UNEDITED

QBBS Meredith Reynolds, Guardians' Workout Area

Ashur dodged to his left, jaws clamping on the wolf’s hind leg. The two of them arrested their momentum as Ashur kept his jaws locked, and it felt like his teeth were about to be ripped out of his jaws.

The two canine bodies slammed to the floor. Over at the side, Peter winced at the sound.

“That had to hurt,” Todd commented, followed by Peter’s nod of agreement.

Hold!” Peter called. “Change, Tim,” he ordered the wolf. A moment later, a very large man replaced the wolf on the ground. The white German Shepherd barked.

Tim turned towards Ashur. “No,” he told him. “I’m fine, but that was a hell of a grab.” He flexed his rapidly healing leg, stretching it out and back a couple of times. “See? Good as new, buddy!”

Peter tossed a pair of sweat pants to Tim, who slid them on after he stood up. “For a dog, you're wicked fast.”

Tim raised an eyebrow as Ashur barked to him, “Yeah? No fucking wonder. Glad it’s your ass that has to work out with the Empress, not mine!”

Ashur’s chuff caused all of them to laugh in sympathy with the canine. With everyone having the latest updates and upgrades in their implants, they could understand both the parents and the pups easily, plus any other alien languages the Etheric Empire ran into.

“Ok, Ashur.” Peter smiled evilly, looking at the German Shepherd. Ashur cocked his head sideways.

OH, DAMN! he thought.

Tim looked at Peter as he turned and yelled, “Jian!”

Over on the far side of the workout gym, a Chinese man turned to look in their direction. “Cat time!” Peter called and Jian nodded, starting to jog over to their position.

Ashur whined as both Peter and Tim chuckled.

Someone please get me the body armor! Ashur chuffed.

Peter smiled as he headed toward the wall. Bethany Anne had told him Ashur was trying to get away with working out without his armor, but he needed to learn that while it was constricting, it was necessary. It had taken Ashur exactly one match with Jian to learn he didn’t enjoy healing from cat claws ripping through his side.

QBBS Meredith Reynolds, Mark Billingsley Park, Four Months since First Battle of Karillia

Samuel walked over to the three adults standing by the tree. Richard turned to him, “Anything?”

“Like there would be anything going on in the middle of the Meredith Reynolds!” Sia told the two of them.

The brief flash of pain across Richard’s face caused Sia to remember. To Richard, Mark’s death hadn't been that long ago. The vampires remembered, and they still felt the pain.

Especially Richard. Why, Sia had yet to understand. She had tried to talk with him about it, but he had been reticent. She then cornered Samuel instead and he admitted that Richard had seen a piece of himself in Mark and had liked him much more than any other normal human in a century or more.

Plus, at his core Richard was a romantic and he had wanted to see the two of them hook up. Or Mark and Giannini; Richard wasn’t particular.

“So,” she had asked Samuel, “he’s like a blood-drinking Cupid?”

Samuel’s eyes had lit up at that, and Sia put her hands on his chest. “Don’t you dare tell Richard I said that!” She'd eyed his mischievous grin. “I swear I’ll think of something to cause you…” Here, Sia had to stop talking a moment and think the threat through. Samuel had been trading practical jokes with people for centuries.

What the hell could you do to embarrass someone who wouldn’t care if he walked naked through a book-reading event held by a bunch of nuns?

She'd narrowed her eyes. “I’ll tell Gabrielle a complete lie that will cause her to come looking for you.”

That had caused Samuel’s smile to disappear. “Sia,” he sniffed, looking down at the young woman, “I applaud your Machiavellian ways. You have graduated to sophomore status.”

At that he had turned and walked away, and Sia'd realized she was proud of herself. That feeling lasted for about a second, until she realized he had never promised her he wouldn’t say anything to Richard.

Dammit!

Sia came back to the present and offered a smile to the two men. “We appreciate you signing up to help us with this project.

“You aren’t just reporting here, are you?” Richard looked between the women.

Giannini answered, “No, I think this is going to open everything up for the Etheric Empire. For the last few years everything has been about internal issues, specifically the Yollin assholes or the other polities which have attacked us. This time we are sending ships to another planet.”

Samuel shrugged. “We’ve sent out our ships before,” he told her. “What’s different this time?”

“Pirates,” Sia answered as she turned and started packing away the drones. “All those other times pirates that caused the Empire’s military to leave our little area. Now those who feared we would start expanding are going to flail their arms.”

Sia paused, then clarified, “Or tentacles or claws or whatever sort of appendages they have.”

