Tagnaomi bradleigh

Episode 01 – 31 July 2106

I’ve decided to try something new, a series of flash fiction episodes depicting characters from Starbreaker in ordinary life. I’m going to call it Starbreaker: A Day in the Life. Here’s a piece featuring Morgan and Naomi.

Starbreaker Character Banner. Artwork by Harvey Bunda

Starbreaker Character Banner. Artwork by Harvey Bunda

Episode 01 – 31 July 2106

Morgan didn’t mind the cramped quarters aboard the Wyoming Knott as much if it meant having Naomi pressed close to him. Her warmth seeped through the protective suits issued to all passengers for the duration of the passage from Armstrong City on Luna back to Earth. He clamped down on the temptation to dip his head and steal a kiss in front of the reporter.

“You two make a good couple.” Samuel Terell winked at Morgan, as if sharing an unspoken understanding between men. “What was it like to play together, just the two of you?”

Morgan shivered as Naomi wound her fingers in his hair, caressing his neck. Her voice alone was enough to drive him mad. “It just isn’t the same without Christabel, and we miss her, though Erica Court performed admirably in her place.”

“Why couldn’t Christabel Crowley join you on the Voices From Home tour?”

A glance from Naomi told Morgan it was his turn. “Christabel doesn’t handle microgravity very well. Even suborbital flights are difficult for her, and it seemed cruel to subject her to a two-week voyage.”

“And you didn’t want two weeks with the other lovely diva of Crowley’s Thoth?” Terell punctuated this question with a cynical chuckle, and leaned forward. “Just be honest. You two wanted some time alone together.”

Naomi’s laughter rang throughout the stateroom. “Mr. Terell, even if I wanted to seduce Morgan, we had no privacy. Between you and the rest of the press, other musicians, the roadies, and the ship’s crew — we always had somebody underfoot.” She leaned forward, and flashed a saucy smile. “I daresay Morgan will take it out on Christabel once he’s gotten used to normal gravity again.”

“Not if she sees this and thinks I’m cheating on her.”

“Don’t worry, ‘Bel.” Naomi took on a teasing tone. “Morgan behaved himself the whole time. He hasn’t let me do anything but ogle him.”

Terell offered the mic to Morgan. “How do you like being subject to the female gaze, Adversary?”

Morgan shifted, and wished he had space and privacy to adjust himself. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“I bet.” Terell chuckled. “Let’s get back to business. Some in the business find it odd that Voice of Reason won’t release recordings of their lunar performances. Care to offer some insight?”

Naomi put aside all coquettishness. “Voice of Reason is a creature of necessity, Mr. Terell. We can’t tour as Crowley’s Thoth without Christabel, and Christabel isn’t up to the rigors of spaceflight.”

“So, we took on a new name for this tour, based on Naomi being the voice of reason when Christabel and I argue.” Morgan paused a moment to let Terell adjust his grip on the mic. “We didn’t record our shows because we wanted to make the experience of seeing us special for those of our Lunatic fans who had the privilege of attending our shows.”

“I think we should end on that note.” Terell signaled his crew to halt recording. “Ms. Bradleigh, Adversary Stormrider, thanks for your time.”

Naomi was first to take Terell’s hand. “Of course, Mr. Terell. We wish you and your viewers the best.”

Morgan also shook Terell’s hand. “I can’t speak for the members of Demifiend, Doomed Space Marines, Ginger Tabby Sect, or His Darkest Materials, but I appreciate you and your staff following us on the Voices From Home tour.”

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Anybody Want to Read an Outtake?

What? You don’t want to read an outtake from The Blackened Phoenix? Too bad. You’re getting one anyway. :)

Trust me. You’re better off this way. It’s either an outtake from a novel whose plot I’m re-working so I can tighten it up and start the book with more action — or a rant about how dividing books into “Young Adult”, “New Adult”, and “adult” not only gives pretentious, ignorant harpies like Ruth Graham something to bitch about, but it also does a disservice to young readers by giving adults an excuse to restrict their choice of “appropriate” reading material.

