Aekhartain, Books, Updates

Orion’s Kiss Update

New updated version of Orion’s Kiss is now available!

Mostly it involved tidying up typos and stupid mistakes (like missing words *facepalm*), but the biggest changes are:

Orion's Kiss


  • New Cover
  • An adjustment of the Aekhartain language used to bring it into line with my new verb rules
  • Replaced the old ‘About Aekhartain’ section with the expanded version from Unbound and Free
  • Added blurbs from Sing to Me and Unbound and Free to the back





If you bought it from Kindle it should either update automatically, or you’ll get email about the updates. If you bought it from Smashwords then you can download it again (you’ll get a list, but please pick the one at the top, or else you’ll get all the mistakes that I’ve been arguing with Smashwords’ Meat Grinder about over the last few days – I am mystified as to how the same file can be fine one moment, then riddled with errors a few minutes later).

If you have the Kindle version, and you want to use the ToC to go to a certain chapter then click the number rather than Chapter because my links have fragmented. I know why, and I will fix it, but I want to finish fighting with Smashwords first before I make any more adjustments.

Speaking of Smashwords, if you’re about to re-download from there, you might want to leave it a few days while I iron out the last few bugs. (Right now we’re fighting over why it didn’t just convert it to the Sony Reader LRF version – oh, no, it’s just gone through again without issue. I shall now cautiously start checking it for any unseen errors…)

Ah, the joys of epublishing, right? ^__^

Aekhartain, Free Fiction, Writing

Sweetness and Shadows Part 1

The following is Part 1 of a free short-story I’ve written as a thank you to everyone who downloaded my free novella Sing to Me. If you wanted more, well, this is it.

This tale is a glimpse into Freyda and Dóma’s continuing life together as well as another look at the Shadow Garden and some of its residents. As it was intended for people who already know the characters, new readers might end up feeling a little lost. Sorry, but if you’re intrigued, click the link up above, ’cause that’s free too!

Anyway, back to this story – it’s intended to be free and enjoyable, so if you wish to share it with someone, I’d prefer it if you linked them back here. However as long as you always give me credit for the following, then share away.

Warning, this story contains a romantic F/F couple. It is told with love and happiness, but if this is not something you are comfortable with, then I would recommend you don’t read it.

Part 1 is approximately 3,500 words long. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, I’d love to hear about it. Also, if you find any mistakes or errors, feel free to tell me about them too.


Sweetness and Shadows
Part One

Freyda woke in her usual defensive position – curled on her left side, legs tucked up almost to her chest, arms folded so her hands were clenched against her shoulders. Years of being too cold and not feeling entirely safe when she slept had formed into quite a habit. One that twenty-one months in the Shadow Garden hadn’t been able to alter.

Not that she had to worry about her safety, or her temperature here. Tucked under the covers, with the window open on the familiar twilight, Freyda was toasty warm. Smiling, she straightened her legs and stroked the arm looped across her ribs. No matter what dreams or memories stalked her slumbers, she never forgot that she was loved. That someone was holding onto her. Someone cared. Always.

Lifting the heavy arm, Freyda carefully turned over onto her other side. Dóma grumbled, ducking her head down as her support was removed. Though she was still sleeping, Dóma’s hand reached out blindly until she found Freyda’s side again, then shuffled in close. Within seconds Freyda was pinned flat beneath a warm Dóma-blanket, a dark head nestled beneath her chin this time, rather than snuggled against her back.

Exasperated and charmed in equal measures, Freyda rolled her eyes at the shadow-draped ceiling and plotted her next move. She’d never been a tactile person – still wasn’t – but for Dóma she’d made an exception. Well, Dóma was exceptional, so it came naturally to Freyda to let the other woman in. Especially when they were alone. Freyda didn’t feel so vulnerable then. She could treat Dóma exactly as she deserved, without worrying that someone else was watching, plotting, scheming, writing it all down to be written up in a report later.

The Shadow Garden was not the Institute. She wasn’t an experiment here. She knew that, really she did, but ten years of treatment did not just go away. Not when there was always someone else around. Freyda loved living in the Garden and she liked her new friends, but for a place so sparsely populated it was very hard sometimes to spend time alone, to get away, to find some peace. The Aekhartain were a highly social bunch – likely because they’d been dead for so many years and were so shadow-bound bored – but Freyda wasn’t. She liked her friends best in small doses. Very small. Like one visit from all of them combined every other day at most, if anyone had bothered to ask her opinion.

But of course they never asked. Just because the Aekhartain were friendly, didn’t mean they were polite. They were nice too, but not always considerate. Everyone loved Dóma, so despite what Freyda might have wanted she couldn’t keep her partner to herself all the time.

She sighed at the ceiling, making Dóma grumble in her sleep. Freyda smiled and toyed with the spill of brown curls tickling her chin. She loved to lie quietly while Dóma slept. It was such an indulgence – for both of them. Aekhartain didn’t need sleep, not really, unless they’d expended a lot of energy. Though Dóma sang every day, the music was such an integral part of her that it didn’t cost her any energy. If anything it gave her more, but Dóma still liked to sleep every night. Habit, she said.

It was habit that had Freyda yawning after the same amount of woken hours too, though at least her work with Maskai gave her the excuse of being genuinely tired. So they slept. Old habits forming into new ones.

This was definitely something Freyda could get used to, curling up each night with Dóma by her side – or usually attached to her side, sinceDóma tended to fall asleep first and turned into a bit of a limpet when she was unconscious. Freyda had never asked why Dóma was quite so clingy at night, but she suspected that her girlfriend was afraid she would leave, and that was why she held on so tightly.

Even though Freyda had no intentions of doing such a thing, she let Dóma hold her, because sometimes she needed to be held. To be grounded,to feel cared for. It connected them even in the deep dark, when Freyda’s past life came back to haunt her.

How she loved Dóma. She’d never expected to feel this way about anyone, ever, but it felt so right, so perfect. So freeing. Which was a funny thought when she was currently lying wrapped in Dóma’s possessive hold.

