The typeset is all back with my editor now. I had to battle some interesting health challenges but I’m so excited for you to have Aeron’s new adventure…
So… To keep you going until it’s out. Here are the first two chapters!
EVERYBODY HAS THEIR own mountain to climb.
Sometimes it’s easy to think that folks got things all worked out when you look at them from the outside. They have all the whistles and chimes that make you wonder how they can do everything with ease.
I’d learned that windows didn’t always reflect what was going on inside. Take the best buddy I’d always been loyal to as a teenager; he’d had looks, charm and I was sure he could get any job he wanted but when I looked closer, he’d been more busted
up and warped than most. I’d gone to a secure mental institution, Serenity Hills, thinking I was responsible for the things he did and when I’d come out, he’d just started again. He’d been set on other folks thinking I was guilty.
Then some folks appeared scarred and beaten. They make you think you ain’t worth nothing to them, their shells impenetrable but, sometimes things were different when you broke through.
General Ursula Frei of the Criminal Investigations Group was a lot like that. I’d thought she was mean, cold, and singled me out in boot camp. It was caring about someone else that drew us to lower our barriers and wow, was she something else. Cool, calm, heroic, and with resilience glowing from her. We’d given her family their freedom; she’d found someone who warmed her heart; her daughter owned a business empire, and Frei had beaten her past, turned it on its head, and used it to free others who’d been
enslaved like her. Some hero. My dad had always seemed distant too, and like he couldn’t
bear to look at me. It had taken us nearly drowning in a river for his walls to crumble. He made me feel blessed I was related to him. He had goodness through him, and now my mom was there to heckle him again, his heart, inside and out had healed.
Some windows were skewed and my mom—who I’d never known existed until she blackmailed me into taking her place in CIG—was hard to figure out. We couldn’t even stay in the same room without clashing and it took me getting shot and halfdrowned
for her to open up. I loved that she had only ever adored my dad, that she’d stayed loyal even when he’d remarried. I loved that all she wanted to do was crack Nan’s recipe for cookies. Yeah, she was easier to love the more I let her in, maybe it had just been
the way I was looking at the window?
Some windows were clear, true and constant, and one in particular had always been there to guide, heckle, and chastise my butt: Nan breezed on in from Etherspace a lot, and I knew I weren’t the only one she kept eyes on. Nope, she was heckling my
mom and my Aunt Bess too—Aunt Bess was the coolest retired lady ever. Didn’t think many half her age could storm a heavily guarded mansion, rescue slaves and Frei’s daughter, all while forgetting where her sweets were.
Talking of forgetting . . . Some windows were still misted up to me and there was someone I could never figure out from the outside but the more I knew of her, the more I realized I didn’t have one iota of who lay inside—Commander Renee Black. On
the outside, she was the daughter of the late Colonel Charles Black—a national hero. She could talk a whole load of languages, shoot a bud off a twig, protect folks that nobody else could, and while she was at it, pull off undercover like she was taking a nap.
I didn’t know how to take her sometimes and she had more barriers than anybody I’d ever met. Still, when you needed her, she stepped up; When I’d needed somebody to reach me, she’d been there in shrink mode; when I’d been facing folks thinking
I was guilty, she’d come charging in to help and dragged CIG with her. When I’d been scared and frozen, she’d been that calm commander. She made my gut wriggle looking at her and . . . well. . . I kinda liked that. Some lady.
And me? Well, from the outside, my window could get folks worried: A six-foot-five ex-con who was built like Samson and now, kind of an ex-con who worked as an agent for CIG.
Inside, I felt like Jell-O most of the time. I was an empath with the ability to see the past and present of folks around me; I read their jewelry, or other stuff that held their energy; had located them across hundreds of miles and, when they asked, I could displace their ailments.
Well, usually. I was meant to be resting. Nan had told me I was too sick to go using my burdens, as I liked to call them. I needed to recuperate. I’d been through a lot and I was real tired but did I have the energy to keep going if it turned out I had another mountain to climb?
I HAD THE chance to take Renee in when she flew. There was something about her in pilot-mode that peeled back layers. The chopper was pretty basic compared to Frei’s elite editions. The panel in front had countless dials and switches covering half way
up the window kinda like a real busy car, in the middle, and on the ceiling. I didn’t know how Renee remembered which one did what but I was kinda glad I didn’t have to remember.
Me being six-five meant that it wasn’t the biggest space. I was sure even short folks would find it a squeeze. I had the stick thing—Renee had given me a stern look when I called it a joystick—with buttons on it and some huge lever on the floor. Then there were
the headphones which crackled until my ears buzzed back and the bouncing. Choppers—or bugs as I called them—were rattling, bouncing hunks of metal.
The Colorado countryside didn’t look a whole lot different from the load of other states we’d flown through, stopped in, refueled, and carried on. I didn’t know why we couldn’t have just flown in a plane but Renee had a thing for bugs and I weren’t gonna argue with her. Could barely look at her when she smiled at me. I rubbed at my gut and shifted in the seat, trying not to knock the stick thing. Should have known kissing her wasn’t gonna help any.
