Book Review – The Purloined Pictograph

The Purloined Pictograph (The Adventures of Tremain & Christopher #2)The Purloined Pictograph by Terry Marchion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Purloined Pictograph, by Terry Marchion, is a marvelous adventure for middle-grade kids. The story takes place on a colonized planet similar to Earth. The main character is a bright boy who proves he can act responsibly and bravely when facing a crisis. His uncle, a brilliant inventor, brightens each page with his eccentric antics—as does the rotund professor they follow to an archeological dig. (In contrast, the villain was not well rounded, and the reason given for her nefarious deeds was weak, even considering the target audience.)

The Purloined Pictograph is second in a series. As I have not read the first, I did not learn until mid-book that the protagonist was, in fact, a young teen. Due to his numerous giggles, I pictured him to be a precocious ten-year-old. This belated revelation did not detract from the story, however.

I love the title of this book—it’s very Lemony Snicket-ish—and the cover perfectly depicts a major scene. Overall, I found The Purloined Pictograph to be exciting and engaging, and I recommend the book to even the most reluctant reader.

View all my reviews

Sample Sunday – Alien Seas

Who will forgive you when you can’t forgive yourself?

The Colonial Scouts are a group of explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes.


Natica is drowning in siblings. She hoped that if she became a Scout, she would rise above her brothers and sisters and shine. But when a man dies because of her mistake, she can’t forgive herself. She leaves the elite program and returns home a failure.

Her homecoming is even worse than she imagined, however. Her twin brother is missing, so she sets off to find him. Natica comes from a water world. Her search for her brother takes her on a high-speed boat chase through a floating city. She is kidnapped by pirates and attacked by a sea serpent. And her brother seems nowhere to be found.

Alien Seas is the third book of my Colonial Scouts series, fast-paced science fiction for teens and pre-teens. Buy it at Amazon in print or eBook. Soon to be an audiobook.

Here’s an excerpt:

Alien Seas by Roxanne Smolen


PLANET 3459-3 SR7

Clear magenta skies. Bright white sun. Palm trees rustling in a breeze. A tropical paradise thought Natica Galos. At least, it would be if not for the ground-rending quakes and rivers of molten rock.

She motioned at the steaming fissure that cut across her path. “Looks like another dead end.”

Her partner, Davrileo Mas, consulted his sonic resonator. “We’ll have to split up. See if the fault narrows. If it does, we can use our jet packs to get to the other side.”

“Great. I’ve always wanted to fly above flowing lava with a combustible device upon my back.”

He turned toward her. His facemask reflected the orange-tinged steam rising from the rift, hiding his ever-present scowl. As he often said, he didn’t much care for her brand of sarcasm, and she didn’t care that he didn’t care. But he was the team leader of this excursion, so she shrugged and followed the fissure’s edge.

“Keep your com open,” Davrileo called after her.

She waved to show she understood. She didn’t like Davrileo Mas, and the prospect of spending a three-day mission with him frayed her nerves.

They’d arrived on the planet the previous night, traveling via an Impellic ring, a programmable wormhole. Interstellar probes reported a wealth of minerals on this world. As Colonial Scouts, Natica and Davrileo were dispatched to determine whether colonists could survive the planet’s violent upheavals.

Already Natica had endured showers of acid rain and blizzards of volcanic ash. She marveled that such an environment could spawn a rain forest—but no one needed to convince her of a planet’s will to live. A previous assignment took her to a fungus world that rose against her team in the form of indestructible mold monsters. The memory still brought a shudder.

With a grimace, she forced the image away. Think happy thoughts. Fungus World is behind you. Time to move on.

She kept to the edge of the lava flow as closely as she dared. Heat seeped through her skinsuit, and a vague sulfurous smell sifted through the filters of her mask. She heard a screech and looked up at a large bird circling overhead. It looked like a pterodactyl.

Wouldn’t surprise her.

Bushes with large purple flowers leaned over the bank. Their wilted petals and blackened leaves confirmed her guess that the fissure was a recent addition to the landscape. As she jogged past, clouds of yellow butterflies rose then resettled among the branches. Natica walked backward to watch them.

Within her mask, she heard erratic panting. Davrileo was breathing into the open com. Perhaps his path took an uphill turn. She smiled and pictured a tortuous track up a sheer cliff. With obstacles.

A low-pitched rumble broke into her thoughts. She frowned and looked around. With a sudden lurch, a quake hurled her to her knees. Trees snapped and toppled. Behind her, the purple bushes she’d passed slid over the crumbling bank.

Natica yelped and scrambled to her feet. She’d go over next if she didn’t move. But the ground heaved again, and her boots skidded. She sprawled back, her head hitting with a thud.

A tree fell into the rift. Lava splashed. A creature rose from the molten rock. It stood over five meters tall. Sheeting magma exposed a body of soot and stone. Rocks bulged from its torso like muscles. Natica gasped, and it turned.

At first, its face was a mere lump of rock. Then features emerged.

It was the face of the man she’d helped climb a barrier of logs—an injured man who slipped from her grasp and slid into a burning pit.

The man on Fungus World.

“But you can’t be.” Panic edged up her throat. “You’re dead. I saw you die.”

The magma creature stepped onto the bank. Flaming footprints dotted the grass. The quake ended—yet the ground trembled with its steps.

Natica skittered back. She had to get to her feet. She had to run. But she could only stare at the burning face.

He wanted retribution. It was her fault he died. She killed him. She let him go.

Hands fell upon her, and she fought them, batting them away before realizing Davrileo Mas knelt beside her. His voice echoed through the com. She couldn’t understand his words.

The magma creature advanced, looming over them. Davrileo aimed his stat-gun. The beam struck the thing mid-chest. It paused, dripping fire. He shot again.

It exploded. Chunks of rock flew through the air. The creature’s face landed before Natica. Its mouth gaped. Fire consumed its eyes.

Natica screamed. It felt as if the sound were tearing her inside out. Vaguely, she was aware of a wrenching sensation, of moving very fast, and then falling forward onto the Chamber floor.

Someone yelled, “Get her mask off.”

She felt her body turn, felt her facemask pop. Cold air bit her skin.

“Natica! Stop screaming!”

But her mind still held the burning face before her. She couldn’t let go.

“Get her to the infirmary.”

* * *

Impani stared at Natica across the cafeteria table. “You’re overworked?”

Natica sighed. “That’s what the doctor called it. Stress and fatigue due to the job.”

Impani sipped a hot cup of chai and cocked her head. Natica looked awful—dark circles, trembling hands. “But that was your first assignment in over a week. How can you be overworked?”

“I don’t know. I think I’m losing my mind.” She rubbed her eyes then lowered her voice. “I swear that lava monster had a face.”

“Davrileo says it was made of silicon, not lava.”


“He’s telling everyone it was no threat and that the reason he had to ring back early was you.”

“It’s the injured man I let die on Fungus World. He’s in all my dreams. I can’t sleep anymore. I think I see him everywhere. Glimpses from the corner of my eye.”

“Stop it.” Impani leaned forward. “This isn’t you. You’ve always been the stable one.”

“But I—”

“It’s been ages since we left the fungus planet. You can’t keep blaming yourself for something you didn’t mean to happen. If you keep this up, it could jeopardize your job.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You never watched anyone die because of you.”

Impani swallowed her answer. Once, she watched a hundred people die in an abandoned shopping mall. Members of a street gang she infiltrated. She led authorities to them not realizing they planned to wipe out everyone with flamethrowers. How long did it take her to accept that mistake?

“I have to go.” Natica gathered her uneaten breakfast onto a tray. “I’m meeting Anselmi. We ring out in an hour.”

“Another mission? What about being overworked?”

“I insisted. Have to prove myself. You know.”

Impani nodded. “At least, this time, you’ll be with a friend. Anselmi will watch out for you.”

Natica offered a fleeting smile, picked up the tray, and left.

Impani slouched in her chair. Her thoughts returned to the shopping mall massacre, dragging up images so real she felt she were living it all again. She saw people running, shadows in smoke, and the pounding flash of gunfire. She heard screams, children crying. Smelled the horrible reek of fuel.

It was known in the media as The Slaughter of the Headsmen Gang. She didn’t dwell on it so much anymore, pushed it to the back of her mind. But she never forgave herself. She always thought she should be punished somehow.

If she were to go home, there would be retribution. The surviving gang members knew what she had done, and although legally she was cleared of any wrongdoing, she was certain they would kill her.

She picked up her cup. It was cold. She pushed it away in disgust, then gazed across the busy cafeteria.

From several tables away, a boy stared at her. Impani lifted her chin and stared back. She was used to male attention, often used it to her advantage. However, this boy’s stare was more appraising than most. He looked younger than her—fifteen or maybe just turned sixteen. He was bald, as were all Scouts.

She hadn’t seen him before. Must be a new recruit. She should walk over and introduce herself—that usually embarrassed them enough to keep their stares to themselves. Yet, there was something odd about this boy.