Running her fingers through her girlfriend’s curls, Freyda stroked her other hand down Dóma’s back and smiled. Love was a constant surprise to her, full of so many nuances and facets, some easier to adjust to than others. Love hadn’t made her life any simpler; if anything it had tangled it up worse than ever. In the best possible way.

Which was why she needed to get up. No matter how much she loved lounging around in bed, there were things to do, plans to be finalised, surprises to be sprung.

The moment she moved, Dóma tightened her grip around Freyda’s waist and flung a leg over both of hers to pin her down. Freyda huffed a quiet laugh and wriggled her legs free, then tried to prise Dóma’s hands apart.

“No,” her girlfriend grumbled sleepily. “Don’t go.”

Knowing now that Dóma was awake, even if she didn’t want to be, Freyda abandoned all stealth plans. “Come on, Doe, let me up.”

“No. Stay. It’s cold out. Stay where it’s warm.”

It was never cold in the Garden. In a world of perpetual twilight, the temperature was constant and pleasant, never too hot, never too cold. Not that such things mattered to Freyda anymore anyway. Knowing such reasoning would get her nowhere this early in the morning, she turned ruthless by tugging Dóma’s arms apart and slipping swiftly out of reach.

“Come back!” Dóma lunged and almost threw herself out of bed. There was a mildly panicked squeak and a moment of undignified flailing before she regained her balance. Then, rumpled and thwarted, Dóma sat up amongst the covers and pushed her hair out of her eyes. “You are so annoying.”

“I love how much of a morning person you are,” Freyda retorted, swooping in for a kiss.

Dóma’s annoyance melted instantly and she tucked a hand behind Freyda’s neck in a familiar gesture of comfort and connection. In return Freyda cupped Dóma’s face, cherishing their contact. The teasing kiss turned soft, spinning out into uncounted time as they forgot everything but each other.

Just as Freyda was starting to abandon all her plans and surprises, Dóma suddenly yanked on her neck, pulling her back into bed.

Startled, only quick reflexes stopped Freyda from landing hard atop her girlfriend, and turning them both breathless – in a bad way. She thumped down on her hands instead, wincing a little at the awkward impact with soft covers.

Dóma giggled in triumph. “All mine now.” But as she lifted her arms for a victory cuddle, Freyda slipped free and darted across the room.

“You need to be quicker than that,” Freyda taunted, shutting herself inside the bathroom moments before the heavy thud of a pillow pounded against the door. Grinning, she turned on the shower and started planning her day.

* * *

Despite Dóma’s annoyance at her failure to get what she wanted, she fell swiftly back to sleep. One moment she’d been plotting her revenge attack for when Freyda exited the bathroom, the next she woke to silence. The bathroom door stood ajar, all sounds of anyone else moving around conspicuously absent.

“Rubbish,” she grumbled, stealing one of Eddie’s favourite complaint-words with a yawn. Staring up at the shadowy ceiling, Dóma listened to the silence, searching for any clues as to Freyda’s whereabouts, but there was nothing. The tiny upstairs portion of their cottage contained only one occupant – Dóma herself. From the deep quality of the silence, she would hazard a guess that downstairs was empty too.

“Double rubbish.” Throwing off the covers, she got up. It wasn’t like her to waste a day in complete idleness, but when Freyda was still here she could tell herself she was doing something important. Spending time with Freyda was always important, the best possible thing she could do with her day. Without Freyda, however, she just felt lazy.

A soft trill sounded through the window, and Dóma raised her hand just in time for Symphony to dart onto her fingers. The beautiful song thrush whistled at her, making her smile. “Yes, I’m finally up. Go catch yourself some breakfast. I’ll be down soon.”

Chirruping in agreement, Symphony flitted back outside leaving Dóma to study her wardrobe and wonder what to wear today. For some reason she felt the need to celebrate, so she picked out a beautiful walking gown in dark blue with a white lace trim, and dug around for the contrasting parasol. Such things were utterly superfluous in the Shadow Garden, of course, but when had that ever stopped her. Then she decided on her low-heeled button boots and there was probably a hat that would set the whole thing off nicely.

Humming happily, Dóma set about preparing herself for the day. The next time Freyda saw her, her beloved was going to regret getting up so early. Even if it took all morning for Dóma to get ready.

* * *

Freyda had a list. It was quite a long list, and she hadn’t dared to write it down, because even though Dóma claimed she wasn’t nosy, Freyda’s girlfriend seemed incapable of not reading any piece of paper she came across. Even if it was in a sealed envelope addressed to someone else.

So Freyda kept her list in her head, repeating it as she walked, hoping she wouldn’t forget anything. “What do you think, Carroll?” she asked the blackbird riding on her shoulder. “Shall we get the worst one over with first?”

Her blackbird made a squelching sound, which summed up Freyda’s feelings precisely.

“I know, but if we do that first, then the rest of the day should be fun.”

Carroll thought about it for a moment, then chucked his agreement.

“To the kitchens it is, then,” Freyda sighed, and tried to imagine up some confidence and courage as she took the winding path through the woods towards the manor. Bearding Emin in his den was always a risky move, but not so dangerous as finding him outside of it. Or him finding you inside, without his permission.

Grinning at memories of pantry raids with Ollie and Demero, Freyda started whistling. The look on Dóma’s face when Freyda had given her the oven-warm muffins had been worth every moment of Emin’s snarling. She was aiming for a similar result today – without the snarling. Hopefully.

On her shoulder Carroll took up her whistling with more melody and skill, and the pair of them strolled out of the trees and onto the manor path. As the raked gravel walkway curled around the big house, a flash of light caught Freyda’s eye. She reached up for the tiny mirror charm, spinning in an unfelt breeze and her heart clenched with love and memories. Her other hand slipped into her pocket to touch the amethyst heart she always carried there, and she turned to study the other little charms decorating the tree. Well, trees now, since the rest of the Aekhartain had begun adding their own touches after Freyda had moved in with Dóma and this little display became the property of the whole Garden.