You know what? I might do that rant anyway, but not today. In the meantime, have an outtake.

ruleNaomi stirred as Morgan’s lips brushed her neck. She molded her body against his, drawing his arms tighter around her. The bed was a tight fit with Mordred curled up behind Morgan, pinning the covers, but they managed. The blankets embraced them in a warm cocoon as Morgan caressed her hip.

She turned over, careful to avoid falling out of bed, and pecked Morgan’s lips. “Better not get me started again. Aren’t Eddie and Sid coming back with the girls?”

“Damn. They’re probably here already. I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”

“I think I dozed off first.” Naomi slipped out of bed as Morgan tried to stretch without disturbing the cat. She began to dress. “I’m glad you stayed, but may I suggest getting a bigger bed?”

“We could have used your room.” Morgan opened a drawer and offered Naomi a fresh pair of socks. “How’s your ankle?”

“Better, but don’t ask me out dancing tonight.” She took the socks with a smile. She studied the bedroom while putting them on, grateful for their thick woolen warmth, and found almost nothing that surprised her after a decade of friendship, a shared battle, and their long-overdue romance. “I wanted you to take me here. I was curious.”

Instead of the Crowley’s Thoth memorabilia decorating the rest of Morgan’s home, Naomi found a framed photograph of the two of them from the Voices from Home charity benefit they played in Armstrong City on Luna as “Voice of Reason” five years ago. Sitting atop his dresser was a figurine of a paladin with flowing white hair. Is this how Morgan sees me? “What’s this?”

“A Winter Solstice gift from Claire. It’s supposed to be Cecilia Harvey from Last Reverie IV. She’s some kind of knight who questioned her queen, lost everything, and set out to redeem herself.”

“That sounds familiar. One of my brothers is a fan of old video games, and the Last Reverie series was one of his favorites.” It’s been months since I spoke with anybody from my family. I should contact them.

“You should introduce him to Claire.”

Naomi considered it a moment. “I’d be surprised if they weren’t acquainted. Nathan joined Port Royal when he turned eighteen.”

Morgan finished dressing, replacing the shirt Naomi stole for herself with a Nativity in Black t-shirt. “Astarte, are Eddie and Sid back with the ladies? Or do I have time to cook?”

Astarte appeared on the wall screen, her avatar betraying emotions Naomi never expected to see in the AI. The poor girl seemed frightened, and angry. “Their maglev just arrived at Grand Central. I arranged for a cab to pick them up, and ordered pizza from Luigi Vampa’s, if anybody still wants to eat after I’ve relayed the news Binah just dumped on me.”

“What kind of news?”

Morgan asked a more pertinent question. “Why would Binah contact you? If the Society had orders for me, they’d relay them through Malkuth.”

Astarte shook her head. “Binah said she acted on orders from Desdinova. According to him -”

“It’s probably the same story he tried to sell me at my follow-up visit. It can wait until the others are here.” Annoyance tinged Morgan’s voice as his hairbrush caught a tangle “He just wants me to put aside my investigation into Isaac Magnin’s involvement with Liebenthal and his misuse of executive council authority. He claims the truth is more than I can handle without preparation.”

Naomi took the brush from Morgan. She began to brush his hair, working her way toward his scalp. “If he knows something, he might be a valuable ally. Are you sure it’s wise to keep pushing him away?”

“Probably not, but I don’t trust him.” Morgan leaned into her as she worked her way further up, teasing free the tangle that frustrated him. “You’ve walked through the evidence with me. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Isaac Magnin runs the executive council. Most of the other members follow his lead. Why not Desdinova as well? Would Magnin tolerate a dissenting voice just because it belongs to family?”

“He might be a double agent, telling Magnin what he wants to hear while reaching out to us.”

Naomi looked up, and smiled at Astarte as she used her implant to review the summary of the executive council’s voting record. “I’m surprised I didn’t think of that first. It explains the groupthink implied by the XC’s tendency towards unanimous votes.”

Morgan nodded. “That tendency toward groupthink worries me, Nims. It might mean the Society’s corruption isn’t limited to Magnin.”