Something about his eyes.



Natica stood on an icy bluff overlooking the frozen tundra. Windblown snow traveled the night like fog. She shivered, although the cold could not reach through her skinsuit. “Who would want to live in a place like this?”

Beside her, Anselmi’s pale, almost-human face beamed. “Just like home.”

She considered his reply. Anselmi had been her friend for over a year, yet how much did she know about him? He was humanoid—two arms, two legs, one head, but his eyes were solid black, his skin bluish-gray. She had no idea how old he was or what Veht, his home planet, was like. “You come from a frozen world?”

“The Colonial Expansion Board was looking for fresh water sources even in those times. They sent Scouts to my planet expecting to find oceans of barren ice. Instead, they were greeted by a thriving culture.” He chuckled.

“Well, this place is about as different as it could be from my home. Just once, I’d like to be sent to an ocean world.”

“Such worlds are rare. Your wish is fruitless.” He walked away, boots crushing the packed snow.

Natica felt a surge of anger she knew was due to lack of sleep. She dampened her ire, afraid Anselmi’s telepathic bent might pick up her emotions. Friend or not, he was team leader and would detail all aspects of their mission. She couldn’t afford another bad report.

They followed the ridge. Anselmi held his sonic resonator before him, searching for pitfalls or energy readings. Natica carried the tri-view glasses, which not only magnified the landscape but also kept a visual record of what the Scouts saw. As there wasn’t much to see on this world, she kept the glasses hooked to her belt.

Skidding down a slick hill, they approached a snowfield. The region reflected the moon so brightly, Natica’s mask darkened in response. A snow devil swirled her way, pelting her with sparkling dust. Could this be her home if an ice age hit?

Anselmi’s head jerked. “Did you see that?”


“I thought I saw…” He looked puzzled. “Nothing.”

“Mirage. Too much white.”

He nodded, looking thoughtful.

They trudged across the vast expanse leaving footprints in the unbroken snow. The only sounds were the crunch of boots and the rattle of equipment belts. Moonlight disguised the distance, making the plain appear endless. If only she could return to the bluffs and rest.

A flicker of movement caught her eye. There came a muffled plop. Natica glanced about but saw nothing. Don’t mention it. He’ll want to investigate. Anselmi looked at her as if he heard her thoughts.

It was unfair that he could read her mind but she couldn’t read his. She felt disadvantaged. A sort of telepathy among siblings was common on her world, yet she never held such a bond with her brother, Eury. She often wondered why.

“You are distracted,” Anselmi said. “That’s not like you.”

“I was thinking.” She paused. “Maybe we should go back to the cliffs and look for a cave.”

“To rest?”

Her cheeks heated. “I’d hate to be caught out here in a storm.”

He consulted his resonator. “There are no atmospheric disturbances within range.”

“What a shame,” she muttered.

Anselmi smiled. “How tame you must find this frozen world. Too often our missions are labeled adventures.”

“It’s not that, it’s—”

“Look around us. See how the starlight glistens. Beauty in silence.”

Anger flared again. She wasn’t about to traipse around this wasteland while he reminisced. “People need more than beauty to live. This planet can’t support life.”

His smile broadened as he gazed beyond her. “Don’t be so certain.” He knelt in the snow.

Natica saw three plates of sculpted ice. “Artwork?”

“There are more.” He stepped into a field of crystalline disks.

She wouldn’t have noticed them if he hadn’t pointed them out. The disks ranged in size from a hand’s breadth to a full meter across. They looked carved from frosted glass.

“Someone’s been busy,” she said.

“However, you agree there is someone?” He held out the resonator, scanning the featureless horizon.

Natica walked among the plates. Their edges were smooth and slightly raised, forming a lip. They reminded her of the albino manta rays in the seas back home.

The thought struck like a slap. What was she doing? Was she so homesick she could think of nothing else? She was a Colonial Scout, not some rookie first time away from her mother’s skirt.

“This is stupid,” she cried. “No one will want to live here. Not even a water excavator. Not even a robot for a water excavator. And I don’t care who carved these stupid plates.”

She kicked the snow, and her toe caught a disk, sending it tumbling. It landed on edge and cracked. Natica hadn’t meant to break anything—still, she derived a vague sense of satisfaction as she looked down at the jagged pieces.

With the sound of a thousand angry hornets, the remaining disks rose from the ground. They hovered around Natica, whirring madly.

“Watch out,” Anselmi shouted.

Natica sidestepped as a smaller plate whizzed past her face. She flinched, her thoughts sluggish. Were the plates alive? She stared at the broken disk. What had she done?

Anselmi yanked her arm. “Run!”

Several disks cut off their escape. One dove toward Natica, and she swatted it. Wobbling, it turned and continued toward her. Anselmi snatched it from the air and threw it like a discus. At that, the whirring noise increased as if the plates were outraged. They attacked together.

For every disk Natica knocked away, four more took its place. They struck her shoulders, her back, her thighs, and she yelped with each blow. They flashed so quickly across her vision, she couldn’t track them, couldn’t dodge. She felt trapped in a whirlwind.

A large disk aimed at her head. Natica ducked. The plate hit Anselmi instead. He dropped to his knees, looking winded. It reared back and struck him again, roaring like a buzz saw. She grabbed it and threw it with all her strength. It collided with another plate. Both exploded, raining down in glittering specks.

A sudden wrenching sensation twisted her stomach, and she knew Anselmi had recalled the Impellic ring. She felt at once relieved and alarmed. How was she going to explain this fiasco? Two missions in a row had ended prematurely because of her.

She tensed against rushing vertigo—speeding through the universe while standing still. Then her momentum ended, and the Impellic Chamber materialized. Infinite images of herself watched from the mirrored walls.

Hopping down from the platform, she circled to the other side. “Anselmi, I’m sorry.”

She reached him just as he crumpled. With a gasp, she leaped forward and caught her teammate before he struck the floor.

“Help! I need help,” she shouted to an unseen technician.

She leaned Anselmi against the side of the platform. Two slice marks crossed his chest—the plate cut right through his skinsuit. She didn’t see any blood, but purple welts showed beneath the silvery material.

A terrible panic welled in her. This was her fault. He might die because of her.

The door opened, and a four-person medical unit rushed into the room. They wore bulky hazmat garb.

Natica grabbed the first one. “He’s hurt. You have to save him. The ice attacked and… and then he just fell.”

Elbowing Natica out of the way, the medic examined Anselmi.

“Erratic respiration,” he said. “Blood pressure is falling.”

“Get that oxygen over here,” said another.

“Will he be all right?” Natica cried. “Please. You can’t let him die.”

It was as if she hadn’t spoken. She watched with growing dread as the medics replaced Anselmi’s mask with an oxygen tube.

“Open wound in an alien environment. Better get him to quarantine.”

Natica bit back her tears.

* * *

Impani took Trace’s hand as she weaved between people and video machines. Laughter and the chimes of games rose in discordant music. She spotted Natica at a table in the corner. Her face looked puffy.

“There you are,” Impani said in a half-shout as she sat across from her at the mushroom-shaped table. “The game room is busy this evening.”

“Too busy,” Natica mumbled.

“A lot of missions must have ended.”

Trace gave them a bow. “Can I interest you ladies in beverages?”

Impani laughed. “Anything but that nutty vitamin drink you always get.”

“It’s good. You should try it.”

“I don’t drink anything that’s thick and brown.”

Chuckling, Trace walked away.

Impani placed her hand over Natica’s. “I just came from seeing Anselmi. He looks much better.”

Natica groaned. “He’s in isolation.”

“Just a precaution. They don’t want him catching a cold from one of his well-wishing friends.”

Natica nodded but wouldn’t meet her eyes.

Impani pursed her lips. “Those ice disks might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for you. Imagine if an excavation company settled there. You exposed a real hazard.”

“Stop it.” A scowl creased her friend’s face. “That’s not what they’re saying.”

“Here you go.” Trace set tall glasses upon the table. “Two Peach Snowcaps for you girls and a Health Nut for me.”

“Mmm, peach.” Impani sipped the icy juice. Tart sweetness burst over her tongue.

Natica punched the snowcaps down with her straw as if they offended her.

Into the prolonged silence, Trace said, “Did you tell Natica about our little mishap?”

“Oh, yeah. It was the strangest thing.” Impani leaned forward. “We were in the Impellic Chamber waiting to be whisked off-world and one of the main computers exploded.”

“It what?” Natica’s eyes widened.

“Almost like it was sabotaged.” He shrugged. “We were standing there, and standing there, and Impani said does it seem a little smoky in here to you?”

Impani laughed. “It’s funny now, but if that ring had engaged, we would have been fried.”

“What could have caused it?” Natica asked.

“No idea.” He took a drink. “I heard Chamber Four will be closed for a while, though. Strange accident.”

