Sample from Blood Siren 2nd Ed #2
|Art by Michael Lam 2013|
Below is part of one of the new chapters in the upcoming Blood Siren 2nd Edition. It centers around Cygni Aragon (featured in Towerfall, which is now part of Blood Siren 2nd Edition). Enjoy the read!
Blood Siren 2nd Edition will be released in Print and eBook formats on July 1st!
(Art by Michael Lam)
Cygni climbed the stone stairs leading into the block-shaped, fast-crete building at the edge of the Diplomatic District. Her implant ran text across the bottom of her vision informing her that the building was originally intended as a hospital for the workers that built the district centuries ago, but was converted to house consulates of species without official diplomatic status in the Confederation. At present, the Savorchan Tribal Nation and the Nyangari Protectorate shared the building.
The lobby had pistachio-green colored walls and a tile floor reminding Cygni of an old Earth ice-cream parlor. Five-meters on a side and three tall, it was crowded with the number of Nyangari and Savorchans passing through it. The latter species had to crouch as their height was, on average, equal to or greater than that of the room. Beside the giant masses of muscle-and-exoskeletal ivory, the Nyangari were comically short. About one-third the height of the Savorchans, they looked like children running about in black military uniforms with circular red epaulettes.
There were two podiums placed in neighboring corners of the room nearest the entrance to serve as reception desks for the consulates. She headed to the one where a civilian Nyangari sat perched on a tall stool, casually sniffing at the air with the pink-rose-like, flesh-petal nose of her kind. She wore a sleeveless sky-blue dress with a green trim that hung from her shoulders. A belt bound it to her waist with three golden cords tied together in intricate knots. Her mouth-pouch shimmered in the light, accentuating the oily-bronze color of her leathery skin as it hung from a pointed chin to the slight bulges of her breasts on either side of the v-neck dress. Her pointed ears drooped on either side of her narrow head as Cygni met her red-eyed gaze.
“Hello, Cygni Aragón,” the receptionist said in thinly accented Solan with ears cocked forward. The petals of her teardrop-shaped sniffer fluttered.
Cygni bit her lip while trying to remember the receptionist’s name. When the moments stretched from the realm of appropriate pause into that of uncomfortable silence, she gave up and had her implant query the receptionist’s for an ID.
“Hello, Haela. How are you today?” she said in Nyangari.
Haela’s tongue slipped out of the side of her mouth. The Nyangari’s smile seemed to indicate she was aware that her name had been forgotten and was hopefully amused by it.
Cygni felt herself blush.
“I have good health, and yourself?” Haela responded, translating the traditional Nyangari response into Solan.
“I have good health,” she said in her own tongue.
“Are you here to see Guror Ithros?”
Guror was Shkur’s military rank—about the equivalent of a junior lieutenant in the Confederate Star Corps. She barely heard his rank outside of her occasional visits to the consulate and it always sounded strange in her ears.
“And he knows you are here?”
“I messaged him when I got out of the taxi.” Consulate protocol forbade outsiders from placing calls to staff on duty, but messages were considered innocuous enough to be permitted. The protocol was also the reason that she had to engage the receptionist like this. Shkur insisted she observe the regulations about registering guests in person at the podium.
Haela’s eyes lost focus for a moment.
“He’ll be here as soon as he is available.”
“Thank you,” she said. The lobby was devoid of a formal waiting area, so she assumed a place standing beside the podium.
“What is it like?” Haela said, after Cygni spent a few minutes listening to the sound of small and large feet on the tile floor.
“Being with one of us. I mean—I know, of course, but how does a human deal with the in—”
“What?” She never considered herself prudish, but the receptionist’s directness had her blushing deeper than before.
“Are you not? I assumed you and the Guror were—”
“None of your business.”
Haela’s jaw opened slightly, the hook-toothed bones moving down and away from her skull in opposite directions.
“Have I offended you?” Haela asked.
“Is it normal for Nyangari to talk about things with strangers? Shkur hadn’t given me that impression,” she fired back.
“No—I thought because humans are usually more open about such things—I am sorry. Things have been hectic around here.”
Cygni, despite her embarrassment, felt her instincts piqued.
“Preparing for the trip, of course.”
“Who is taking a trip?”
Haela’s tongue lolled out of the side of her mouth.
“The ambassador and a small contingent of warriors was invited to Baron Keltan’s engagement party. I thought Guror Ithros would have told you. He is in the contingent.” Haela shifted her gaze away—Nyangari embarrassment and submission.
“He hadn’t mentioned it. Thank you for telling me, Haela.”
The Nyangari woman looked down at the floor.
“I am sorry to keep you waiting,” Shkur’s voice drew Cygni’s attention. He marched through the lobby dressed in his full military finery; the material of the black jacket shimmered below the red collar. His chest-high body, slightly hunched at the shoulders and thick with the muscles she appreciated, filled it in well. His skin had the look of tough oiled leather, and hung in a regal pouch from his jaw.