So simple, yet so pretty. The glass beads, shards of mirror, pieces of crystal and glitter-covered shapes spun and glinted, sending out rainbows and sparks to bring a little light and colour to this small patch of shadow. Like so many things in the Garden, what had started out as a gesture of friendship and a private prayer of hope, had been transformed into a celebration of life, love and joy.

Catching hold of the tiny blackbird, now hanging beside a miniature song thrush, Freyda smiled. “How could I ever resist you?” she murmured. “Any of you.”

“They do have a way of worming under your guard, no matter how firm you try to hold it.”

Freyda glanced over her shoulder and smiled at Demero. “As if you ever guarded yourself against anyone,” she retorted, since he was the most open and welcoming man she’d ever met. Everyone was a friend to Demero, and those he liked were family.

“I was not always as I am now,” he said quietly, walking over to join her and reaching up to stroke a beautiful white feather. “Friendship is the one thing I’ve never found hard to give, but love, trust…” He caressed the feather and shook his head. “I had to learn to hand over my heart, Freyda. I never thought I would.

“Not that I was given much choice in the end.” Grinning, Demero ran a hand through his dark curls and pulled out a small black feather, a match for the crow riding on his shoulder. “There.” He slid the black quill under the thread holding the white feather. “That’s better.”

“You do know that’s one of Ollie’s, don’t you?”

Freyda glanced over her other shoulder, just in time to catch Shaiel’s wink.

Demero snorted. “No, it’s not. Trust me to know the difference. Would you ever mistake a Mask feather for one of mine?”

“Of course not, yours are mangy.”

“Ha! Says the scurf-ridden magpie.”

Freyda stood back and watched them insult each other, shaking her heads as the pair of them grinned like loons. When things started boiling down to, ‘You’re a idiot,’ ‘I know you are, but what am I?’ and ‘It take’s one to know one,’ she gave a loud cough.

The two men turned to her, heads tilted at an identical angle, eyebrows raised.

“Aren’t you a little old for all this?”

They glanced at each other, back to her, then at each other again. They both smiled. “You’re never too old for this,” Shaiel informed her, perfectly seriously.

“This is how real men greet each other,” Demero agreed pompously.

Unimpressed, Freyda folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t know about ‘real’ men,” she drawled. “But I can see that it’s what idiots do.”

They grinned, taking that as a compliment.

She just shook her head. “You are, and will always remain, a complete mystery to me.”

Shaiel fist-bumped Demero. “Our secrets are safe, my friend.”

“As if anyone wants to know them anyway,” Freyda muttered.

Demero chuckled. “You wouldn’t say that if you knew them.”

“But if you did know them, we’d have to kill you,” Shaiel added solemnly.

“What, again?” Freyda asked.

Demero cackled while Shaiel looked offended. “I didn’t kill you the first time. I was trying to help.”

“Yeah, he tried to help me too,” Demero chuckled, and gestured to himself. “And now look. Eighteen-and-a-half centuries dead, and still counting.”

Shaiel scowled at his best friend, while Freyda just blinked. She knew they were old, of course, but she tried not to think about how old exactly. Neither of them looked older than thirty.

“Laugh all you like now, Demairo, but you were grateful at the time,” Shaiel growled.

“Aw, did my mean words ruffle your feathers, Twinkle?” Demero cooed, throwing an arm around his friend’s shoulders and rumpling his hair. “I’m sorry.”

“You will be,” Shaiel grumbled, pulling free and finger-combing his white locks. “Especially when I tell Nel you’ve been tying your feathers to Ollie’s again.”

Before they could launch into another round of insults and banter, Freyda held up a hand. “Shaiel!”

With Demero preparing a blistering comeback, the two men looked at her again, eyebrows raised, surprised to have their conversation interrupted a second time.

“I won’t keep you, since I can see you’re having fun here, but I just wanted to check that everything’s still okay for later.”

For a moment Shaiel’s face was completely blank and Freyda’s heart sank. Then Demero nudged him and did something complicated with his eyebrows that involved a lot of wiggling.

“Eh?” Shaiel frowned, then understanding dawned. “Oh!” He smiled at Freyda. “Yes. Everything’s ready and set, just send Carroll along to let me know when you want me to bring Dóma to you.”

Freyda glanced at the blackbird on her shoulder to check it was okay with him. Carroll twitched his wings and chirruped, accepting the important duty. She smiled. “Great. See you later then.”

“See you,” Shaiel agreed, he and Demero both raising their hands in farewell as Freyda continued along the path, the sounds of their resumed bickering fading behind her.

“Men,” she muttered to Carroll as she pushed open the front door of the manor, “two thousand years of foolishness.”

“And then some,” Alamé assured her, brushing past on her way out.

“But you don’t even know what or even who I’m talking about,” Freyda called after her.

“You mentioned men and fools, my love,” Alamé laughed, spinning around and making her flaming hair whirl. “It’s something they never grow out of, no matter how long you give them to try. Eternal life is too short for that sort of thing.” Waving, she headed towards the trees.

Unable to find an answer for that, since her experience of men was largely restricted to uncaring scientists and playful Aekhartain, Freyda ignored it. “Hey, Ally!”

The other woman stopped, turning back around and making her dress flare in a scarlet ripple of silk. “Yes, Frey?”

“If you see Dóma today…?” Suddenly embarrassed, Freyda couldn’t finish her request.

Alamé’s expectant expression melted into an affectionate smile. “Operation Distraction is go,” she promised. “The word has been passed and we’re all standing by.”

Filled with relief, Freyda smiled. “Thank you.”

“Any time, sweetheart,” Alamé assured her, walking away with a careless wave. “Anything for Dóma, any time for you.” Spinning around one last time, in a whirl of fire and silk, she vanished amongst the trees.

Relieved and admiring at the same time, Freyda looked at Carroll. He flicked his wings in a shrug. Unable to think of anything else to add to that, Freyda gave a shrug of her own and headed for the kitchen. Time to tackle the one man who didn’t fit in with any of her previous experience, and sadly he was nothing so simple as a silly, playful fool.