“Really.” Natica shook her head.

Impani sipped her juice then muttered, “There he is again.”

Trace glanced around. “Who?”

“That kid with the strange eyes. I think he’s a new recruit. I swear he’s following me.”

“Following?” He set his glass down hard.

Natica said, “Why would someone follow you?”

Impani shrugged. She glanced at the boy then looked quickly away.

“Which one is he?” Trace pushed back from the table. “I’ll have a few words with the guy.”

Impani grabbed his arm. “Come on, forget it.”

“I don’t like stalkers.”

Impani tried to smile in a soothing manner, but she felt alarmed. She couldn’t explain it. There was something odd about the boy. Something ominous. “He’s just staring.”

“And you like that, don’t you?” Trace’s voice rose. “You always enjoy being stared at by other guys.”

“Don’t be silly. He’s a kid.”

“I’m not an idiot, you know.”

Impani hugged his arm. “You’re jealous. It’s kind of sweet.”

Trace wrenched from her grasp and stormed out of the room. Impani gaped in amazed confusion.

“Nice going,” Natica said. “You hurt his feelings.”

“You know Trace. He’ll get over it.”

“There was never anyone following you, was there?”

Impani stared at her. “You think I lied?”

“You’re unbelievable.”

Impani shook her head. What was happening here? “Let’s just relax and finish our drinks. You’ve had a hard day.”

“So now it’s me? Why is it always my fault?”

“Who said anything about fault?”

“Couldn’t be you. Little Miss Perfect.” Natica pushed her glass away. “I don’t know why he loves you, but he really does. And you treat him like everyone else. If he were my boyfriend—”

“Is that what this is about?” Impani shouted.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve always had a crush on Trace.”

“And you’ve always treated him like drel.”

“You’re jealous of our relationship.”

“Jealous? Of you?”

“Admit it. You wish you could be more like me.”

Natica stood and lowered her voice to a growl. “I would die if I was anything like you.”

Impani watched her rush away. Her face burned, and her thoughts seethed. How could Natica accuse her of lying to make Trace jealous? What did she think—that she’d make a better girlfriend? Impani gulped her juice, and then glanced about the room.

The odd boy still stared.


Impani woke later than she intended. She lay for a moment, cocooned in the warm berth, grasping at tendrils of a dissipating dream. With a sigh, she switched off the adventure novel she’d been reading when she fell asleep. Turning onto her stomach, she crawled from the compartment and down the honeycombed wall.

The sleeping berths were tubes open on either end, making the wall accessible from fore or aft. Many beds were occupied, showing heads here and feet there, and she was careful not to wake her fellow Scouts as she left.

Beyond the girls’ quarters, the corridor was bright with daylight. Floor-to-ceiling windows framed the morning sun. Staff members and technicians bustled about on workday errands. A few waved or nodded to her as they passed.

Impani stepped into a nearby restroom. Her nose crinkled at the antiseptic smell. She splashed her face and scalp with cool water then disrobed and pulled a crisp tunic from the communal laundry closet.

As she dressed, she looked in the mirror. Behind her stood shower cubicles. They were rarely used. Scouts endured a caustic chemical cleansing after each mission. The chemicals removed the threat of contaminants along with all hair and a layer of skin. It made normal showers less inviting, even for Impani who grew up homeless and, at first, reveled in the luxury of water jets.

Refreshed, she rushed to the cafeteria. It was always busy. Day and night held little meaning when Scouts came in from missions at any hour. However, Impani found that people tended to choose the same seats out of habit. So when she reached her usual table, she was surprised Natica wasn’t there.

She looked about, hoping to spot her, a greeting perched on her lips. No Natica.

Was she still angry about last night?

Impani frowned. Maybe Natica had overslept, too. That wasn’t like her—but lately, so much about Natica wasn’t like the girl Impani considered her best friend. If she wasn’t sleeping, where would she be? Had she set off again on another assignment?

That made perfect sense. Natica must be anxious to tackle a new mission and prove she’s still part of the team. Mr. Arkenstone would know where she’d gone.

Impani left the cafeteria and headed toward the program director’s office. Arkenstone’s door was always open, so she never thought of him as her boss. In fact, on more than one occasion, he’d acted as confidant and mentor.

She stepped into a room dominated by a huge, holographic seascape. A boat sailed in the distance. Natica often made excuses to see the director just so she could visit the holo.

“Morning, Leila.” Impani approached a woman behind a desk. “Is Mr. Arkenstone available?”

A voice called from an adjacent room. “Come in, Impani.”

Leila smiled and returned to her computer screen. Impani entered the director’s office. Everything in it was massive—the chairs, the tables. A bank of windows behind the huge desk showed the spires of surrounding buildings.

Arkenstone glanced up. “If you’re here about Anselmi, I have to tell you I agree with the doctor. He must remain in quarantine. Even though he’s no longer in danger, the ailment he contracted might yet prove fatal to humans.”

“I know. They let me wave to him through the glass at the infirmary. It’s weird to see him turned purple like that.” She stepped nearer. “Actually, sir, I wanted to know if you sent Natica on another mission.”

His mouth made a silent oh, and he stood. With his arm about her shoulders, he guided her to a couch and sat beside her. “Natica’s gone home for her birthday.”


“Apparently, the sixteenth birthday is cause for celebration on her world. She wanted to be with family.”

“But she didn’t tell me.” Impani frowned. “Didn’t say goodbye.”

“She’s burnt out. I’ve seen it before.” He looked into Impani’s eyes. “I fully expect Natica to quit the Colonial Scouts.”

Impani felt her stomach disappear and all her insides slide to her knees. “No. She can’t.”

“I’d hate to lose her. She’s one of the best.” He squeezed Impani’s arm. “I’m going to schedule a break for you. A needed rest. I hope you’ll take advantage of it.”

Impani wasn’t aware of leaving the office, didn’t remember walking away. She found herself several corridors down, standing against the wall, trembling, seething with outrage.

How could Natica let one tragedy paralyze her? And how could she leave without saying anything? Impani never even knew it was her birthday. Why would Natica keep that a secret? What kind of friend was she?

“Impani? Are you all right?”

She looked up at Davrileo Mas. You’re part of it. You gave Natica a bad report. But Davrileo wasn’t the problem. It was Natica. Her friend was making a terrible mistake.

Impani straightened her shoulders. “Have you seen Trace?”

“Sure. He’s still in bed. Grumping about something.”


“C Wing. But you can’t go down there. Boys only.”

“Watch me.”

She took off at a trot into the forbidden Boys Only zone, vaguely disappointed that it looked so much like the girls’ area. She was aware of startled looks, but no one tried to stop her.

She turned down C Wing and stepped beside the sign that labeled it a quiet zone. The sound-dampening floor cushioned her feet. She gazed up a wall honeycombed with twenty sleeping berths. A few reading lamps glowed from the compartments, but most were dark and silent. How would she find Trace?

Screwing up her courage, she shouted, “Trace.”

She heard an answering chorus of groans. Only one face showed. Trace was on an upper tier. He scrambled from his berth and hurried down the ladder.

“What are you doing?” he whispered.

“Natica’s gone. She quit the Scouts.”

Someone called sleepily, “Give us a break.”

“Yeah, take it outside,” another boy moaned.

Trace took Impani’s arm and led her from the sleeping berths. He sat with her on a bench beneath a window. “Start from the beginning.”

“Natica and I had a big fight last night, and I was looking for her so I could apologize.”

“You?” Trace smiled.

“But I couldn’t find her. So I checked with Mr. Arkenstone, and he said she’s gone home.”

“Just like that?”

“And do you know what else? He said it’s her birthday. Why didn’t she tell me? That’s not something to keep private.”

“Calm down. There must be more to the story. What were you fighting about?”

Impani looked away. “Girl stuff. You know.”

“And you think she was angry enough to leave the Scouts?”

“I don’t know. I keep running over the argument in my mind.”

“Well, I don’t think you could have said anything that would make her quit. She’s been off her game lately. Distracted. Overreacting.”

“Because of Fungus World.”

“What does that have to do with it?”

“I swore I’d never tell anyone.” She looked at him. “But I don’t think she’d mind if I told you. It happened back when you ordered a moat dug around the colonists’ camp. You were going to create a ring of fire to keep the mold men away, remember? You sent us up the hill to cut logs and roll them down to you.”

“And the mold men attacked.”

“We had to retreat.” Impani frowned, dredging up the memory. “Natica and I ran carrying an injured man. The logs were deep, a solid wall, but we finally got him to the top. And we saw the fire around the camp had been set too soon and was burning out of control.”

He grimaced. “I remember.”

“What was I supposed to do? We had moss men behind us, fire ahead. We couldn’t just stay there. So I left the man with Natica and climbed over the edge. I figured that if I could reach the ground, she could drop him down to me. I never got that far. The fire weakened the pile, causing the logs to slide into the blaze. Natica lost her grip on the guy, and he just kind of rolled along with everything else and disappeared in the flames.”