Richard pursed his lips. “You two have experience with this?” He flicked his eyes to Samuel, who nodded

“Humanity has,” Giannini told them. “Sia and I have spent a good while on Yoll and Straiphus tracking down stories, and we have come to realize that the universal glue that holds us together isn’t genetics.” She noticed the look that said, “Go on already” from her two friends. “It’s self-interest.”

“Which,” Sia picked up her drone case and stood, “if it is a hive-mind-type alien, just means the self-interest is on a larger scale.”

Samuel took a second to sweep his eyes through his sector. “Hope we don’t see any large creatures with a hive-mind attitude.”

The two ladies stared at him. “You know,” Sia told him, “I had forgotten how you could take a somewhat normal thought and make it far worse.”

Samuel shrugged. “When you live hundreds of years, you experience a lot of bad things.”

“Only to have life demonstrate it really was fucking with you,” Richard finished. “Which is why we continue to watch for threats, even on the Meredith Reynolds.”

Sia and Giannini stepped toward the men, who were surprised when the girls gave them each a hug. “I wouldn’t feel any safer with John Grimes around, Richard,” Sia told him, her words muffled by his jacket.

She could feel his body relax slightly, and then his arm pulled her tight as he hugged her back.

QBBS Meredith Reynolds, Main Military Meeting Room

Bethany Anne nodded to her advisors and stood. She turned to the audience, which was made up of second- and third-line management and operations personnel. “You have tasks, challenges and opportunities ahead. We came out here to find and stop the Kurtherians, if at all possible.” She stepped away from her chair and walked toward the front of the long table, looking up at the rows of faces gazing back at her.

“Unfortunately the Leath are stronger than us, and frankly are on a better war footing. Right now, them being anal-retentive about timing is giving us a chance to restrict the fight to the Karillian System. The Yaree are pulling their people home, those they can take away from trade. That means we have the monumental task of training a race who needs to grow a little backbone. We are that backbone, for the moment.”

Bethany Anne looked around. “It’s time to kick our efforts into overdrive, people. I encourage all of you to go back to your jobs, kick ass, and work with your staffs. We need you to come up with new ideas and new solutions. Find ways we can close the distance between our expected delivery times, and yesterday. Am I understood?”

“YES, MA’AM!” the crowd yelled back.

She smiled at them all. “Dismissed!”

She stood at the front and spoke to the few who came up to talk to her. She listened to a few ideas and smiled, sending them to the appropriate person in the organization who would be addressing that problem.

Lance walked up to her. “Bethany Anne?”

She turned to him. “Yes, Dad?”

A couple of the people around her nodded and stepped back. They could tell when it was official business because the General would refer to her by her title, and she would reply in kind. They walked away with smiles on their face; just the little moment of the Empress calling the General her dad made her more human.

Less of a figurehead.

“Patricia was wondering if you would have time to stop by this week, maybe touch base on some of her thoughts about the war packages?”

“Of course,” she told him. “Do we have the archives set up to print the books and comics?” She thought for a moment. “And the cards for the games?”

“Yes, yes, and yes,” he told her. “Plus, we have limited the print run with scarcity in mind so that they will have something to gamble with.”

“Can you go right now?” she asked him.

He checked the time. “I’ve got a conversation with Kevin about the new mobile Reynolds he’s building in ten minutes.”

Bethany Anne checked her schedule.

ADAM, move my meeting with Jean until tonight before dinner. Tell her I’m tagging along with my dad to see about the new Reynolds.

>>Done. She says that works out better for her anyway.<<

There was a pause…

>>Sorry, I wasn’t supposed to admit that last part.<<

Humans have been copping out on stuff more than a thousand years. We are all busy.

“Why don’t we swing by, see if Patricia is around, then I’ll go with you to see Kevin?” she asked him.

He nodded. “Works for me.”

“Hey!” The two turned to see Admiral Thomas walking toward them. “Give an old man a lift?”

Bethany Anne reached out to them both as he neared them. “You don’t look a day past thirty, Bartholomew.” She smiled when just the tiniest part of his lip curled in annoyance.

Hey, it wasn’t her fault his parents named him something he didn’t care for. She wasn’t about to call him Bart, for fuck’s sake.

ADAM, where is Patricia?

>> Shopping, fourth floor, men’s section.<<

Seconds later the three of them popped out into the large shopping area, seventh floor, in front of a shop.

They all heard the indrawn breath.

“Empress?” A woman’s voice inquired softly.


FROM MICHAEL >>> I was asked by a fan to put up another snippet…and I had expected to do it 2 days ago. Sigh, ask me for anything but time 😉

I'm keeping up with my counts for words (mostly) and have over 54,000 words into the book, and the target date for release is Wednesday, August 23rd.

Hope to say ‘Words Complete' Soon!

Michael

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