* * *

The stars glowed overhead as Dóma finally left home, parasol twirling behind her head. With Symphony on her shoulder, she ambled through the wood singing softly beneath her breath. She was in a good mood and the Garden seemed to be putting on its best show to reflect that. Everywhere she looked tiny star-flowers twinkled in the gloom: scattered underfoot, clinging to rough patches of bark, hanging amongst the trees. There were other flowers too – the purple and silver of Maskai’s power and the exuberant spectrum of Freyda’s Imagination.

“Glorious,” Dóma sighed, so proud of her love, and picked a particularly beautiful star-flower from a tree branch, since it seemed to be dangling right in front of her for that sole purpose. Even after it had been picked, the ivory bell shimmered with pearlescent hues of blue, white and lilac.

Breathing in the intoxicating scent of freedom and wonder, Dóma tucked the flower behind her ear and continued on her way.

A crackle in the branches overhead made her look up, into a narrow black face, surrounded by tufts of russet fur. A pair of pale eyes stared back.

“Suain!” Dóma greeted. “What are you doing up there? Where’s Drae?”

The red-ruffed lemur chittered and scrambled down towards her. Dóma only just collapsed her parasol in time before the lemur dropped onto her shoulder. Symphony darted off in a flurry of scolds, but Suain was too busy sniffing and licking Dóma’s ear to care.

“No, no,” Dóma protested, laughing. “Don’t lick, Suain. Urgh!”

The lemur stuck her tongue right in Dóma’s ear, then scurried off up the nearest tree, chortling to herself. “Lemurs,” Dóma grumbled, scrubbing her hand across her ear. There was a squawk as Suain caught an unsuspecting Symphony in her clever little hands.

Dóma sighed as her song thrush started shrieking out complaints, and shook her head. This day was not turning out quite as she’d expected. “Suain, drop her! Drop her now!”

Pale eyes blinked at her, while Symphony glared, her puffed-up head poking out of the lemur’s black fist.

“That’s it. Drop. Good girl. Just let her go.”

Suain stared thoughtfully at the bird in her hand. Symphony glowered silently back. Chuckling, the lemur scampered off into the trees.

Dóma looked down at her lovely dress, trimmed in such delicate lace, and the fairly sturdy boots she had on beneath. She sighed – this was not going to be pretty. Then she hiked up her skirts and started to run. “Drae! Drae, come and get your blasted fleabag right now!


Part Two

Aekhartain, Free Fiction, Writing

Sweetness and Shadows Part 2

This is Part 2 of my free Freyda and Dóma short story. For more information go to Part 1.

Warning, this story contains a romantic F/F couple. It is told with love and happiness, but if this is not something you are comfortable with, then I would recommend you don’t read it.

Part 2 is approximately 4,000 words long. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, I’d love to hear about it. Also, if you find any mistakes or errors, feel free to tell me about them too.


Sweetness and Shadows
Part Two

Freyda backed hurriedly out of the kitchen, barely making it to the safety of the dark hallway before the door slammed in her face. “Thank you!” she shouted, and was answered by crashing cupboards and annoyed mutters.

While things hadn’t gone quite as well as Freyda might have liked, Emin had agreed to bake her a cake and some special muffins. But only if she left the kitchen straight away and promised not to return for a month. Then he’d chased her out, because he was Emin and he had a reputation to uphold. Or something. Surely he couldn’t really be that miserable and grumpy underneath?

“Found the treasure yet?”

Freyda frowned at the cheerful voice and tilted her head. Ollie held up a hand, his fingers glowing with a wisp of pale white light, cutting through the gloom of the corridor so that they could see each other more clearly. He raised his eyebrows. “You were staring so hard at the door, I thought you were reading a coded map. Found the X yet?”

Shaking her head, Freyda sighed glumly. “No. I was just wondering how good an actor Emin is.”

“Awful,” Ollie assured her cheerfully. “Couldn’t act his way out of an open door. He really is that mean and bad-tempered. Thank goodness he’s such a good cook.”

Freyda smiled a little at his words, but inside she just felt sad. She’d been like Emin once; determined not to let anyone in. It had made her absolutely miserable too. “Do you – ?”

“No.” Ollie shook his head firmly.

“But I didn’t even finish –”

“I’ve seen that look before. On Fara’s face, and Nel’s. Even Ally got it once, but a long time ago. Dóma’s tried too, and even Drae had a shot. Emin won’t even speak to Mero after he made an attempt to humanise him. He doesn’t want to be friends with people, Freyda, and every time any of us try he just gets worse.” Ollie sighed and rested a hand on her shoulder. “Everyone gets hurt too. I think he really is happier this way. Or if he isn’t, it’s not something we can help him with. Not yet, anyway. He has a lot of things to deal with. Things he can’t share with the rest of us. I know you see a lot of yourself in him, Freyda, but you’ve made such good progress since you arrived. I’d hate to see you get hurt.”

“He hurt Dóma?”

Ollie gave a solemn nod.

“Did he make her cry?”

“No. He saved that for Fara. Though to be fair, I think she was crying more because of his lack of hope, than because of what he said.”

“And he won’t even speak to Demero?”

“Not a word.”

Freyda narrowed her eyes and tugged thoughtfully on her lip. Then she shrugged, because if that was the way he wanted it, far be it for her to change his mind. “He’s an idiot.”

Ollie grinned. “I knew you were smart.”

She smiled. “You’d think that if he really wanted us all to stay away, he’d stop baking such delicious treats. It’s not like he can eat them all himself.”

“Shhhhhhh!” Ollie frantically flapped a hand. “Don’t even whisper such a thing. He might hear and agree with you. Then where would we be?”

“A whole lot lighter?” Freyda suggested, eyeing him critically.

Small, lean and supremely confident about himself, Ollie just smiled. “I’m dead. No amount of sugar can kill me now. And on that thought, I think you’d better run. I’m going on a raid and I’d hate for you to get caught in the crossfire.”

“If you wreck the cake he’s making, or steal any of the muffins, I will hunt you down and put you out.”