“Oh, no.”

“It was an accident. No one was at fault. But Natica blames herself. She’s obsessed.”

“No wonder she freaked at that lava creature.”

“She has to snap out of it.”

Trace paused then met her eyes. “You should go to her.”

Impani blinked at him.

“I mean it. Take a leave of absence and go to Natica’s home world. You might not talk her out of quitting, but at least she’ll know you care.”

Impani sat forward. Why hadn’t she thought of that? She had more than enough credits in her expense account. And hadn’t Arkenstone said he was scheduling a break for her?

She smiled and cupped his cheek in her hand. “What would I do without you?”

He pulled her close, holding her, but didn’t answer.

Like what you’ve read so far? Alien Seas can be found at Amazon in print or eBook.



For Young SciFi Lovers

I have great news for young science fiction lovers. The first three Colonial Scouts books (Alien Worlds, Alien Jungle, and Alien Seas) are now in one eBook titled Alien Beginnings. You can get it at your favorite online bookstore.


Or if you prefer print books, as so many teens do, you can get the books separately at Amazon. And don’t think you have to read them in order. They’re good on their own.

The Colonial Scouts are an elite group of explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes. 

Alien Worlds: Impani, a brilliant girl with a dark past, dreams of escaping the streets by becoming a Scout. Because she is homeless, she feels she must study twice as hard to get AlienWorldsKindleCover (Small)into the program. The day before her final exam, however, a transporter malfunction sends her jumping uncontrollably from planet to planet. Although the error could be corrected from inside the wormhole, the Board decides she is too young to understand that level of tech.

Will she prove them wrong? Or will she die on an alien world?

Alien Worlds is available in print and eBook at Amazon.

It’s also available, and this is really exciting, as an audiobook at Audible. Pretty cool.

You can listen to a sample here.

Alien Jungle: This one is my favorite. Trace, a new Scout, wants desperately to prove himself to both the Board and to his girlfriend (who is Impani, by the way.) But when he leads a rescue party to a failing colony, everything goes against him.Alien Jungle Kindle Cover

His estranged father turns out to be the leader of the settlement. The colonists think he is inept because he is a teenager. And his disgruntled teammates believe he was named team leader because of his dad. He can tell no one about his secret mission to save only fifteen of the seventy people.

Will he follow orders and leave the colonists to die? Or will he find a way to save them all?

Alien Jungle is available in print or eBook at Amazon.

The audiobook is in production now. I hope to have it out at Christmastime, 2016.

Alien Seas: Natica is drowning in siblings. She hopes that if she becomes a Scout, she will rise above her brothers and sisters and shine. But when a man dies because of her mistake, she leaves the program and returns home a failure.


Her homecoming is even worse than she imagined. Her twin brother is missing. Despite warnings from the authorities, she searches for him and embroils herself in a growing mystery with far-reaching consequences.

Will she save her brother from himself? Or will he save her?

Alien Seas is available in print or eBook at Amazon.

The audiobook should be out early 2017.



So there you have it. The Colonial Scout Series. If you love science fiction adventures on distant planets, you’ll love these books!

Storytelling as a Narrative Medium

Storytelling is an oral tradition shared by every culture on Earth. It predates writing.

Street tellers would travel from village to village, thrilling their audiences and embellishing the story with each rendition. Their aim was to entertain, but also to educate, instill moral values, and preserve cultural customs.

I first became enamored with narrative storytelling at a local Renaissance Fair. The ragged performer gathered his audience to sit on hay bales placed in a circle around him. He then enthralled us with a magical story about heroes and dragons complete with exaggerated facial expressions and character voices. Afterward, he passed his hat for payment. Stories like his should never be free.

In this digital age, village storytellers are rare, but oral stories are not. Dramatic podcasts abound on the internet. My favorite is Welcome to Night Vale.

Audiobooks have gained popularity because you can listen to a book while completing other tasks. The majority of audiobook users listen in the car. That way, a long commute turns into an enjoyable ride. An interesting story becomes even more gripping with a good voice actor. I love Jim Dale’s performance in the Harry Potter books. He makes the characters come alive.

Enter, an Amazon company. Audible is the world’s largest producer of downloadable audiobooks. It’s easy to use. Just install the Audible App on your phone, MP3 player, tablet, or computer. You can then download and store any book purchased through

My book, Alien Worlds, is now available on Audible. It is read by the esteemed voice actor Jennifer Fournier. Alien Worlds is a fast-paced science fiction adventure that takes you to eleven unique planets. It is safe for teens—no sex, no profanity—so you can listen without worry with the whole family in the car. Give it a try with Audible’s 30-day free trial. You have nothing to lose!

The face of a robot woman.


Regular Price: $19.95


With 30-Day Trial

Membership Details:

  • First book free with 30-day trial
  • $14.95/month thereafter for your choice of 1 new book each month
  • Cancel easily anytime
  • Exchange books you don’t like
  • All selected books are yours to keep, even if you cancel


Countdown Deals – Satan’s Mirror

For a fun summer read, buy Satan’s Mirror now on sale at the Amazon Kindle Store. This is a Countdown Deal, so don’t hesitate or you’ll miss the best price.

Satan’s Mirror is based on the myth of Persephone, the goddess who was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld. In my story, a young mother storms the gates of hell to save her kidnapped daughter. My granddaughter’s name is Persephone, and I would go to hell and back for her.

Hell Hath No Fury…

When Satan kidnaps her six-year-old daughter, a vengeful mother battles the demons of hell to get her back.

Emily is the host of a paranormal television show. Her mission is to debunk all myths and urban legends. But when she meets Satan in a haunted house and calls him a fraud, the repercussions change her life. Satan kidnaps her six-year-old daughter, and Emily vows vengeance.

For centuries, demons have been abducting people and pulling them through wormholes to an alternate universe. The hapless victims are then tortured for the demons’ pleasure. Because humans are out of sync with time, they cannot die. They must endure the sadistic revelry for eternity.

Emily will do anything to rescue her daughter, even if it means storming the underworld and battling the denizens of hell. But if she does somehow find her little girl, how will they find their way out?

satan's mirror countdown



Satan’s Mirror is on sale from July 4th through July 11. Buy early to get the best price.

Countdown Deals – Colonial Scouts

Kindle Countdown Deals are in progress for my Colonial Scouts books, Alien Worlds and Alien Jungle. If you haven’t read them yet, now’s your chance.


Alien Worlds: The Girl and the Wormhole

The Colonial Scouts are an elite group of explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes.

Impani, a brilliant girl with a dark past, dreams of escaping the streets by becoming a Scout. Because she is homeless, she feels she must study twice as hard to get into the program. The day before her final exam, however, a transporter malfunction sends her jumping uncontrollably from planet to planet. Although the error could be corrected from inside the wormhole, the Board decides she is too young to understand that level of tech.

Will she prove them wrong? Or will she die on an alien world?

Alien Jungle: When the Jungle Fights Back

The Colonial Scouts are an elite group of explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes.

Trace, a new Scout, wants desperately to prove himself to both the Board and to his girlfriend. But when he leads a rescue party to a failing colony, everything goes against him.

His estranged father turns out to be the leader of the settlement. The colonists think he is inept because he is a teenager. And his disgruntled teammates think he was named team leader because of his dad. He can tell no one about his secret mission to save only fifteen of the seventy people.

Will he follow orders, leaving the rest of the colonists to die? Or will he find a way to save them all?

A Little Background

Readers always ask where I get my characters. Are they part of me? No. Are they based on people I know? No. Here is a little background on my two main Colonial Scouts.

Impani was found in a shoe box beneath a bus stop bench. She’d been making a mewing sound, so the old woman who found her named her after a cat she’d once had. Although they lived on the streets, Impani never felt homeless. The streets were her home. The old woman looked out for her and taught her right from wrong. But she died when Impani was ten. Not long after that, Impani got trapped in a trash compactor while searching for food. She spent the night in the dark with insects skittering over her arms. When the workers came to compact the garbage, they heard her screams. She was remanded to a local orphanage. The institution was not for her; she hated the structure and the rules but was thrilled to finally learn how to read. She ran away two years later but continued to read all she could. That was how she learned of the Colonial Scouts. It became her dream.

Trace Hanson is the only child of a wealthy and influential landowner. His mother, a biologist, was lighthearted and loving and kept his brusque, domineering father in line. When Trace was fourteen, his mother contracted Maramus Disease, a rare, disfiguring cancer. While his father toured the galaxy on a fund-raising mission, Trace struggled to care for his mother. Watching her die was devastating. Worse, when his father returned home, he never mentioned her. Instead, he began hosting gala events designed to find Trace a suitable spouse. At sixteen, Trace left home and found a job as an off-loader for a galactic shipping firm. While on leave on a distant world, he stumbled across a man assaulting a girl in an alley and stepped in to save her. The man turned out to be a local politician who, trying to salvage his political career, claimed Trace had robbed him. The girl settled out of court and wouldn’t corroborate Trace’s story. Trace was sent to a penal colony. But when the courts found out he was underage, they pulled him out of the colony and sent him to the Colonial Scouts.