“Sorry to interrupt, but Eddie and the others are here. So is the delivery from Luigi Vampa.”

“Don’t worry. I got this.” Sid Schneider peered from behind the stacked pizza boxes he bore into the kitchen. “Better help the ladies with their luggage.”

Naomi drew Sarah into a friendly hug as she limped into the living room. “You’re looking better. How’s your therapy?”

Sarah sighed. “Not as well as I’d like. The doctors tell me I’ll eventually be able to walk without limping as long as I don’t push myself too hard, but they doubt I’ll ever be able to run well enough to meet the IRD corps’ physical requirements.”

“Then we’ll have to help you train and prove the bastards wrong.” Sid returned to help Morgan and Eddie with the luggage. “They have you doing any strength training yet, Sarah?”

“Not yet.” Sarah shook her head. “The therapists say it’s too early to bother with weight training.”

“I’ll show you a few things you can do without weights tomorrow, if you like.” Sid lifted a case. “Claire, what the hell did you put in this thing?”

Claire somehow managed to evade everybody else’s notice and get the first slice of pizza, which was laden with ground bison and bacon. “It’s my industrial strength hair dryer, and I can’t live without it.”

Sarah shook her head. “She’s bullshitting you, Sid. It’s a bunch of books and papers she got from MEPOL.”

“Evidence from the Crowley case?” Morgan came in, bearing a suitcase in each hand as Sarah mentioned London’s police force. Mordred followed, carrying a smaller bag in his jaws. They put their bags down before Mordred greeted Morgan’s new guests, while Morgan turned to Naomi. “I asked Chief Inspector Windsor to provide copies of any evidence MEPOL found in Christabel’s house.”

“Yeah, he and a couple of constables rocked up yesterday morning with a few boxes’ worth of letters and books.” Claire spoke from one side of her mouth while chewing the crust of her pizza. “They must have fixed her AI and printed out all her files and email. Her diary’s there, too. I think Morgan’s gonna regret reading that shit.”

A text from Claire popped up in Naomi’s visual field. [Don't tell Morgan, but I think Christabel's been shagging Isaac Magnin the whole time. When he finds out, there's gonna be a metric shitload of devils to pay.]

“Why would I regret reading Christabel’s papers?” Morgan came out of the kitchen with a plate for himself and Naomi after serving everybody else. Naomi cut off the secure talk connection Claire initiated. “Did Christabel write some nastiness about me that she lacked the nerve to say to my face?”

Sarah shook her head, and looked down at her slice of Hawaiian-style pizza. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have just let Claire have her stupid joke.”

To Naomi’s relief, Morgan seemed to have his priorities straight. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s eat first, and see what Astarte wanted to tell us. Christabel and her papers can wait. If she doesn’t like it, she can claw her way out of the grave and tell me so.”

Naomi startled at Morgan’s jest. Is he trying to prepare himself to read her papers by remembering what an insufferable bitch she was?

After eating, everybody gathered in the living room. Naomi leaned into Morgan, loving the warmth of his body against hers as he held her while scratching behind Mordred’s ears. The cat occupied half the couch while curled up beside them, and his purring conspired with the pizza and her man’s casual embrace to make her drowsy. “Astarte, now that everybody’s here and fed, can you tell us what’s going on before I fall asleep on Morgan?”

Morgan gave her a gentle squeeze. “I wouldn’t mind an early night myself. My debriefing was more grueling than usual. The psychologist seems to object to people using Witness Protocol to reconstruct memories they lose because of a head injury.”

Sid looked up from his plate. “You had to deal with Dr. Kilgus as well? She gave me the same spiel a couple of years ago.”

“Wasn’t that after you busted that mutual-aid society executive who embezzled funds and bribed city auditors to turn the other way?”

Sid nodded to Eddie. “Yeah. While I notified him of his rights, his secretary snuck up behind me with a fire extinguisher. I stopped taking solo jobs after that.”

Naomi snuggled against Morgan while listening to Sid tell the rest of his story. She perked up again as Eddie spoke to her. “Sorry. Didn’t quite catch that.”

