DJ Cooper – Missing Remnants
DJ Cooper is about 300 years old, writes science fiction/humour/weird, hails from another planet and is married with two teenage kids.
The family has a house full of animals. Tropical fish, a degu called Sam (a small fluffy thing with a long tail, bigger than a hamster, smaller than an elephant.) Crunch the tortoise fits in the palm of a hand. He/she/who can tell, eats, sits under a light, digs, sleeps, grows, doesn’t talk yet. Cossie the bearded dragon talks and can fly whilst breathing fire. She’s well trained. There hasn’t been “an incident” with the fire brigade in months.
DJ runs a small business, has been known to hammer out tunes on the piano and probably has veins filled with caffeine.
Headquarters buzzed with the voices of my colleagues. I heard a dirge rather than distinct voices in what, that day, struck me as an uncomfortable, dingy, oppressive place of work. An image flashed into my mind. The picture of two smiling men on a mountainside and the last time I had spent any time off the space station with my husband Jarner. He died shortly afterwards. I sighed and pushed the mental image away. Too painful, too annoying, too…
“Bunch of arse,” I muttered. I know that doesn’t make sense. It’s my phrase and I like it. When you consider most things in life to be a bunch of arse, you realise you need a holiday. Or a career change. Or, at least the opportunity to stab that annoying little pissant through the eye with a fork. Too far? I had reached that point, so fire me.
I had a feeling that day was the day I’d find out I’d thrown too many insults and slammed my hand on too many tables. I wouldn’t lash out unless provoked. The Si-Cross Four Authority did not know that. They didn’t trust me, and I had a licence to wield weaponry from a separate Authority they couldn’t challenge.
I’d tuned out most of the chatter behind me as I concentrated on system reports. I was ahead. It put me in uncharted territory. The summons came after lunch. Si-Cross Four is a large off-world space station boasting many places to eat. It didn’t matter which I chose, I always found a small group of people who required off-menu items. They couldn’t all have allergies to the latest food considered the devil’s work. I was five minutes late back. And that was only because I’d stopped to help clear an area resulting in the initiation of a chemical spill false alarm report.
“Detective Trackneathan, my office,” my commanding officer Beynard issued in the tone of voice you did not ignore. Not unless you wanted them removed with a rusty knife and handed to you on a platter. I logged off and pushed myself out of my chair. The chip in my knee holding the joint together dug in and I winced. Yeah, I was on a list for a permanent fix. It came with the caveat I shouldn’t hold my breath.
Eyes followed me from my desk to Beynard’s lair. He was a tall, thin, health freak of a man. I was shorter and more muscular but with a fitness regime hampered by my knee. I could still take him if I’d wanted to.
“Detective Trackneathan, sit.” I sat. To my credit, I did not bark. I hated my name. Where the hell had Trackneathan come from? It gave rise to the joke why Track Neathan, Neathan isn’t lost. I fidgeted. I hated the discomfort of the Authority chairs. I hated everything.
“Sit still.” I may not have barked, but Beynard did. I resisted the urge to say, What are you, my mother? in my inimitable way of making things worse.
“You have unused leave. Take it.”
I was temporarily incapable of speech. Beynard was not known for a soft side. He was as much a people person as I was. It wasn’t the order that shocked me. It was the uncontrollable fear of what the hell I’d do with that much free time.
“You’ve accrued three months. This is beyond the limit allowed to accumulate on the system,” he sat in his chair looking down at me with disdain. His lips were permanently stuck in a disapproving expression.
“OK, well, what if I carry on working and lose the leave?” I asked.
“Not an option. You either take the leave or you’ll be Centred. You’ve been classified for study.”
Despite the horror, I was not surprised. No-one wanted to be Centred. People left the station rather than spend any time at the Centre. It was a limbo of banal, meaningless tasks supervised by scientists sent to study and correct the behaviour of potential troublemakers. In my case, drop the word ‘potential.’
“There has to be a way out of this? What if I work shorter shifts? Use some leave that way?
“Not an option,” Beynard repeated, “You’ve been assessed for a while. Your attitude is deemed unacceptable. You need to hand in your Authority accreditation. I can’t take your weapon, despite you and it being a risk to others.”