“Don’t be.” She leaned down and touched her nose to his. “Are you ready for lunch?”
“What is on the menu today?” His yellow eyes gleamed in the light.
“Come, let me surprise you.” she turned, but felt Shkur’s strong hand on her forearm. She knew what he wanted, and rolled her eyes. “All right.”
He moved in front of her and waited.
“Thank you, Haela.” With a nod to the receptionist, she half-climbed, half-squatted onto Shkur’s back. She knew the sight was ridiculous, but Haela gave no indication of it.
“You are welcome, Miss Aragón.”
Shkur carried her onto the street. She had to hold her legs out straight to prevent her feet from scraping on the ground. A Savorchan passed them on the stairs and paused at the top to turn his domed, eyeless head in their direction. She didn’t think something without eyes could stare before that moment.
Once on the street, she tapped Shkur on the shoulder and he let her dismount. Males carrying their mates was a long-held tradition in Nyangari culture. She didn’t have a problem with it per se, though she had to wonder if it was at least a partially misogynistic cultural practice, but her size made it look embarrassingly ridiculous. It may be normal to Shkur’s species, but it wasn’t to the rest of the city’s population. She was relieved that he let her end the ride so quickly.
“I thought we should try something different today.” She straightened the crinkles in her pants. She was embarrassed enough for one day and was eager to get away from the consulate.
“What do you have in mind?” Shkur asked.
They started walking.
“I do not have very long today. The ambassador has a lot of things to do, and I am needed.”
“You didn’t tell me you were going on that engagement cruise.”
His long, pointed ears twitched, but he did not otherwise react.
“I was going to tell you tonight. We leave in six days.”
“So you were only going to give me six days to say goodbye?” She felt she was being catty as soon as the words were out of her mouth, but realized he deserved a little attitude for not telling her sooner.
“We are coming back. I will only be gone one-hundred-twenty standard days. We have gone longer without seeing each other when you have had an assignment off world.”
“When did you know?” He was right, they had been apart longer, but she didn’t want to give it to him. He should have been the one to tell her, not some receptionist.
“The decision to bring me in the contingent was made two days ago.”
“I’ve seen you since then,” she said.
“At your release from jail. It didn’t seem appropriate or fair to bring it up then. I was going to tell you tonight. Is this why you wanted to meet for lunch today? I was not aware I was going from my office to a battlefield.” He snorted, the many petals of his nose vibrated violently.
She took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts while they walked six blocks in one direction.
“We have past three Nyangari restaurants, a Solan burger shop, and a Cleebian noodle stand. Do you know where we are eating?” He waved his hand in the air.
She stopped walking. She’d allowed her anger to get the better of her and walked right past the place she had in mind for lunch—he should have been the one to tell her, not that receptionist. She tried to calm herself with slow, deep breaths to get her mind working properly again.
“You do not, I see.” Shkur shook his head like a cerberai shaking off water.
“Wait, I originally just wanted to have lunch, but now I want to talk to you about—well—about the Queen Gaia.”
She watched his eyes shifted back and forth, noting the other pedestrians moving around them. Lunch time in the Diplomatic District was as busy as it was in the Corporate District. The streets were crowded with representatives of every species with a tie to the Confederation, including the gray-skinned VoQuana. Their teardrop shaped heads and large, black eyes atop emaciated, human bodies sent shivers down her back.
“What about the Queen Gaia?” His tone shifted to kinder notes.
“My editor won’t let me go on that ship. He’s sending Pawqlan.”
“This air-headed Galaenean gossip.” She waved her hand by her ear to illustrate the point. “All of the key individuals in whatever Baron Mitsugawa got himself mixed up with are going to be on that ship, and my editor sends the air-head.”
“The older one. The dead one.”
Shkur looked about the street again. “Perhaps we should go get a table—” he cast about the fast-crete floor of the urban canyon “—there.” His thick, bronzy-skinned fingers pointed to a narrow shop across the street labeled ‘Fried Delectables’ in the five major languages of the Confederation.
“What made you choose that place?” her brow furled.
“I simply made a decision,” he said.
“All right.” She smiled.
They walked over and, passing through the narrow doorway, assumed seats at a wooden table amongst a clutter of its kind just big enough for two. The walls were decorated with freezes in low relief showing a clutter of scenes with which Cygni was unfamiliar. She recognized depictions of Solans, Achinoi, and other species, but could not tell what they were doing. Despite her ignorance she found the darkness of the wood gave the establishment a dim, if cozy atmosphere that was pleasantly enhanced by the smell of spices and preserved meats.
“This is interesting,” she murmured as they assumed their seats. “Have you eaten here before?”
“No,” he said. “We are far from the consulate and I chose it at random.”
She looked over at the bar two meters from them. Behind its tall counter a slender Achinoi stood. The leathery membranes connecting the underside of her arms to the outside of her legs protruded from a dark blue garment hanging from her quill-encrusted shoulders. The Mohawk of quills on her head were dyed red and green, giving Cygni the impression that she must be youthful if not actually a juvenile of her kind.
