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For those who like their science-fiction with interstellar travel, this sneak peek from Fortuna: The Apprentice, Volume 4 is for you.

Lucius stretches out his legs and glances over at his apprentice. Lilian’s head is bent toward her slate as she rapidly taps instructions. Her good humor pleases him, evidence that she is recovering from the violence of her assaults at the hands of Grey Spear. The relaxed posture exhibits naught of strain that could have her startling at shadows. The journey to Fortuna is already benefiting his apprentice.


Immersed in his thoughts, they are almost to the pavilion before Lucius realizes Lilian’s competent tapping has ceased. Her earlier relaxation is gone, replaced by ramrod posture, a stoic expression, and a tight grip on the slate satchel where her thorn resides. What troubles the woman? Before Lucius can explore this latest enigma, Mr. George is opening the door of the transport.


The Shimmering Horizon is among the most luxurious transports in the Twelve Systems. For most of the year, it travels between the commerce centers of the Third and Second Systems. Only during the green season does travel to Fortuna. The only transports that are finer do not transit to the Fourth System at all.


A deferential steward escorts them to a suite in a quiet and secluded section of the transport where a Blooded Dagger Militia guard already in position by the door. Inside the suite, the steward guides them through a well-appointed and commodious reception salon divided into three seating areas and a dining section. The amenities include a wall-sized reviewer on the long interior wall and window the length of the chamber with a view of the Stellar Transport Center.


There are two doors off the reception salon. Directly opposite the entry door are the double doors that lead to Lucius’ bed chamber which in turn has a single door on the left that leads to a comfortable freshening closet. Adjoining Lucius’ freshening chamber and accessible through an entrance next to the reviewer is the servitor’s complete with a miniscule excuse for a freshening closet.


Lilian cannot fail to make the obvious comparison between the luxury of milord’s accommodations and the Spartan nature of the militia transport that returned her and her family to Metricelli Prime two years gone. Repressing a shudder, refusing to allow the memories of that ordeal to overwhelm her, Lilian focuses on the stellar transit center beyond the window. She is not looking forward to when the planet disappears to be replaced by the star-filled void.


“What think you, Lilian?” Milord tosses his jacket on a chair and drops onto the oversize couch opposite the reviewer.


That I pray this stellar journey will be more agreeable than my last. Do not voice that. “The accommodations are very fine.”


Milord’s eyes narrow and his lips firm in unspoken command. Cautiously, Lilian adds, “Much nicer than the utilitarian accommodations of a militia transport.”


As Lucius suspected, Lilian is troubled by evil memories of her protocol review. Although Lilian does not know it, Lucius owns the only monitor recording of Remus Gariten’s Final Draught and the ugly scene it included. The nasty militia corporal who allowed Lilian’s abuse no longer lives. Trevelyan’s operatives eliminated that particular threat to his apprentice with their customary efficiency. It occurs to Lucius that the pervert might not have been the only one. Media reports of prisoner abuse are common enough. Reaching out a hand, Lucius beckons to Lilian. Pulling her down next to him on the couch, he encircles her shoulders with one arm. “Were they cruel to you?”


Raising startled eyes, Lilian shakes her head in denial, “No milord. For the most part the militia officers were indifferent. Prisoners are but cargo to be transported safely, free of damage, and with as little effort as possible.”


A shadow flickers across Lilian’s face, and she adds, “There was one very nasty corporal. Fortunately, I was no longer a prisoner when I encountered him.”


With a gentle squeeze, Lucius encourages Lilian to continue. If there is aught of the corporal Lucius does not know, he will know it now.


With a lightening of her features, Lilian adds, “He came to a violent end some months gone. It was in the media. I admit, I pray regularly for the wellbeing of his murderers.”


Stunned and amused, Lucius pulls Lilian in for a kiss. Releasing her after several enjoyable moments, Lucius notes with pleasure Lilian’s wide eyes and red, swollen lips. A heartbeat later, sharp intellect replaces Lilian’s bemusement and a hint of wariness, “Should I be naming Seigneur Trevelyan in my prayers?”


Demon shit. Lilian is well aware Trevelyan’s services are often less than legal, and she is beyond intuitive.


Lilian’s eyes darken. Lucius’ silence is answer enough. “Milord has viewed the recording.”