“Put me out?” Ollie echoed, his mouth turning downwards, eyes turning tragic as he stared at his glowing hand. “You – you’re – You fight dirty.”

“And don’t you forget it,” Freyda told him, unaffected by his kicked-puppy expression.

He gave a heavy sigh, full of sorrow. “No cake, no muffins,” he agreed.

“Then good luck and happy snacking,” she called, sprinting as fast as she could away from the kitchen. Ollie’s laugh followed her up the stairs.
Carroll met her at the top with a cheerful whistle. Reaching out a hand for him to hop onto, she put her blackbird on her shoulder. “Cake and muffins done. Next up, flowers and candles.”

Heading for the door, she smiled as she heard a familiar a pair of voices coming down the stairs. Time for a little forward-planning before she headed in search of Nel.

* * *

After a long chase through the woods, Suain finally grew bored and let Symphony go. The song thrush darted off to preen in private, leaving Dóma alone to slump against a tree and try to catch her breath. It was tricky, even without the corsets she’d grown up in. Bending over as far as the tight stitching of her dress would allow, Dóma took deep breaths and waited for the dizziness to pass. Running really wasn’t one of her favourite pastimes. Was it any wonder she hated it when Freyda tried to help her fly?

Reminded of her original purpose, Dóma straightened up and pressed against the ache in her ribs. It was unpleasant, but manageable, so she started walking again, assessing her outfit as she went. The lace flounce on the bottom hem of her dress was sadly tattered now, while mud spots splattered up to her knees. More damage had been done to her sleeves, the cuffs frayed from batting branches out of the way, and she’d torn a hole under her right arm when she’d tried to reach up too far.

Her parasol was long gone, abandoned to a starberry bush that had taken a fancy to it and won the short tug-of-war that ensued. She didn’t even want to think about how her hair looked now, since her hat had also been torn off somewhere along the way, loosening her pins and sending most of the brown mass tumbling around her shoulders.

“If Freyda sees me now, she’ll count herself lucky for leaving home this morning when she had the chance,” Dóma grumbled, grabbing a hank of hair and trying to pile it back up onto her head. Since most of her pins had followed her hat into the forest, it was a futile endeavour. She dropped it with a heavy sigh. “Why do I even bother?”

Looking down again, she flapped her filthy skirt and hummed a happy, bright, cheerful tune, thinking about clean material and beautiful, unspoilt lace. She snapped the material straight again, smiling when it looked as good as new. Feeling better, Dóma turned her attention to her sleeves and slowly repaired the ruin the forest had wrought.

There was little she could do about the lost parasol and missing hat, though, and no matter how many ditties she whistled she couldn’t make her hair stay up without support. So she took it down and finger-combed it straight. It hung almost to her waist in a plain brown curtain and Dóma sighed. Her hair would never be beautiful – it was too thick, too heavy, too boring a shade – but when she put it up it sometimes looked nice.

She briefly considered returning home to fully repair the damage, then shook her head. “Too late for that now.” She wanted to find Freyda, before something else happened.

With that in mind she set her boots back on the path and marched determinedly through the trees. She wasn’t far from the manor now, and surely someone there would know where her beloved had gone.

As she finally left the deep shadows of the forest, however, it was Freyda herself Dóma spotted, walking swiftly in the opposite direction, around the far side of the manor. “Freyda, wait!” she shouted, but her sweetheart didn’t hear.

Sighing, Dóma hitched up her skirt to run again, and almost fell over Eddie and Drae as they jogged out of the front door.

“Dóma!” the two men cried in unison.

“Just who we need,” Eddie chuckled in delight, while Drae helped her regain her balance.

“I’m not talking to you,” she told Drae with a sniff. “And can it wait until later, Eddie? I wanted to catch Freyda.”

“No, it certainly can’t wait,” Eddie told her firmly, spinning her around and linking his arm through hers as he marched her in the opposite direction from where Freyda had gone. “This is important.”

“So is catching Freyda.”

“You can speak to her anytime.” Drae blithely waved off her protest. “But why aren’t you talking to me? What have I done?”

“Not you. Suain. Can’t you control that red menace of yours?”

“What’s she done now?” Eddie chuckled. “She didn’t get into your house and eat all your flowers again, did she? Or did she smear treacle over your piano keys again?”

“No.” Dóma scowled at the reminders, while Drae suddenly found his own shoes incredibly fascinating. “She grabbed Symphony and wouldn’t let her go.”

“Suain wouldn’t hurt her,” Drae protested in defence of his immortal partner. Where most Aekhartain got a bird and wings, Drae had somehow ended up with a cheeky, mischievous lemur. “Her hands are very soft and gentle.”

Dóma glared at him. “I told her to drop her. She ignored me, and I had to chase her all over the forest before she got bored enough to let go!”

Eddie laughed, no doubt picturing her doing just that. “Poor Pop Star. All that exercise. How ever did you cope?”

Unamused, Dóma ignored him and kept her sights on Drae. “She could have really hurt Symphony.”

“But she didn’t,” Drae rushed to say. “She wouldn’t. Not on purpose. She was just playing.”

“Well, Symphony didn’t look too thrilled about it.”

“Symphony is okay, though, isn’t she?” Drae asked worriedly.

He looked so downcast and upset that Dóma sighed and took pity on him. “I think so. She flew off in a huff to straighten her feathers, but I think she’s just a little ruffled, that’s all.”

“Good,” Drae sighed himself, but with relief. “I’m sorry Suain was naughty, but she doesn’t mean any harm.”

“That’s what you always say,” Dóma grumbled.

“Because it’s true.” Drae’s earnest assurances were cut short as the lemur in question dropped onto his shoulder from an upstairs window, giving a happy chortle and snuffling at his ear.

All three of them looked up at the curtain flapping in the breeze.

Drae closed his eyes. “Please tell me that’s not Emin’s bedroom.”

Eddie and Dóma exchanged glances. “It’s not,” Eddie said.

Drae opened his eyes again and raised his eyebrows sceptically, making Dóma chuckle. “Well, it is, but you said not to tell you.”