“Sorry, Nims. I asked if you had any good stories.”

Naomi sat up and shrugged. I’ve taken my share of knocks, and Morgan’s seen my scars, but I’ve had it easy compared to the others. “Aside from a vampire who wasn’t really a vampire, I can’t tell any interesting stories. Sorry.”

Eddie nodded. “You look like you just remembered some bad shit. I’m sorry.”

Naomi took a breath and composed herself. “I understood the risks when I took the oath. Can we move on?”

Astarte appeared on the screen, still as anxious as earlier. Unable to meet Morgan’s eyes, her gaze darted around the room. “The message Binah passed me from Desdinova is that Witness Protocol records everything Morgan sees and hear, even when he isn’t on the job. He’s been sending constant telemetry since his infancy. Desdinova sent proof in the form of every megabyte of data collected since his activation.”

Naomi found expressions of dismay similar to her own on everybody’s faces. Morgan turned away from her, as if ashamed. He would be ashamed, even if he didn’t realize Witness Protocol was active whenever he loved me.

Before Naomi found words with which to express her understanding, Morgan turned to Astarte. He ground out the words. “Arrange a meeting with Desdinova, tonight, in Central Park.”

She caught Morgan’s shoulder as he made to leave the room. “You’re going to confront him now, when you sound like you’re ready to challenge him to a duel?”

Sid rose and blocked Morgan’s path. To Naomi he resembled the greater Ajax staring down Achilles. “I can’t stop you from going, but you’re going unarmed, and I’m coming with you.”

Morgan stared up at Sid until Naomi thought he’d assault his friend. Instead, he backed off and took a breath. “That’s sensible, unless you’d rather stay with your family and trust Naomi to keep me in line.”

Naomi flexed the ankle she twisted while walking home with Morgan, and decided a late-night walk wouldn’t kill her as long as she was careful. “It’s OK, Sid. Morgan once compared me to Athena. I wonder if he remembers how Athena dealt with Achilles when he flew off the handle.”

“I’d pay to see you grab him by the hair.” Claire giggled from behind her laptop. “What should Sarah and I do?”

“Put on your black hats and get me some dirt on Desdinova. If I’m to ally with him, I want to be sure I can trust him not to stick a knife in my back at the first opportunity. Keep whatever you find to yourself until I can disable Witness Protocol.”

Naomi stared at Morgan. Did his anger overrule his principles? Or is he making an exception for executive council members to deal with them in the same Machiavellian style we must expect from them? “That’s blackmail.”

“Yes, it is, but I mean to present Desdinova with a choice if Claire turns up any evidence of wrongdoing on his part. If he helps me, he’s safe from me until after Isaac Magnin gets his due. Otherwise, I’ll nail him now, to deprive Magnin of an ally.”

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Silent Clarion: Chapter Four

I’ve removed the original text of this post because Silent Clarion is now a serial coming soon from Curiosity Quills Press. I apologize for any inconvenience.

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Silent Clarion: Chapter Three

I’ve removed the original text of this post because Silent Clarion is now a serial coming soon from Curiosity Quills Press. I apologize for any inconvenience.

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Silent Clarion: Chapter Two

I’ve removed the original text of this post because Silent Clarion is now a serial coming soon from Curiosity Quills Press. I apologize for any inconvenience.

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Silent Clarion: Chapter One (Take 2)

I’ve removed the original text of this post because Silent Clarion is now a serial coming soon from Curiosity Quills Press. I apologize for any inconvenience.

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Meet the Cast of Starbreaker

Meet some of the cast of my Romantic heavy metal science fantasy series, Starbreaker, starting in part one: Without Bloodshed. All artwork is by Harvey Bunda.

 

Ashtoreth, by Harvey Bunda

Ashtoreth, by Harvey Bunda

Ashtoreth doesn’t have to remember the days when men knelt before her and called her a goddess, because some still do. Is she an ally to our heroes, or an enemy? Perhaps she has her own agenda.