“I am not a risk to others,” I objected.
“Tell that to Byrod. He’s on the list for a new jaw.”
“I barely touched him. And you saw the footage. He came at me with a knife and I had to defend myself. The damn thief has had a glass jaw for years.”
“Yes, but we are over our quota of allowable injuries to criminals this month. So, you put yourself in the view of the Centre with that punch. A new jaw costs money.”
“Then use my leave to pay for it and I’ll carry on working.”
“It won’t cover it.”
I breathed in deeply and let out an exasperated sigh. I was running out of ideas. If my leave wasn’t enough to cover the cost of a new jaw, my savings certainly weren’t. The cost of medical care had never been higher for those of us with Authority Four credit. “So, what is the Authority’s real view on this?” I asked, “I should have taken the knife wound and let him get away with the serum?” I stared at Beynard and scratched the side of my face. I knew the answer.
“Yes. A knife wound in you would cost the Authority less to fix than rebuilding a criminal’s jaw.”
My hand moved to scratch the stubble on my chin. I’d shaved that morning too. “Or maybe I should have just shot him and only accrued the cost of recycling the body,” see what I mean about making trouble? Sometimes I just don’t know when to stop.
“Even that would have been preferable to the cost of a new jaw,” Beynard droned, as he leant on his desk and steepled his fingertips.
“You have got to be f*****g kidding me,” I said under my breath. I regretted my words before they left my lips. Beynard’s hand shot across his desk and grabbed the swear-jar. The mug-sized, solid object lit up at his touch. Rings of green illumination began to ascend from the bottom displaying the progress of the current scheme we were collecting for.
“Can I pay with my excess leave?” I asked, knowing I wouldn’t get an answer. I pressed my thumb against the jar to authorise my monetary contribution to whatever we were collecting for this month. The true cost of f******g in the office, I mused to myself. Whatever the cause was, I was single-handedly funding it.
I sat for a few seconds. My brain alternated between various ‘what ifs’ the Authority wouldn’t go for, and an utter void of uselessness. “Can I transfer to a different Authority?”
“No, you have been deemed unfit for duty. You are not to act for the Si-Cross Four Authority or any other Authority in any way for the next three months. Go down to the Career Op Centre and take a course.”
The idea of straddling the COC for three months failed to fill me with pleasure. I lost my train of thought for a second over that sentence but dragged myself back to reality. The last time I looked, the COC was all painting and pot making. Not the type you smoked. I had nothing against artistic things, but they weren’t pastimes that filled me with excitement. I liked chasing the bad guy. Or, you know, hobbling after him. Thinking of my knee as I absently rubbed it, I asked, “Is there any news on my new knee?”
The look of surprise on Beynard’s face gave me the answer before he spoke. “No. You put that on the back burner when you broke Byrod’s face.”
“F….” I said as a gleeful look fell over Beynard’s face and he reached for the swear-jar again. I closed my mouth and savoured his look of disappointment. The jar remained on the desk, its internal light system dimmed as it fell into standby.
“Am I contributing to your retirement with this fund?” I asked.
The glare on his face! He narrowed his eyes at me. “Might I remind you accusations of defrauding the Authority must be backed up by evidence?”
The ice in his voice chipped something off my spine. “It was a joke,” I said lamely.
“I suggest you go, before you get yourself into any more trouble. Clear your desk of belongings, it’ll be reused by your replacement tomorrow.”
And that was it. Almost twenty years working for the Authority on various stations. I’d worked my way up to detective from the bottom of nowhere. People knew me and respected me even if they didn’t like me. And now I was on the way out. This was the worst one yet. This went beyond the reprimand. With one broken jaw I’d managed to circumvent the three strikes rule and head straight for the exit. Hardly anyone came back from an ‘unfit for duty’ tag.
The result of my meeting must have been plastered all over my face as I left Beynard’s office and headed back to my desk. The kid with the floppy hair whose name always escaped me scuttled towards me. He wittered words probably to ask if I was OK. I raised a hand for silence. I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t in the mood.
I slumped in my chair and felt suddenly very tired. Maybe I should take a break. And do what? I yelled in my head and I thumped my hand down on my desk. The kid hadn’t taken the hint, and he jumped out of his skin.