“I have,” Lucius admits, wondering at her distress. The man was a threat to Lilian, and she was pleased to pray for his killers.


Lilian drops her eyes, her fingers nervously tracing the weave of her cheap linen skirt. “Milord is not… my behavior… I…”


Provoked by Gariten’s verbal abuse of Helena and Katleen, Lilian had put her thorn to his throat and compelled him to swallow the Final Draught. Raising a weapon to her sire violated multiple taboos, threatening patricide bordered on an annihilation crime. None of this troubles Lucius. Cupping Lilian’s chin, he tilts her face to meet his gaze. “Peace, woman. You have no cause for shame. The corporal should never have permitted Gariten’s abuse. It was the corporal’s duty to administer the Draught. You did naught but what was necessary.”


Lilian’s eyes flare and brighten with emotion. Lowering her lashes, Lilian turns her face into his hand to kiss Lucius’ fingers. Her murmured, ‘my thanks, milord’ is felt as much as heard. The gesture sends a familiar stab of lust to Lucius’ groin and a curious warmth to his heart. Unable to resist, he asks, “Will your prayers add my name to Trevelyan’s?”


“There is no need, milord,” Lilian’s eyes are full of conviction. “Milord’s name has long been included.”


Both lust and the odd warmth ignite into heat, Lucius drags Lilian close, claiming her mouth.


Milord’s mouth descends in a plundering kiss, scattering Lilian’s wits and swamping her senses. Relief that milord is not horrified by her behavior at Gariten’s execution blends with wonder that milord saw to her protection with the assassination of the corporal. Lilian knew that once she proved her bond, the corporal would have used that incident for blackmail. Had milord not had the man slain, it would have fallen to Lilian.


To Lilian’s regret, milord proceeds no further than a kiss. Gently releasing her, milord says, “We have some bells until planet exit. It would be well to take advantage of the communications network while we may.”


Nodding, Lilian shifts to the other side of the couch and takes up her slate. She is anxious to complete the fisheries analysis before communications become difficult. At midday, Lilian begs to retreat for a few moments. Returning to the salon, she discovers Milord seated at a table, a meal for two arrayed before him, his slate resting on its stand. At milord’s gesture, Lilian collects her slate and takes her place. They eat in silence, both focused on commerce. As soon as milord rises from table, Lilian follows, retreating to her chamber to cleanse as milord disappears into his. When she returns to her place on the couch, the phantom servitors have removed the debris from the meal.


Within a bell, chimes sound, alerting Lilian to deactivate her slate. Milord is already moving to a chair that faces the window where passengers can have a clear view of Metricelli Prime dropping away. It is not the first time Lilian has been on a luxury stellar transport. Even in the finest accommodations the g-force is breathtaking, as is the knowledge that once it ceases, they have entered the void.


As the pressure of planet exit fades, Metricelli Prime turns into a small green ball. It will be two years before construction completes on the SEV1 and it launches for the Thirteenth system. Even with all their plans and preparations, there is much that could go amiss. Lilian is overwhelmed at the thought of the courage it will take the SEV1 crew to leave the last beacon behind and head into the void with nothing to guide them but the markers left by the Serengeti XII probe. Naught but a fragile trail of candles across a vast darkness.


“It is a fearsome notion,” Milord echoes her thoughts.


Whether milord can read her mind or is simply that intuitive, there is no purpose in dissembling. “Yes, milord, all those stars and only twelve that are beaconed. It would be very easy to get lost in the void.”


Gazing into the inky black scattered with pinpricks of light, Lilian’s mind starts to work through the SEV1 plans again, seeking flaws and risks. Nickolas and Fletcher will be on the SEV1. They will not be lost.


Again, as if reading her mind, milord says, “Then we must make very certain that the SEV1 does not get lost.”


“Yes, milord.”


Shortly after third bell, the release chimes sound. They have left the Third System. The speed of the transport has turned the pinpricks into streamers of light as the Shimmering Horizon leaps toward the next beacon.  The passengers are at liberty to move about the transport.

1 comment | Add a New Comment
1. Jason Swearingin | September 08, 2016 at 12:29 PM EDT

It only takes a moment for these characters to draw me back into your world. Love it can't wait to read the whole thing!

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