Christabel Crowley, by Harvey Bunda

Christabel Crowley, by Harvey Bunda

Christabel Crowley blazed as the star violinist of neo-Romantic heavy metal act Crowley’s Thoth until a brutal murder stilled her song, but is her tale truly over?

Claire Ashecroft, by Harvey Bunda

Claire Ashecroft, by Harvey Bunda

Claire Ashecroft might act like an oversexed otaku, but few can match her ability to sweet-talk an AI, charm her way into a secured location, or wage electronic warfare on her friends’ behalf.

Desdinova, by Harvey Bunda

Desdinova, by Harvey Bunda

Desdinova‘s gravely digs may surely prove a sight, but this surgical wizard in grey carries secrets that might shatter the Phoenix Society.

Edmund Cohen, by Harvey Bunda

Edmund Cohen, by Harvey Bunda

Edmund Cohen is a man of few virtues, among them self-awareness; loyalty to friends who stand by him despite his drinking, drugging, and whoring; and deadly aim with a Dragunov.

Imaginos, by Harvey Bunda

Imaginos, by Harvey Bunda

Imaginos became a demon to fight demons. What sort of man becomes what he despises for the good of his people? Is such a man truly a villain? Could a man with thousands of megadeaths to his name be a hero? Either way, he proves you can’t trust a white-haired bishounen.

Morgan Stormrider, by Harvey Bunda

Morgan Stormrider, by Harvey Bunda

Morgan Stormrider never doubted his work as one of the Phoenix Society’s Adversaries until a duel with a rival in Shenzhen cracked his faith. He wants nothing more than to put aside his sword and dedicate himself to music, but learning the truth about the Phoenix Society did not set him free.

Naomi Bradleigh, by Harvey Bunda

Naomi Bradleigh, by Harvey Bunda

Naomi Bradleigh never looked back when she resigned her commission with the Phoenix Society and launched a musical career that led her to form Crowley’s Thoth with Morgan Stormrider and Christabel Crowley. When a dirty cop tries to frame Naomi for Crowley’s murder, she takes up her sword anew and fights beside Morgan.

Thagirion, by Harvey Bunda

Thagirion, by Harvey Bunda

Thagirion is the eldest of the Disciples of the Watch, and sworn to keep the Starbreaker from the wrong hands. She is the only one Imaginos acknowledges as his equal. What will happen when she decides Imaginos can no longer be trusted with the one weapon capable of killing gods?

Morgan Stormrider and Naomi Bradleigh - Alternate Without Bloodshed cover by Harvey Bunda

Morgan Stormrider and Naomi Bradleigh – Alternate Without Bloodshed cover by Harvey Bunda

This is where heavy metal, science fiction, and fantasy collide.

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Silent Clarion – Chapter 1.1

I’ve removed the original text of this post because Silent Clarion is now a serial coming soon from Curiosity Quills Press. I apologize for any inconvenience.

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Transitions are Never Relevant

Here’s something else I’m removing from The Blackened Phoenix. It’s a transition scene that doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s just Morgan and Naomi walking home and flirting. It’s cute, but doesn’t drive the plot. Worse, it gets in the way of me moving moving Astarte’s scene to the beginning of Chapter 2, allowing her to wonder where the hell Morgan is before I show what he’s doing.

Scenes like this are the reason writers learn never to write transitions. They’re just bloat.

ruleNaomi regretted turning down Morgan’s offer of a cab, which he repeated after the incident at Mr. Mouzone’s hot dog stand, by the time they finally managed the trek up Broadway to 96th Street. The physical training that kept her in shape for the stage did not save her feet from growing sore in boots too new for her to have broken in. Worse, she twisted her ankle a block ago while skidding on a patch of ice made possible by a failed sidewalk heating coil. Morgan caught her, but in his haste he pressed her too tightly to him, making her rib injury hurt. She gritted her teeth as they turned the corner and began walking the last few blocks up 96th Street to Morgan’s brownstone, where she would ask him to free her from her boots – and perhaps wash and massage her feet.

Morgan seemed to sense her fatigue, for he slowed a bit. “I asked Astarte to start up the hearth. I’ll move a chair and get a bucket of hot water so you can soak your feet. Do you want me to call in a doctor to check your ankle?”