“What do you want?” I snapped and opened a drawer. The bag I dragged out dislodged various office paraphernalia onto the floor. The kid scrambled to retrieve them. Amongst my belongings was the picture frame I used to keep on my desk until the memories became too painful.
“Is this?” the kid didn’t finish his sentence. I reached for the antique frame and gazed at the couple in the picture. It felt a lifetime ago.
“Jarner, my husband. Decorated war hero. Died in the conflict. Yeah, that’s him.”
“Shit, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
I was touched. How stupid is that? I was touched by the fact the kid would risk any of his minuscule pay on the swear-jar over me. I looked up at him as I put the frame in my bag and saw just how young they were recruiting them these days.
“What’s your name again?” I asked, for the sixth time since he’d arrived.
“Laiten, Sir.” There was feeling in his eyes if I’d interpreted anything right. I almost cracked a smile.
“There’s never been any reason for you to call me ‘Sir’. It’s Detective officially, but mostly Track. People who are tired of living call me Trackneathan.” I regretted the unwarranted threat as I dumped more personal tat into my bag and corrected myself. “From this point onwards, as I’ve been relieved of duty for ninety days, there’s no point in you calling me anything. My replacement will be here in the morning.” I had to hand it to him, either this kid was a damn fine actor, or he was truly disappointed at the news.
“I was looking forward to working with you S… Track,” his voice was quiet.
“Well, I’m sure there are better people to guide you through an Authority career, Laiten. Much better people than me.” I zipped up my bag and gave my surroundings a brief visual. I was sure my successor would forward on anything I’d left behind. The chances of me leaving the station were slim. I had the finances, I just couldn’t be bothered.
As I turned I saw a small farewell party behind me. “Who won the pool?” I asked of a silent room. “Oh, come on, someone must have started a book on when they finally ousted me from this gig. Who won?”
They turned to look at Wicklow. Fiercely intelligent, could think on her feet, excellent undercover. Even I could see she was an attractive brunette. I’d partnered her, she’d never failed to get the heart of a target racing. I’d miss working with her. I would miss her friendship. She briefly closed her eyes and shook her head once and said, “Hegland.”
“Bastard,” I replied. My drinking partner, and after Jarner, my best friend. And probably the most qualified to predict when I’d go too far. Wicklow rushed forward and threw her arms around my broad shoulders. She knew I was joking when I said, “Don’t go getting soft on me Wick. It’s about time you learnt to stand on your own two feet.”
She pulled away and slapped my arm and said, “Like I haven’t been carrying you all this time.”
I nodded. She’d pulled me out of a jam many times over the years.
A siren sounded throughout the rooms and the team scrambled to ready themselves for whatever was coming their way. I looked over to Beynard who had spent the last few minutes standing in his doorway, no doubt making sure I left the area. He stared at me and raised his arm. His finger pointed towards the exit as he mouthed the letters “C.O.C.”
Lyra Shanti – The Artist
Can love save a man from himself?
Apollo Antonius Vidali was born and bred to be a great artist and musician, but in his search for artistic brilliance, he finds demons best left forgotten.
Fighting his treacherous past seems impossible until he meets a beautiful woman named Coda. To Apollo, she’s an angel of mercy. The only drawback is her own quest for respect as a composer. In a time when women were not seen as equals, Coda may prove more than Apollo bargained for as their love is put to the test. Adding fuel to the fire is Lord Sebastian Raleigh, a contemporary who challenges Apollo in more ways than one.
In this passionate drama, all forms of art mingle with the sacred and profane as one man searches tirelessly for redemption. Will he succeed or will he drown in the raging storm of his soul?
Lyra Shanti is a novelist, poet, playwright, and songwriter who currently lives in Florida with partner and spouse, Timothy, and their two insane cats. A lover of nature, animals, anime, music, theatre, movies, myths, and of course, great books, Lyra seeks inspiration from everywhere possible.
Author of the award winning science fantasy series, Shiva XIV, Lyra is a dreamer of worlds far away. More books include The Artist, a wild tale of love, madness, and redemption, as well as The Rainbow Serpent, a re-imagining of Adam and Eve. Further information about Lyra’s stories, music, and more can be found at lyrashanti.com.