So you see, my characters aren’t like me at all.

I hope you’ll take advantage of this Countdown Deal for Alien Worlds and Alien Jungle. And keep watch for Alien Seas, coming soon.

Sample Sunday – Alien Jungle

When the Jungle Fights Back

Alien Jungle takes place on a beautiful yet dangerous world where plant life grows impossibly fast. The book has the happiest ending I’ve ever written–but you be the judge. Buy it now at Amazon.

Here’s an excerpt:

Alien Jungle Kindle Cover

Alien Jungle is available at Amazon.

Alien Jungle

Chapter One


Ice exploded like a shot, filling the air with crystalline shards. Trace Hanson dove behind an outcropping, drawing his stat-gun. The cavern was large and laced with passages, slicked over with ice glowing blue with trapped gas. Ledges rose in levels from the curved floor. Nothing moved. He leaned forward, searching.

A blast shattered the frozen ridge, stinging his face. He ran for a tunnel and pressed against the wall. Who? Where? The cavern was filled with places to hide. Think. Think.

Ice blew apart above his head.

Trace ran. The weight of his footsteps jolted his body as he thundered through the tight corridor. This was ridiculous. He was a Colonial Scout, trained in first contact situations. If someone was shooting at him, he needed to take control.

He’d arrived on this world the day before, dropped onto the middle of a glacier by an Impellic ring, a programmable wormhole. He had three days to prove the planet worthy of colonization—and he didn’t want to activate the ring prematurely.

A bang rang his ears. Slush struck his cheek. Trace ducked and fell, sliding down a slanted tunnel, arms and legs flailing, fighting for purchase. He came to rest against a blue-splotched embankment. He looked back. No movement. Get up. They might be following.

Who might be following?

Struggling to his feet, he crept along the new passage, wiping gloved hands over his dripping face. He pulled his mask down from atop his head and snapped it into place, keying the mike with his tongue.

“Davrileo, what’s your position?”

Only static. Trace winced. Why had he listened when Davrileo suggested they split up to search the caves? He was team leader—his partner’s safety was his responsibility. Leave it to him to screw up his first command.

“Davrileo! Come in!”

“Right here, boss,” said Davrileo Mas.

Trace sagged in relief. “Where are you? Are you all right?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Someone’s shooting. An energy weapon.”

A pause, then, “That doesn’t add. I’m seeing evidence of a primitive race—nothing to indicate high-level weaponry.”

Trace scowled. “I’m telling you, your primitives are armed.” He shook his head. “Look, just get back to the mouth of the cave. Keep your eyes open.”

“Roger, that.”

The com clicked off. Trace continued forward, eyes darting, cursing himself for his cowardice. As team leader, he was expected to be equal to any challenge. His job was to certify a planet safe. He’d wanted this mission to be perfect, wanted to impress his superiors, show them what he could do.

But most of all, he wanted to impress Impani. He groaned. Impani had already been named team leader three times. She embraced each new planet like a fascinating puzzle. Like he should be doing—instead of running away.

He slumped against the wall. His body ached, crawling with sweat, the skinsuit unable to compensate. Growing circles of fog marred his faceplate. He lifted his mask.

Cold. So cold. His nostrils crackled. Breath hung in a frosted cloud. Pulling off his gloves, he wiped his eyes and breathed the warmth of his fingers. He imagined steam rising from his overheated body.

The ceiling shattered. Trace dodged into a narrow passage, running full out with arms over his head. Ice pelted his back as blasts rang behind. The tunnel twisted. His feet shot from beneath him, and he skidded on his backside into a large cavern. The gun clattered away.

Movement caught his eye. He looked over at a scrawny, hairless humanoid swaddled in strips of fur. It was the size of a child. Its mouth dropped open, showing blocky teeth.

Trace scuttled backward, boots slipping on the slick floor. He fumbled blindly for his gun, not willing to take his gaze from the alien. The ice felt hot against his bare palm. It felt wet, as if melting. Cracking and popping, the ground burst into slush beneath his hand.

Trace froze as if time had ended. Ice. Trapped gas. The ice exploded beneath his hand. Realization thudded against his stomach. The blasts started after he removed his mask. No one had shot at him. His body heat caused the gas in the ice to explode.

He stared at the alien, saw the beaded necklace about its neck, saw the emptiness in its hands. Then he saw Davrileo Mas step from a tunnel across the cavern, raising his gun.

“Wait!” Trace cried too late.

Davrileo’s shot illuminated the alien, encasing it in a bright aura, holding it upright. Its body was whisper thin. It fell in slow motion.

Time released him. Trace rushed toward the fallen alien. Scorch sizzled in its back. He turned the body over, searching for signs of life, not knowing where to look for a pulse.

“You told me they were shooting at you,” Davrileo said, his voice sharp with recrimination. “You said they were armed.”

Trace looked at him, words caught in a knot. It was a mistake. A terrible mistake. No one had shot at him. Then his thoughts settled on Impani’s mantra: we aren’t here to butcher the locals.


PLANET 1186-9 HH30

How could things go so wrong? Impani wondered, gazing over the turbulent lake. Driving rain pounded her body.

Her partner climbed beside her. “You can’t be serious.”

She looked at him, past his rain-streaked faceplate and into his large black eyes. Anselmi was humanoid—two arms, two legs, one head—but so pale he was silver, so thin he appeared brittle. People said that he and his kind were telepathic. Not many Scouts wanted to work with him. But Impani liked having a partner who knew her thoughts. Until now.

“You said it yourself. There is nothing here,” she shouted over the rain. “We have to cross the lake.”

“It’s too wide. Even your resonator can’t reach the other side.”

She looked back at the craggy, scabrous land. No animals. No plants. A paradox. I’m team leader, she thought, and I make the decisions—then wondered if he heard her.

“Impani, not every mission has to be spectacular.”

True. But she had gained a reputation as a risk-taker who always learned something extraordinary—and she found that she liked being a rogue.

“I’m going.” She switched on her jet pack. Its power rattled her teeth.

“Why?” shouted Anselmi. “Why is it so important?”

“Because there is air,” she shouted back. “An m-class oxygen atmosphere. There must be plant life somewhere. And I intend to find it.”

She lifted from the rough bank. Rain lashed as if to push her back to ground. With one hand on the control pad, she rose over the churning water. The land disappeared as if it had never been, obliterated by the sheeting storm.

Impani felt enveloped in gray fog. She felt that she could fly for days and not see anything. No visibility. No resonance scans. What was she doing?

She thought again about being a rogue. She knew not everyone admired her for it, even suspected that several of her peers avoided her. Reckless, they said. It didn’t matter. She didn’t need anyone’s approval.

But then Anselmi pulled alongside, hanging like a shadow. Immense relief flooded her.

The com clicked in her ear.

“Something is there,” Anselmi said.

Impani squinted through the rain. A jagged mass loomed ahead. Most likely it was rocks on the opposite shore. She smirked with vindication. Then the mass moved.

“Look out!” yelled Anselmi as a huge tentacle splashed down between them.

Impani reeled to one side, caught in its wake. She struggled for altitude, felt a sickening drop as the pack sputtered. Before her, a massive balloon-like body broke the surface of the lake—and part of her thought, this is new, we haven’t seen a giant squid monster before. It appeared transparent in the dark water. Tentacles waved around a beak-like mouth. Reaching for her.

Impani screamed. She mashed the controls of her jet pack, kicking her feet as if she would run away. With horrible slowness, a tentacle curled about her chest. Impani arched her back, clawing at the crushing pressure. Flashing stars encroached upon her vision.

A spear of light shot through the haze. The grip about her slackened. Impani wheezed and gulped the air. Anselmi fired his stat-gun again. Tentacles thrashed. For a dizzying moment, Impani was hoisted upward. Then the creature plunged her into the water as it dove beneath the surface.

Chapter 2

Trace stood at a window on the ninety-fifth floor of Colonial Bureau Central. He stared at the sparkling spires of surrounding buildings and the ribbon of yellow cabs gliding between them. In his mind, he saw the fur-clad alien encased in bright aura falling in slow motion to the cave floor.

He could blame Davrileo Mas or shrug the incident away as an unfortunate accident. But as team leader, the mission had been his responsibility, and he took full blame for it at the debriefing.

“Heard you had to ring home early,” someone said behind him.

Trace winced, recognizing the voice. It was Robert Wilde, the person he least wanted to deal with right then. Keeping his voice level, he said, “The planet was occupied. There was no reason to stay.”

“Still. Losing an ice world with all that potential water.” Wilde stepped to the window and gazed out. “Won’t look good on your record.”

