shelter, determined to make his friend smile before the night ended.