“Damn. You saw that?”

“I caught you while you stumbled, and you’ve been wincing the way you do when your rib’s giving you trouble.”

Naomi nodded, and forced herself to expand her ribcage with a deep breath despite the pain. “It’s giving me trouble right now. I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but you were a bit rough.”

“Damn it.” Morgan hung his head for a moment. “I’m sorry, Nims. I–”

Naomi understood Morgan’s concern without needing an explanation. Every winter, at least one unfortunate pedestrian slid on ice or packed snow where a heating coil had failed, fallen, and suffered a concussion after their head struck the pavement. Seasonal public service announcements regularly advised people to watch their step, and to avoid sections of sidewalk or pavement that looked icy or were covered in snow. “You didn’t want me to fall.”

Morgan nodded, his expression still concerned, and Naomi decided a bit of flirtation might ease the mood. “What if I told you I like it rough?”

Morgan did not respond until they had reached his brownstone a couple blocks down the street. Instead of opening the door, he pressed Naomi against it and kissed her breathless before whispering in her ear. “Is that what you had in mind?”

Naomi found the doorknob, turned it, and let herself in while pulling Morgan inside by his collar. “That will do for a start.”

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Too Close to Grimdark for Comfort

I wrote this on my lunch break for the first scene in Chapter 3 of The Blackened Phoenix, and then decided to take it out. Not only was it closer to grimdark than I usually go, since I’m not Joe Abercrombie, but it didn’t make sense for Naomi to relate this experience from her past when Morgan Stormrider and the others are about to learn that their operational security is a joke because of tech built into Morgan’s head.

Also, the nature of Naomi’s anecdote is just full of triggering content, and I thought it would be better to not include it. I’m just a bit old to be trying to shock people to get attention. However, I’m posting it here because it seems a shame to throw it away. I might get a short story or a novella out of it, if I can refine it and tone it down a bit.

With that said, I should clarify that I have absolutely no problem with Joe Abercrombie or his work. The only First Law book of his I don’t have is Red Country. Nor do I have a problem with grimdark fantasy. It’s just not what I want to write.

Also, my wife would kill me if I put my cast through half the hell Abercrombie, Martin, and the like inflict on their characters.

rule

“One of my missions involved a bride farm, where captive women are impregnated, and then subjected to abortions if the fetus turns out to be male. The baby girls are then taken from their mothers, and inspected for defects. If they pass inspection, they grow up indoctrinated to be obedient wives eager to please the husbands to whom they’re sold as soon as they turn eighteen.”

Nobody asked what happened to the girls who failed inspection. Naomi suspected their fate was obvious from her expression and tone of voice, because she witnessed what befell one such unfortunate herself. “I left, and came back with a dozen other Adversaries, all women. I thought we’d be able to restrain our anger if we worked together. Instead, after we liberated the captives, we put everybody working there to the sword. We burned the bride farm to the ground after salvaging the records and documentation. We hunted down the customers, arrested them, and tried them. None were acquitted. I hear most died in prison, at the hands of their fellow inmates.”

Naomi fell silent and stared at her hands, unable to fathom why she let this story escape her lips. She had kept it to herself since her post-mission debriefing, and the subsequent trial by court martial. Judges left pale and trembling by the evidence recorded through Witness Protocol acquitted her and her fellow Adversaries. “I’m sorry. At the time, my only coherent thought was that what I saw was unforgivable.”

Morgan’s hand grasped hers. “I would have done the same in your position, with pleasure.”

She found Morgan’s expression on everybody else’s faces, as well. “You all agree with Morgan?”

Sid was first to show his assent. “Come on, Nims. You think I’d want something like that to happen to Elly, or my girls?”

Astarte’s voice was small, and quiet. “What happened to the women?”

“There were a lot of suicides, despite the Phoenix Society’s efforts to give everybody the care they needed to heal.” Naomi stared at the floor, recalling the names of those she proved unable to save. “Sometimes I get letters from the others.”

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