She caught one of her four, green eyes and the woman brought over menus.
“Can I get either of you something to drink?” The woman asked in heavily accented Nyangari. The growls and gurgles that should have punctuated her speech were not annunciated enough, and she sounded like a drunken novice. Cygni guessed she was either new to the language, or just trying to pick it up from the patronage.
Shkur flipped the menu over, scanned down the list of drinks, and cocked his head to the side. Curious, she imitated him and was greeted with a gargantuan assortment of available beverages. Each had the symbol of the sovereignty in which it originated printed beside text that her implant translated into Solan as she read. All of the Confederate drinks were represented, and there were even a few from the Commonwealth and the Empire.
“Wow,” she whispered. In a louder voice she said, “is the inside of the menu like this?”
“We pride ourselves on serving all known species, and on introducing new tastes to the palate,” the Achinoi said.
“That’s great for you,” Cygni said. Her growls and gurgles, she knew, had a much more practiced sound than the Achinoi’s.
“This one,” Shkur pointed to a Nyangari drink, cephur. It was sweet and acidic, similar to Solan orange juice.
“Beer for me.”
“Which one? We have a large—”
“Any one,” she responded.
The woman blinked all four of her eyes and headed back to the bar.
Cygni took a deep breath watching Shkur studiously attack the menu’s interior with his eyes. Knowing that he was going to be on the Queen Gaia gave her an idea, one that she refined as they waited for their drinks. She didn’t know if he would go for it, or even if he could, but unless she could change her editor’s mind this was the only way she was going to get on the Green Queen of the Stars as the ship was known.
“Shkur.” She took another deep breath. She suddenly didn’t want to ask him, it was rare her nerves got in her way like this.
His small, yellow eyes looked up at her.
“I—” She licked her lips, knowing if she didn’t force herself now she would hate herself later. “—I want to be on that ship.”
“What?” he growled out.
Their drinks arrived.
“What are you having?” The Achinoi woman asked. She held her hands in front of her waist, tapping the red-nail-polish-covered claws together in slow succession.
“I’ll try this—thing. Forgive me, I don’t believe I have the vocal chords to pronounce it.” Shkur pointed to an item on the menu.
“That is brave of you,” the Achinoi responded.
“I want to taste the flavors of your enemies,” he said.
“What did you choose? Something Broghite?” Cygni asked.
“Jaoczari, I believe they are a member species of the Broghite Commonwealth.”
“I know,” she said. The annoyance of his unnecessary explanation was mollified by the knowledge that his face would be priceless when the food arrived. She knew what the Jaoczar ate, and it would not agree with a Nyangari’s tastes. Perhaps it was mean of her not to warn him, but it was also a way to vent some of her residual anger.
“And for you?” The Achinoi asked.
“Klut,” she said.
“Klut? I thought Solans could not digest klut,” Shkur said.
“The both of you are very brave.” The Achinoi woman headed away from their table and disappeared behind a swinging door at the back of the restaurant.
“The ship, yes?”
“Yes, the ship.” She sighed. The earlier interruption had killed her momentum, but she still had to make herself ask. “I need to be on that ship, and I was thinking—”
“That maybe I could bring a guest with me?” His eyes gleamed. His tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth.
“Don’t do that.”
“Be so smug with me.”
“Sorry, I will have to get permission from the ambassador. I believe he will say yes, but—”
“But he may want something you won’t like giving.”
“Huh?” She frowned. Fear and curiosity warred in her heart. Curiosity won as it always did. She wouldn’t be what she was if it didn’t.
“He will want details about us.” He leaned back in his seat.
“Details?” Her mind connected the dots. She laughed loud enough it bounced off the walls. “He won’t want to cop a feel or anything? Just hear about it?”
“You are my mate, Cygni. It would be improper to ask you to do anything!”
She could tell he was really angry. The petals of his nose vibrated in a certain way when he was.
“I’m sorry, really. I’m sorry. I was just joking.” Mostly, she thought.
“Always joking. Solan women!”
“I’m sorry,” she said in somber tones. The Nyangari ambassador’s voyeuristic desire was amusing as hell, but she didn’t want that amusement to hurt her mate.
He shook his head.
“I will ask if you forgive me for not telling you about the delegation.”
The Achinoi woman returned from the back. In one hand she held a ceramic sphere encrusted with what appeared to be black and red moss, in the other she held a plate of greenish meat that smelled as bad as it looked—klut.
“What is this?” He asked when she set the meal before him.
“What you ordered.”
Cygni took the plate of rotten meat from the Achinoi and pushed it over to Shkur.
“I’m not hungry,” she said.
He looked up.
“Just ask the ambassador and we’re even.” She winked.
Blood Siren 2nd Edition will be Available
July 1st 2014!
Check out cygnusorion.com for news!