Groaning, Drae picked the lemur up off his shoulder and held her in front of him. She hung there, attempting to look cute and innocent. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Hide her,” Eddie recommended. “At least until after we know whether or not Emin wants to make slippers out of her. Again.”

Suain squirmed and curled her tail, prising at Drae’s fingers with her own soft, clever ones.

“You almost deserve to be caught by him,” Drae told her sternly, giving her a gentle shake.

The lemur blinked her pale, round eyes, the picture of fluffy innocence.

“Go hide,” Drae ordered, trying to sound stern and failing by a mile. Kissing Suain on the head, he put her down and shooed her into the forest. “And don’t wreck or grab anything else!”

Chortling, Suain scampered away, no doubt already planning her next act of mischief.

“She didn’t listen to a word, did she?” Drae muttered.

“Nope,” Eddie and Dóma agreed.

Sighing and scrubbing a hand over his short hair, Drae closed his eyes. “I apologise in advance for anything she might be about to do.”

“Does that ever work?” Eddie wondered.

“No.” Drae’s shoulders slumped. “But one day it might, so I keep trying.”

Feeling sorry for him, Dóma let go of Eddie and linked arms with Drae instead. “Since we can’t stop her, why don’t you walk with me and the pair of you can tell me what was so important that you stopped me going after Freyda?”

Drae’s unusual blue eyes suddenly lit up and he grinned. “Ah, yes, you can settle an argument for us.”

“For me,” Eddie corrected, linking his arm back through Dóma’s again, so she was walking between the two of them. “You’re bound to agree with me, because I’m right.”

“You’re not, and you know it,” Drae retorted.

“Why don’t you explain it to me?” Dóma suggested. “Then we can settle this once and for all.”

“There you go again, being all logical. Freyda’s such a bad influence,” Eddie sighed, but when she glared at him he held up a hand. “But you do have a point. You tell her, Drae.”

“It’s a very important question, so don’t feel you have to answer straight away. You can think it over, because it is difficult. But I know you’ll come up with the right answer.”

“And see things my way,” Eddie added.

While the two men glared at each other, Dóma raised her eyes to the twilight sky. “Will one of you just tell me?”

“All right,” Drae said. “Which is the sillier poet – Lear or Carroll?”

“What?” Dóma stopped dead, forcing both men to pause too.

“Who wrote the sillier poems?” Eddie asked, slowly, as if she was being stupid. “Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll?”

“This is the important question you stopped me for?” she demanded. “You stopped me going after Freyda for this?”

The two men exchanged glances again. “But it is important,” Drae assured her earnestly.

“Vitally so,” Eddie added with a straight face.

Dóma stared at them, searching for the slightest crack in their demeanour, waiting for one of them to laugh and admit they were joking. She knew poetry was important to them, but a question like this?

Except they didn’t crack, and they didn’t laugh. They were serious. Or brilliant actors. Growling wordlessly, she pulled her arms free and took a step back. “I think you’re both insane.” Spinning on her heel she marched off, knowing it was likely too late to catch up with Freyda now, but willing to try anyway.

“So you’ll get back to us on that later then?” Eddie called.

Ignoring him, Dóma turned the corner of the manor and stomped along the path. Not even the return of Symphony to her shoulder could cheer her up. “This is not my day,” she grumbled at the song thrush. “I knew I should have stayed in bed.”

Symphony made a squashed sound of agreement and they trudged on through the Garden.

* * *

“Thanks, Nel!” Freyda called a cheery goodbye as she left the comfortable little cottage in the wood, latching the gate behind her. Carroll met her with a merry chirrup and she smiled. “Candles done. Next up, flowers and a picnic.” The flowers she could gather along the way, but the picnic would be a trickier endeavour. Luckily Fara had agreed to help.

Yet as she knelt down and started adding flowers to the basket holding the candles, it wasn’t Fara who found her, but Maskai.

“Your preparations are going well?” the Entity asked, caught between her forms today, with shadow-dusted skin but flaming red hair. It should have looked strange, but such was the power of Maskai that it looked right.

Freyda smiled at the other woman, one who so many Aekhartain were in awe of, yet she had come to regard as a close friend over the last twenty-odd months. “Almost done. I keep expecting Dóma to track me down at any moment, though.”

Maskai raised her head as if able to see past the trees. “She’s just left Drae and Eddie, but I think Alamé is about to meet up with her. If not, Ollie is standing by.”

“Oh dear.” Freyda gave a low chuckle. “I hope they won’t all wind her up too much.”

“I rather fear she’s having a bad day,” the Entity admitted.

Freyda hummed sadly. “I hope she won’t be too annoyed. I want her to enjoy all of this.”

“She will,” Maskai assured her. “She’ll be with you.”

The words and smile were both warm, but not nearly so lovely as the prospect of being with Dóma again. Of being alone together, doing nothing but wasting time. Freyda smiled. “Then I’d better hurry up and finish, so she can join me, hadn’t I?”

“What do you need?” the Entity asked, raising her hand so that shadows flowed into her palm, ever-eager to do her bidding.

“Just the picnic now, and then I’ll need to collect the cake and muffins from Emin, before setting everything up.”

“Consider them done. Now go get things ready. I think Dóma needs a break.”

Feeling lucky to have such a useful, if unusual, bunch of friends, Freyda picked a last couple of flowers and imagined up a few small vases for them to go in. Then she stood up and took a deep breath. “Wish me luck?”

Maskai smiled and brushed a shadow-tinged hand gently across her cheek. “You don’t need it. Just enjoy yourselves.”

“I intend us to,” Freyda chuckled and called her wings. They flowed down her back as smoothly as the shadows surrounding the Entity. Then, with Carroll on her shoulder and the basket tucked into the crook of her arm, Freyda wrapped herself in her black feathers and faded away from the Garden.

* * *

“I do believe we’re going in circles,” Dóma grumbled, slumping onto a tree stump to rest her aching feet. These boots had seemed so smart this morning, and so practical when she’d been chasing Suain, but they were really starting to pinch now. “I think I should have stayed at home. If not in bed, then at least by my piano.”