“I explored the planet, found out what we needed to know,” Trace said. “The mission was a success.”

Wilde sniffed. “Your first and doubtless last mission as team leader.”

“At least, they gave me a chance. How many times have you been chosen?” Trace cut himself off. He hated rising to Wilde’s taunts, hated the constant competition between them. He wished they could work together.

For in truth, Robert Wilde was an excellent Scout. He had an uncanny intuition that made him quick to understand an alien environment. Trace felt that they might have been friends—if not for that one thing between them.

“She doesn’t love you, you know.” Wilde sneered. “She’s just using you to make me jealous.”

“Give it up,” Trace said.

But Wilde was already walking away. Trace frowned as he watched him. Wilde had no chance with Impani. Neither did he. For Impani would never truly love either of them. She was in love with the job.

The thought broke in a wave of helplessness. He pictured her before him—green eyes flashing with excitement as she described the planet she’d just seen, laughing as she recounted this daring escape or that grand discovery. She was so alive, so… brilliant. It was enough for him to bask in her light. And as he looked out at the bright blue day, he hoped that wherever she was, she and her partner were having better luck than he’d had.


PLANET 1186-9 HH30

Impani gazed upward as the squid-like creature dragged her into the lake. Murky water enveloped the light. The filters of her mask closed. She had only what air remained inside, only minutes to decide what to do. If she activated the Impellic ring while still in the squid’s stranglehold, the creature would transport with her back to Central. But if she waited too long, she would either suffocate or be squeezed to death.

Part of her quailed in panic, yet a larger part appraised the situation calmly, and she surprised herself by hoping she’d sealed her backpack. She carried a small holo of Trace and didn’t want it to get wet.

A streak of light jarred her thoughts. Anselmi had followed them down. She felt both relieved and irked. He fired his stat-gun. The energy rippled over the squid’s massive body to no lasting effect—but Impani felt awash with electric pinpricks. Her ears popped as the creature took her deeper.

Anselmi fired again, but the shot sputtered and the beam died. With odd clarity, Impani remembered that stat-guns were powered by static in the air. Underwater, they would hold only a residual charge.

“Go back!” she gasped into the open com.

Before her partner could respond, the creature struck out with its many limbs and swatted him. Anselmi flipped end-over-end then drifted into darkness.

“Anselmi!” Where was he? She pounded the tentacle about her chest.

The creature thrust ahead. Its hold upon her shifted. She squirmed to pull her gun from her belt. A violent jerk threatened to snap her spine. She clung to the weapon with both hands. Tentacles gyrated around her as the creature reeled her closer. Its beaked mouth opened and closed.

Impani fired. The shot hit inside the mouth. The body flashed and heaved. Energy waves radiated outward, encasing her. She thrashed in heated pain, nearly blacking out. Lights crowded the periphery of her vision. She was aware of movement in the dark, aware that she was running out of air. Tensing for recoil, she shot again.

Abruptly, the squid released her. With a single stroke, it darted away. Impani wheezed and clutched her chest. She turned to look for Anselmi—and the lights moved. For a moment, all thought paused, and she stared mesmerized at the beings around her.

Their faces were fish-like with the frowning expressions of largemouth bass. Dark fins ran down their backs. Their bodies tapered into scaly tailfins, but their front flippers elongated into arms and fingers. Each creature held a glowing spike of phosphorescent coral.

First a sea monster, now mermaids. She wished she could stay longer, wished she had explored the lakes in the first place. But she had only moments of breathable air left. She had to find Anselmi and ring home.

Kicking hard, she swam in the direction she had last seen her partner. The mer-people flanked her, keeping their distance. She clipped a flashlight to her wrist, although its light did little to dispel the murk.

“Anselmi,” she panted. “Anselmi, do you read?”

No answer. A sob crested her throat, and she fought it down. Which way did the current flow? How far would he drift?

Then she saw him, his body eerily green in the lamplight. Impani blinked rapidly, fighting a sudden lethargy. Her arms and legs felt numb, her chest crushed with lack of oxygen. She propelled forward then pulled her partner close and activated the Impellic ring.

Immediately, she sensed the ring spiral nearer, felt its tug within her stomach. The mer-people swam away as if losing interest. She followed them with her eyes and saw a glowing city upon the lake bottom. Shining domes clustered like bubbles, and silhouettes of mer-people swam through the light. Forests of seaweed waved in the current. The plant life she’d expected to find.

Then the ring enclosed her, pulling her from the watery world into the void of the wormhole. She closed her eyes against a sensation of extreme velocity, her body wrenched by vertigo, her numb arms wrapped, unfeeling, about Anselmi’s slight form.

Was he dead? Did he die trying to save her? She shouldn’t have tried to cross the lake. If only he hadn’t followed her into the water.

Light seared her senses and something hard struck her legs. She dropped to her knees amid a great splash of water. Immediately, a claxon sounded.

She heard a voice over the loud speaker. “Hazardous Materials crew to Impellic Chamber 110B.”

Impani clawed off her mask, wheezing and retching, nearly blinded by the mirrored room. She leaned over Anselmi. His mask was askew, the hinge broken. His face swam in lake water.

He wasn’t breathing.

Want to read more? Alien Jungle is available in print and eBook at Amazon. Get your copy today! Coming soon to Audible and iTunes.

Sample Sunday – Alien Worlds

Alien Worlds is a fast-paced science fiction story about a girl lost in a wormhole. A fun read for your teen or pre-teen. It’s the kind of book I wish I’d had when I was thirteen.

And now it’s in audiobook at Audible. I chose an excellent narrator, Jennifer Fournier, who’s produced children’s books before. She has an emphatic style of reading, which I think is perfect for this age group.

If you would like to hear a sample, you can listen here.

If you prefer ebooks or print books, I hope you enjoy this excerpt.

AlienWorldsKindleCover (Small)

Alien Worlds is available at Amazon!

Alien Worlds

Chapter 1

Impani leaned against the tree trunk. She wished she were invisible. A twig snapped, and she bit her lip hard.

Nearby, the beast gave a low growl.

Quaking with dread, she peered around the tree. She saw a bristly black snout and jagged brown tusks. The beast’s single eye turned slowly in its socket. It stared straight at her.

With a yelp, Impani took off. She raced through leaves of red and orange feeling as if she ran through fire. Her boots thumped and scarred the hard-packed clay. Her facemask jolted with each step.

She couldn’t keep this up. She was fast, but the beast had endurance—and he had it in for her. She shouldn’t have entered its lair. That was one of the first rules she learned as a cadet. But the cub was so cute.

Suddenly, her feet flew out from under her. She slid on her butt down a steep slope and landed in a mud puddle. A flock of winged geckos took flight.

The beast detoured around the shallow pool. Couldn’t bear to get its fur wet. Maybe she still had a chance.

Spurred by hope, Impani angled back to where she’d forded the stream, leaving her partner, Davrileo Mas, digging up his rocks. If she could reach water, the creature might lose interest. She bounded over gullies and fallen branches. The creature thrashed behind her. It growled as if to tell her it still had her in sight.

Impani stumbled over the uneven ground. Her breath hitched, and she clutched her side. Thorns reached for her, but her skinsuit slipped through as if she were made of glass. Ahead, she heard the babble of a stream. She forced her burning legs to move faster, arms pumping, teeth bared, and burst from the crimson trees into bright yellow sunlight.

Crashing over the rocky bank, she splashed into the stream. Moisture dotted her mask. She ran until the water was over her knees then risked a glance toward the shore.

The beast paced the bank. Its massive, inward-turned paws raked the rocks. A thick collar of fur stood straight out. Impani gnawed her lip. Go away. Go back to your baby. She sighed as the animal lowered its ruff and turned to leave.

An arc of blue-white energy streaked overhead, striking the beast as it lumbered away. With a roar, it reared onto two feet and spun toward the bank.

“No.” Impani looked around.

Davrileo pointed his stat-gun and fired again. The blast hit the beast mid-chest. The creature flew back then slammed the ground. Its heavy legs twitched and slashed the air. Impani saw the white of its exposed ribcage, the black, scorched flesh.

“No!” she yelled.

Davrileo shot again. The beast shuddered and fell silent. Impani looked at her partner. She wanted to throttle him, wanted to smash his grinning face.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she shouted as she waded across the stream. “It had a cub. It was protecting its young.”

“It would have killed you,” Davrileo shouted back.

She moved as if to tear at her non-existent hair. “It was leaving.”

“A little gratitude might be nice,” he said. “What were you doing over there anyway? We’re supposed to be partners.”

“We’re explorers.” She looked at the red and black mass that was once a living creature and thought of the cub alone in its lair. “We aren’t here to butcher the locals.”

“Well, let’s get back to exploring those rocks. This world is a geological haven. I can’t wait to give my report.”