“Relax, Lorelei. We’ll land soon,” she said, a slow smile spreading across her face—green in the lights from the panel and bright against the night sky. Her eyes fixed on the horizon, her hands making small adjustments, but somehow she could still
concentrate on me fidgeting.
“I got bees in my ears,” I muttered, tapping the crackling headset. It was getting worse. Still wasn’t sure how I could sit close to electrics without them popping.
“We’d have travelled on your bike if you’d been fit to drive.” She eased us to the right and my stomach rolled with it. “And it’s easier to hop between military bases in the chopper. Can’t always count on the runways being de-iced.”
“Bug is fine.” I rubbed at my stomach again. Was it the wriggles over her or from the motion?
I grabbed the stick thing, my vision blanking. “Left. Left, now.”
Renee swung us. “Shit.”
I opened my eyes and stared at her. She didn’t cuss. I’d never heard her cuss once. “What?”
“Maintain rotor RPM. Fly the chopper; Memory items; Checklist.” Renee muttered away to herself, glancing at the ground. “Give me direction, Lorelei.”
“Don’t know. Something hit us?” I couldn’t touch nothing, but the chopper was groaning. “Fire?”
Renee glanced up. “Lorelei, my lights are green.” She shook her head. “Shouldn’t be green, I can hear it.”
“Um . . . hear what?” Sounded like it always did, just louder.
“The engine.” Her long throat flexed. “Which engine. The master caution light isn’t on.” She sounded calm, like it was no problem.
There were no extra lights I could see. Not that I’d have one iota anyhow. “Wait . . . fire . . . an engine fire?” I gripped my knees.
“Yes, I need to know which one.” All calm, just like she was used to it. “We have two engines. I just need to know which one to shut down.” She smiled across at me and nodded, then went back to muttering through her checklist. Sounded like she was reading it in her head.
I closed my eyes. The chopper lurched.
“No . . . not too focused.” Her voice was smooth, controlled. “You got the flash, which side did you feel it.”
“Right.” I swallowed. “Definitely right.”
She nodded and placed her finger to the switch.
I took a long shuddering breath.
She flicked it.
The bees in my ears stopped, and I met her eyes.
“Well done.” She flashed a dashing smile at me, flicked at her radio, and fired off into pilot speak. Good thing she could speak so many languages, chopper speak was something else. “Okay, we’ll land at the base and drive from there.” Her eyes narrowed. “And get someone I trust to look over the instruments.”
I got a queasy feeling and sighed.
“More flashes?” She asked, flicking her eyebrow up.
There went the wriggles. “No . . . just . . . I’m glad you fly better than most.”
“Blacks are the best,” she said with a chuckle. “And bugs are like women.” She winked at me. “Keep you on your toes.”
Was she trying to make my stomach roll? I cleared my throat and stared at the little lights of what I hoped was a base. “Don’t know what you mean.”
Renee chuckled and it was different than I’d heard before, kinda . . . cheeky? “Uh huh.” She eased us down, flicked her switches and let out a breath. “I’ll sort out the car . . . go take on something to drink.” She squeezed my knee. “Good job, co-pilot.”
“I ain’t piloting nothin’. I like the ground. I like nice solid ground.” I stumbled through into the back as she slid open the door. Colorado was freezing. I thought the bug had been cold but what was it with me getting the shivers? “Why couldn’t you live someplace warm?”
She shook her head at me and jumped down then glared up at something.
“Engine?” I lumbered around to follow her—knees didn’t much like being squashed in.
“Engine . . .” She squinted up at it. “I’ll get someone to check it. I’m tired, let’s get going.”
I shuddered. “Liar.”
She shrugged. “We’re on the ground.” She turned and strode, all Commander Black, to the guy in overalls scurrying over.
“Thanks to you,” I whispered and rubbed at my stomach again.
How was I gonna meet her mom feeling like this? Could barely think, let alone talk sense.
A gentle breeze fluttered around me—Nan. “Can of soda.”
I folded my arms. “Pop, and I shaken enough cans . . .” Renee launched into ordering the guy around, and he grinned at her, awe in his eyes. “Even he got it bad for her.”
“’Cause he got eyes, Shorty.” Nan chuckled her joy-filled chuckle. “An’ you’re collecting dust.”
Renee raised her eyebrows at me and rolled her finger. My gut jumped, wriggled, and my heart stumbled.
“Talk to her,” Nan whispered then kissed me on the cheek.
Guess she wasn’t going to appear when there were folks around.
“Nuh uh, no way. I tried talking, that just . . . well, I ain’t.” I shoved my hands in my pockets and trudged after Renee. “I ain’t shaking anything else.”
Nan laughed the kind of laugh that made me groan as Renee strode along, her slinky walk, her confidence, her . . . well . . . just her. Yeah. Didn’t need to shake nothin’. Renee made me shake enough just looking at her. Better I just shoved it away.