Symphony trilled sympathetically, hopping onto Dóma’s knee and twitching her wings.

Dóma smiled down at her feathered-friend and sighed. “Am I wrong to suspect a conspiracy may be at work?”

After escaping from Drae and Eddie, she’d stumbled into Alamé and spent rather a long time discussing the merits of silk over linen, and vice versa. Which had been lovely, but not the usual sort of thing she and Alamé talked about. Then Nel and Ollie had invited her in for some delicious tea and biscuits, plying her with more and more treats as if they desperately didn’t want her to leave. Flattering, but also a little frightening. After she finally escaped, she stumbled into Karri, who asked for help in tracking down an illusive plant that may or may not even exist in the Garden. (After an hour of searching, they’d decided it didn’t.)

Now, at last, she was alone and able to sit, but she suspected it wouldn’t stay that way for long. “All I want is to find Freyda and shut everyone else out. Is that wrong?”

Symphony cocked her head and flicked her wings. Birds really were the most hopeless of confidantes. Or at least hers was.

“Did I hear you mention Freyda?”

Right on cue, another Aekhartain arrived. Dóma tried to muster up a smile for Shaiel, but was too fed-up and weary to manage. “Don’t tell me, you just saw her jogging off in that direction?” She nodded back the way she’d just come.

Raising his eyebrows, Shaiel sat down on a nearby log – freshly grown out of the Garden just for that purpose. “No. I think she’s running errands for Maskai.”

Well, that would explain why Dóma hadn’t been able to track her down. It didn’t explain the strange behaviour of the others, though. She sighed. “What do you want to talk about then? Got a strange type of fungus you need to identify? Perhaps there’s a particular beetle we need to find? Or maybe you need my opinion on something useless?”

At each fresh question Shaiel’s smile grew broader. “Having that good of a day, are you?”

“You have no idea,” she groaned, resting her head on her knees. Symphony flitted aside at the last moment and landed on her back instead.

“Everyone is against me.”

“Poor Dóma,” Shaiel soothed. “Although…”

She groaned.

“No, no, hear me out, it’ll be fun. I promise.”

“No, it won’t.” She shook her head. “They all said that, but they all lied. It’ll be tedious and pointless, and probably frustrating too. I don’t care what it is, I don’t care why, I don’t care if I sound like a heartless beast, but no, Shaiel. The answer is no.”

“What if I promise to take you to Freyda afterwards?” he cajoled.

She lifted her head a little. “You promise?”

He nodded.

“And it won’t take all day? Or even several?”

“Not even a whole afternoon, I promise.”

“Cross your heart, hope to die?”

“Stick a feather-quill in my eye,” he agreed solemnly.

Dóma wrinkled her nose suspiciously, then sat up slowly, allowing Symphony time to shift onto her shoulder without getting tangled in her hair. “What do you want me to do?”

Shaiel grinned and stood up, offering his hand. “Nothing too taxing.”

She reached for his hand, then hesitated. “Why won’t you tell me?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“I hate surprises.”

He just arched a pale eyebrow, and she growled again, unable to deny her curiosity now. “Oh, go on then.”

Their hands connected and Shaiel tugged her close, his black and white wings wrapping around them both. Dóma gave a startled jolt as the Shadow Garden vanished to be replaced by a bright blue sky, a fresh breeze and clean mountain air.

Lowering his wings, Shaiel turned her around and gave her a gentle nudge. “Surprise,” he whispered in her ear, stepping back and fading away.
Dóma barely even noticed him leaving. All she saw was the familiar green glory ahead of her, as the alpine meadow dropped steadily away, revealing the glorious valley below and the blue-grey peaks above. The sky was dotted with wispy clouds and the sun burned brightly overhead.

She’d been here before, many times. Happy memories rose up to embrace her, as Symphony flittered up into the sky, trilling happily as she met a familiar blackbird. But all her memories paled beside the neat little picnic laid out on the grass, scattered with vases of pretty flowers and unlit candles. And the sight of Freyda, standing nervously off to one side.

Dóma took one step closer and stopped. She stared at Freyda, pleased and confused. What was going on?


The moment Dóma’s eyes met hers, all of Freyda’s nerves and uncertainties faded away. Seeing that Dóma was lost for words, Freyda relaxed and stepped over the picnic to take hold of her hands, linking their fingers together. “Happy anniversary.”

Dóma’s eyes widened. “Really?”

Freyda smiled. “Really. A year today. I’ve been keeping track on my visits back here. It’s hard to count in the Garden, but out here it’s easy.”

“A whole year?” Dóma whispered.

“A whole year.”

Beaming, Dóma jumped up, throwing her arms around Freyda’s neck. “Happy anniversary!”

Not expecting such an enthusiastic attack, Freyda stumbled backwards, caught her leg on the picnic basket and crashed down amongst the delicate snacks and treats she’d so carefully gathered. Flowers and candles snapped and crunched beneath her back, and she winced, quickly imagining the glass into sand before it could do any damage.

All that hard work, wasted.

“Oops,” Dóma giggled, rubbing her nose against Freyda’s, and suddenly she didn’t care if the picnic was squished or not. She could always imagine them something better anyway.

“I’m sorry I ruined your lovely celebrations,” Dóma sighed, lifting up slightly and looking around at the wreckage they’d created. “And I didn’t get you a present.”

“Yes, you did.” Running her fingers into Dóma’s lustrous hair – delighted that she was wearing it down for once – Freyda tucked her hand behind her girlfriend’s head and pulled her back down for a kiss. It was the best and only present she wanted. Well, that and a hundred shared years.

And then a thousand more.

“Thank you,” Dóma whispered between kisses. “For getting out of bed this morning.”

Pulling her close again, Freyda chuckled. “It was tough, but you’re welcome.”

The End


Never met these characters before, but want to know more?
Try Sing to Me.
Already read that, but want to know more about Freyda’s life before Dóma and the Shadow Garden?
Try Orion’s Kiss.
If you’ve also already read that… well, be patient, because I’ll be returning to these two and all their friends soon.