Disgust seeped into her anger. In a low voice, she said, “If you’ve cost me my chance—”

She stopped as a familiar tug grasped the pit of her stomach. Alarms wailed in the back of her mind.

They were being recalled. The training session was over.

She usually felt disappointed; she could never learn enough about these distant, alien worlds. But this time she wanted to leave the planet. She wanted to get back to the academy.

Looking up, she imagined a circle of swirling black energy, although she knew the Impellic ring was imperceptible. She had invented this image of it to calm her fears about traveling through space without a spaceship.

Darkness gathered. Tendrils reached down and pulled her from the world on which she stood. The rocky bank, the sound of water receded. The void enveloped her—deep and empty yet somehow giving the impression of extreme velocity.

Blinding light speared the black. Impani winced. She felt a cylinder materialize at her back, a platform beneath her feet. Her vision wavered then focused upon a mirrored room.

The Impellic Chamber.

Its many reflections showed Davrileo Mas on the other side of the cylinder. Impani removed her mask and slid off the hood of her skinsuit.

“Welcome home, cadets,” a voice said through a speaker. “Shower down and report to debriefing.”


Impani rushed to Debrief. She found Davrileo and their supervisor, Ms. Kline, huddled together, speaking in quiet tones.

She felt a twist of apprehension. “Sorry I’m late, ma’am.”

“Sit down, Impani.” Ms. Kline smiled. “Davrileo was telling me about the mineral deposits the two of you found.”

Her eyes flicked to Davrileo’s face. “Actually, he located the deposits. He carried the resonator this trip out.”

“It appears that he also secured most of the samples.”

“I took samples, too.” Impani sat at the table. “I took specimens of trees and moss. And I got a tuft of animal fur.”

“I see.”

“A planet is more than a lump of minerals.”

“True,” Kline said. “But when the Board sends colonists to a planet, it’s for a specific reason. And often that reason is mining rights. As a Colonial Scout, it will be up to you to assess a world within given parameters.”

“But as cadets, we’re not given parameters. I wanted to bring back as much information as we could.”

“You certainly did that.” She scrolled down her slate. “You ranked higher than any other team we sent to that world. However, none of them resorted to killing an inhabitant. Tell me about the animal you discovered.”

Impani hesitated. “It was two meters tall. Bristly fur. Ran both upright and on all fours. It had one eye, and its head swiveled.”

“Extraordinary,” Kline said. “This is the first report we’ve had of a Cyclops creature. A shame it had to be destroyed.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She glowered. Any points she’d made for finding the beast were now lost.

Davrileo cleared his throat and sat straighter. “My partner was in imminent danger.”

“And as partners, you work together, watch out for one another?” Kline looked back and forth at each of them. “I ask because of a discrepancy in sensor readings. Impani, you show an increase in body temperature, adrenalin—”

“I was running from the beast.”

“For twenty minutes?”

Impani pursed her lips. Had she strayed that deeply into the woods?

“Yet, Davrileo’s readings are peaceful.” Kline consulted the slate. “Almost as if the two of you were in separate places.”

“Impani wandered away,” Davrileo said.

“I wasn’t wandering. I was exploring.”

“Might have gotten us both killed.”

“That’s absurd,” Impani cried. “You shot that poor thing in the back.”

“He was coming at you,” Davrileo shouted. “If I hadn’t shown up—”

“Thank you, Davrileo,” Kline said quietly. “You are dismissed.”

Davrileo glared at Impani, pushed back his chair, and strode from the room.

Beneath the table, Impani clenched her fists. Heat radiated from her face. She concentrated on gathering her anger into a ball and squeezing it.

Kline said, “Impani, you’re at the top of your class. You aced all your studies, and you grasped Impellic theory and logic faster than any sixteen-year-old I ever met. But this is the second report of you leaving your partner.”

“I just think you can see more of a planet if you don’t keep your nose stuck to an instrument screen.”

“Scouting is a dangerous business. That’s why Scouts are dispatched in pairs. We’d send you in groups if we could, but Impellic Theory states a ring can transport only two. Otherwise, the ring may become unstable and—”

“I know.”

“The point is that you have to work with others. Haven’t you wondered why we split the equipment between you? It’s so you’ll work together.”

She groaned. “He shot that creature in the back.”

Kline sighed. “All right. You can go.”

“No, please. At least, take my specimens into consideration.”

“Get some rest, Impani. You’re on stage first thing tomorrow morning.”

Chapter 2

A hearth dominated the Main Floor Eatery. Spotlights shone upon its station in the center of the vast circular room. Flames shot toward the ceiling. Fingers of mist drew auras about the chefs who danced around the fire.

Impani skirted the perimeter. Her nose twitched at the mixed aromas of multiethnic food. She would have preferred to skip breakfast. The memory of being chewed out the night before still churned in her stomach. But she put on a smile and a better attitude and looked for her friend.

“Over here,” Natica whispered.

“Morning.” Impani slipped into the crescent-shaped booth. The sides curved overhead, blotting out the sound and sight of other diners. She lifted a glass from a puddle of condensation. “You ordered nectar? What’s the occasion?”

“Our almost graduation. And you’re late.”

“Sorry,” Impani said. “I bumped into Mr. Ambri-Cutt in the hall.”

“That old raffer. You should remind him that techs aren’t supposed to talk to cadets. We can’t afford any distractions.”

Impani chuckled. “He just wants to show off. He even let me into the control room once.”

“If you get caught, you’ll both be in deep drel.”

A clatter overrode Impani’s response. Two chefs collided. A breakfast platter flew. Several daem eggs rolled under a counter.

Her friend grinned. “I love the floorshow here. They’re so synchronized.”

Impani smiled. Of all the people she had met since her acceptance into the academy, she felt most at ease with Natica Galos. Relaxing against the cushion, she removed the string of emerald pearls she wore draped across her smooth scalp.

Natica picked them up. “These are new. Another secret admirer?”

“They’re from that boy who took me to the vids last week.”

“Are they real?”

“We can only assume. Whose turn is it to buy?”

“Yours. And I’m famished.” Natica tossed the pearls onto the seat then activated the menu. Pictographs hovered over the table. She ordered a boiled daem egg by punching the picture with her knuckle.

Impani studied the floating images. “I think I’ll have a sweet cake.” She made her selection, and the holographic menu vanished.

“So tell me,” Natica said. “How was the session yesterday?”

“It was wonderful. They sent us to a wooded world. The plant life was amazing—deep reds and ocher. Carotene based, not chlorophyll. We would have scored pretty well, except—”

“Here it comes.”

“I stopped to look at a cub in its lair. It was so little. Who would have thought its father would be so huge?”

“What did you do?”

“I ran. It chased me halfway across the continent, seemed just about to give up when Davrileo Mas came to my rescue. He butchered the beast on the spot.”

“And you think you’ll lose points for that?”

She shook her head. “He didn’t even try to ward it off.”

“Maybe he was afraid.” Natica shrugged. “I would have been.”

“But to kill it.”

“Pani, not every session needs to be spectacular. You’re sure to make the program.”

“In two days we’ll find out.” Impani sipped her nectar. She felt embarrassed and misunderstood. The mewling cub came to mind. Did it have a mother to care for it? “How did you do on the physics exam?”

“Passed everything but Impellic Theory. My downfall.”

“Everyone hates that subject.”

“I’ll never get it.”

“Sure you will.” Impani smiled. “Once I thought a single black hole would devour the universe. But in reality the hole isn’t expanding, it’s contracting. Along with space and light and time, it’s also sucking in itself. Then one day, poof, it disappears and all that’s left is an Impellic ring. And what you do is take, say, three of them…” She smeared the condensation from her drink and drew three concentric circles. “The big one powers the other two, and the middle one powers the last. Zips you through space just like stepping through a door.”

“If only you were the instructor. You have such a simple way of explaining things.” Natica toyed with the pearls. “Speaking of simple, I saw Robert Wilde yesterday. Obnoxious as ever.”

Impani hid behind her glass of nectar. “Really?”

“He got a three-day suspension for fighting.”

“He’s a bully. I don’t know why I ever—”

“He says you’re in love with him. Are you?”


Impani set down the glass and looked away. She remembered the night she told Robert she didn’t want to see him anymore. He stood outside her room, his face dark and his hands clenched, making her too nervous to fall asleep. She wasn’t afraid of him, although she was wary of his quick temper. But lately, she caught glimpses of him in improbable places and wondered if he was stalking her.

A server approached, breaking her reverie. He set their meals before them and retreated without speaking. Privacy was the diner’s greatest asset.

Impani sliced the sweet cake into quarters. Dried fruit crumbled onto her plate. “It’s strange that in all the time we’ve been at the academy, we’ve never been partners.”

“Computer glitch.” Natica leaned forward and removed the top of her egg. She coaxed out a black tentacle with the flat of her spoon. “I wouldn’t mind being paired with the new guy.”

“Trace Hanson? Ugh. He’s a convict, a common criminal.”

“A good-looking common criminal. Aren’t you the least bit intrigued?”

Impani pictured him with his legs stretched out before him, slouched in the back of the room. He’d arrived at the academy three months ago and was promptly ostracized, the other cadets whispering. “I’ve been running from his kind all my life.”

“I wonder what his crime was.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Natica shrugged and ate her breakfast.

Impani pushed her own plate away. “I don’t know why they let people like him in the academy.”

“They almost have to, don’t they? I mean, with the drop in new recruits? Now is the best time to get into the program.”

“No, it’s tougher than ever,” Impani said. “One more incident of lost colonists and they’ll shut us down for good. The government needs reliable Scouts to get those people onto safe worlds.”

“That’s where you and I come in.”

Impani smiled. “Right.”

Arms crossed, she gazed across the restaurant. How different her life was here—so removed from the warlords and rats, the perpetual darkness of the streets.

No doubt, Trace Hanson came from the same environment. But while she fought to rise above her origins, he obviously carried his with him. Criminal. Convict. She couldn’t afford to be intrigued.

They finished their meals, left the Eatery, and stepped into the central tower. A thrill swept Impani as she entered the wide corridor. She would never grow accustomed to the sight.

Gilded archways adorned the ebony walls. Glass-bottomed lifts scaled the heights. Open terraces created a latticework of light bars that merged two hundred stories above. Impani gazed upward as she walked. She wished she could stay forever.

But her days at the academy were nearly over. Natica worried about not making the program, about returning as a failure to her family’s dockside fishery on the watery planet of Naiad. Impani had much more to lose. She expected to be executed if she returned home. That was the price she’d paid for freedom—the secret she kept even from Natica.

The tower was peaceful so early in the morning. The silence wouldn’t last. Soon the halls would swarm with other hopefuls, chattering and laughing, all vying for a chance to prove their worth. Despite the competition, there was camaraderie among the cadets she’d never known.

She would miss this place. Pass or fail, she would never see it again. Would she remember the academy as being the beginning or the end of her adventure?

With a stifled squeal, Natica caught her arm. She swung her around and pulled her to the side. “There he is.”

Impani blinked out of her reverie. She looked where Natica pointed.

Then she saw him. Trace Hanson.

He walked along the far side of the corridor, his gait slow, eyes downcast. He was tall. His shoulders were so wide they strained his tunic. Impani wondered suddenly what it would be like to be held close by those muscular arms.

“You should say hello,” Natica said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she snapped, more alarmed at the turn her thoughts had taken than at her friend’s suggestion.

Her friend grinned and nudged her. “Go on. This is your last chance. In two days you may never see him again.”

Impani squirmed from her prodding fingers. “You’re the one who was intrigued.”

“All right,” she said. “I’ll go.”

“No!” Impani giggled and pulled her back.

Just then, her gaze met his.

Trace Hanson’s eyes were black and deep-set like a hawk. They made her feel he could see right through her, that he already knew her secrets, her faults.

Impani’s face grew hot. She turned her back. “Stop it.”

“What’s the matter?”

“He knows we’re talking about him.”

“So what? Like I said, this is probably the last time we’ll ever see him.”

She glanced over her shoulder. He turned down a hallway and was soon out of sight.

With a laugh, Natica linked arms with her and set them moving down the massive corridor. Their footsteps echoed. At last, they reached a huge oblong touch plate in the center of the hall. A holographic roster listed the members of the Colonial Expansion Board.

Natica pressed her palm against the plate’s dark surface. Letters appeared over her fingers.


She smiled and moved aside. Impani took her place. The touch plate acknowledged her.


Impani stepped back. “It looks like we won’t be partners this time either. I really hoped we’d be together at least once.”

“It’s a conspiracy. Listen, I have to get going. I’m all the way on the other side.” Natica headed for an arched hallway. She called over her shoulder, “Be spectacular!”

“Good luck.”

As Impani watched her go, she felt suddenly alone. With a sigh, she entered the hallway leading to the even-numbered rooms. This hall differed from the main corridor. The ceiling was close. Stark lights crisscrossed the pale walls. Instead of polished black tile, the floor was gray and resilient. It muffled the sound of her step.

“Four A, Four B, Six A.” At last, she reached room 8A. A green light shone over the door. Impani glanced at meditation room 8B. The light blinked red. Access locked. Her partner was already inside.

She held her palm against the reader. The door slid open to reveal a small room. A couch sat along one wall and a table along another. A non-denominational altar stood in the corner. Light flickered from a panel in the ceiling.

Impani sat on the edge of the couch. She folded her arms, then crossed and uncrossed her legs. The silent altar admonished her. She had no prayers to give.

Be spectacular, Natica told her. She’d have to be spectacular if she were to make the program.

Who would her partner be? Hopefully someone who wasn’t afraid to take a chance. Vinod Mouallem would be good. Or Anselmi, the humanoid from the planet Veyt. Anyone but Davrileo. Or Robert Wilde.

Repulsed by the thought, she approached a small mirror and slid the strand of pearls from her brow. She hated that she had no hair. Miserable skinsuits. The techs wanted nothing between her flesh and their instruments. With a derisive sniff, she tugged her tunic over her head.

A line of equipment edged a shelf above the table. Carefully, she took down each piece. From a sealed pouch, she shook out her skinsuit. It was lightweight, finely ribbed with minute sensors and equalizers. She slid her fingers beneath a triple seam and laid it open. The texture was the same on either side. Gathering the suit in her hands, she pushed her foot inside. It molded immediately to the contours of her toes, the curve of her ankle. Slowly, she pulled it up her thigh, keeping the ribbing straight and the fabric even. The tightness eased as the suit adjusted.

She gathered the other leg. Leaning against the wall, she drew the fabric taut along her skin and smoothed it upward to her waist. Environmental gadgets weighted the sleeves, and she worked her hands into them carefully to position the readers over her forearms.

In front of the mirror, Impani rolled the hood over her naked scalp. She adjusted the insulator band at her forehead, tightened it beneath her chin, then ran her fingers down her body, making sure the triple closure was properly sealed. In her reflection, the seam appeared invisible.

“Done in record time.”

Hands on her hips, she turned from side to side. The silver skinsuit picked up the colors of the room as if she were camouflaged. It conformed to her so neatly she could count every rib. So flexible, she felt naked.

She uncoiled her utility belt.

“Hooks and clamps, metallic twine,” she whispered as she ran through her supplies. “The refit date on the stat-gun is current. Med-pac is full.”

Her gaze fell upon the sonic resonator. She would be in charge of taking scans this trip. Maybe that would give her control over whether she and her partner explored their alien surroundings or just sat looking at pretty rocks.

With a satisfied nod, Impani wrapped the belt about her waist. The latch wouldn’t close. Drel! She slammed the pin into the buckle and wiggled the clasp. After a few moments, the ready light gave a reassuring blink.

She tossed her clothes into the recycling chute. Fresh clothing would be waiting for her when she returned from the session. As someone who never owned a second set of clothes, that always amazed her. She coiled the strand of pearls and left it on the table where it wouldn’t get lost. Then she put on her gloves.

As she turned toward a blank wall, she took a deep breath. “This session will be my most spectacular.”

She wiped her hand against her hip then pressed her palm against the wall. A panel slid to expose the Impellic Chamber.

Impani’s stomach swooped. Tossing back a mane of phantom hair, she stepped inside.

Mirrors encased the room. They caused the light to bounce at odd angles. A silver cylinder upon a raised dais met its image in the ceiling. There were no computer monitors, no panels of flashing lights—all tech was in the control room. Technicians watched from behind the mirrors.

She crossed the room, sat on the platform, and dangled her legs over the edge. Her partner hadn’t left meditation. Leave it to her to show up too early. She swung her legs, feeling the weight of her boots, and saw a hundred images of herself move in sync.

The techs were watching. Would Mr. Ambri-Cutt be among them?

Suddenly self-conscious, she jumped down from the stage and circled the room. The reflective floor hindered her step as if she walked upon the surface of water. Probably the only place in the galaxy where a person didn’t have a shadow.

Behind her, the panel from meditation room 8B slid open. Finally. With a smile, Impani turned. The smile froze upon her face.

Her partner was Trace Hanson.

Like what you’ve read so far? Alien Worlds is available in print or eBook at Amazon. Kindle it today! And if you prefer audiobooks, you can find it at Audible!

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott–A Book Review

The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, #1)The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Picture this: a near-immortal sorcerer teams up with an Ancient warrior to protect twins who don't yet realize they have magical powers but are ultimately needed to save the world. Sound familiar? That plotline has been used often enough to be called a formula.

And yet it works. The Alchemyst by Michael Scott is a rollicking page turner that relies on sympathetic characters to keep its readers engaged. Scott's bending and blending of myth and legend adds to the fun. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a fanciful adventure.

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