Thank you for reading!

Aekhartain, Free Fiction, Writing

Drabble 3: Assignment (Aekhartain)

Freyda’s really getting the hang of this friendship thing, plus bonus Drae (because any Drae is always a bonus).

Tuesday 24th – Assignment: Freyda
“You can open doors to anywhere, right?”
Freyda looked up from her book and frowned at Drae. Not because of the question, but because he’d tracked her down. They’d become good friends over recent years, but their meetings were usually planned or happy accidents.
If Drae had searched her out, this was serious. She put down her book. “What do you need?”
He smiled. “Do you know Simmouth Library?”
“At the Institute?” she asked hesitantly, because it was the one place she wouldn’t go.
“No.” Drae shook his head. “In town. Can you take me, please? I have an assignment.”

Aekhartain, Free Fiction, Writing

Drabble 2: Shopping (Aekhartain)

Shopping is tricky when you’ve never done it before. Poor Freyda. (I may have to write more of this one day.)

Shopping: Freyda
Freyda stood on the busy street for a long time. Around her crowds of people rushed through their important days, while auto-pods hummed along the road. Inside London’s protective dome, the day was grey and cold.
Freyda didn’t notice. After one brief glance to check her clothes fit in, her attention was locked on the shop window.
Chocolate. So much chocolate. She’d never seen so many calories in one place.
“Lost something?”
Shooting Demero a harried glance, Freyda smiled weakly. “Just my mind.”
“Need a second opinion?”
She nodded gratefully and they pushed through the door. Buying gifts was hard.

Aekhartain, Books, Free Fiction

Sing to Me Now Free Everywhere!

Amazon has now finally dropped the price for Sing to Me! (People have been downloading it for free on the US site for over a week, but it was still showing a price when I checked – but not any more!)

I’ll now go update the various pages with proper links. Happy reading!

Edit: Oh, apparently not quite free everywhere yet – Australia and Germany are both still showing a price. Hopefully Amazon will fix it soon. It should be free, so if you want to read it without paying, try Smashwords or Kobo.

Aekhartain, Books

Sing to Me on Amazon!

I finally uploaded Sing to Me onto Amazon. However, because I can’t list it as free on Amazon (the best I can do is 0.99c), be aware that it’s still available for free on Smashwords. Hopefully, in a week or so, Amazon will price match Smashwords, so it’ll be free all round. Until then, please be aware I can’t do anything about the price on Amazon. If you need it on your Kindle, Smashwords’ .mobi files work perfectly well.

When the price drops I’ll do a proper post, with a variety of appropriate links.

Thanks to everyone who’s already downloaded it. Hope you’re enjoying it!

Aekhartain, Books, Free Fiction, Writing

Sing to Me is Out!

Tales of the Aekhartain
Vol. 1.5 – An Aekhartain Romance


An Aekhartain Romance

Now available for FREE at:

Smashwords || B&N
Amazon: US || UK || Australia || Canada || Germany
It should also be free on Kobo and it’s distributors, but it won’t show up for me.

Dóma has always liked welcoming newcomers to the Shadow Garden, but there’s something different about the newest arrival. Freyda’s life was hard before she joined the Aekhartain, but that’s not it. No, for the first time in over a hundred years, Dóma might just be falling in love.

But does Freyda feel the same? And if she does, how will this most restrained pair ever admit their feelings for each other?

Luckily they’re in the Shadow Garden and they have one or two friends around to help them out.

This novella is a sweet little F/F romance about wings, hope, love and gossip. There is a little magic here, but it’s mostly what Freyda and Dóma can make between themselves.

For more information and an extract go to the Sing to Me page,

or Click a Link and download it now!

Aekhartain, Books, Free Fiction, Writing

Sing to Me

Vol. 1.5 – An Aekhartain Romance

An Aekhartain Romance

Dóma has always liked welcoming newcomers to the Shadow Garden, but there’s something different about the newest arrival. Freyda’s life was hard before she joined the Aekhartain, but that’s not it. No, for the first time in over a hundred years, Dóma might just be falling in love.

But does Freyda feel the same? And if she does, how will this most restrained pair ever admit their feelings for each other?

Luckily they’re in the Shadow Garden and they have one or two friends around to help them out.

This novella is a sweet little F/F romance about wings, hope, love and gossip. There is a little magic here, but it’s mostly what Freyda and Dóma can make between themselves.

Out now for Free at Smashwords || B&N || iBooks || Kobo
Also available from Amazon.

Sing To Me in Brief
What’s in it?: A novella, with a few bonus drabbles, an excerpt from Orion’s Kiss and a sneak-peak at Demero’s story, Unbound and Free.
When is it set?: Circa 2030
Where is it set?: The Shadow Garden
What kind of story is it?: A f/f romance. If same-sex relationships aren’t your thing, you have been warned.
What’s the genre?: Fantasy Romance
I haven’t read any of this series, will I get lost?: Although this story is technically a follow up to Orion’s Kiss it can be read alone. I’ve tried to make it accessible to first-time readers, and there’s an introduction at the beginning that should fill you in on just what the Aekhartain are. (As much as anything ever does, anyway.)
Any age restrictions?: None. This is a tame little tale. The hottest it gets is a kiss.

Read on for a sneak peak of what’s to come!

DÓMA WHISTLED AS she walked, feeling light and buoyant in the glistening twilight. The Shadow Garden was all dark blues and dusky shadows today, while overhead the stars burned wonderfully bright. It was a beautiful place to live. Dóma couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t loved it here. Some people found the constant shadow-light difficult to adjust to at first, but to Dóma it had always felt like home.

She knew the newest resident of the Garden didn’t feel that way yet. Freyda wasn’t used to living in comfort, with friends all around her. Dóma wanted to change that, to make Freyda feel like she belonged, in big ways and small. That was why she was walking through the Garden with a little box of ideas in her arms. Well, she had to start somewhere.

As she made her way through the trees, a song thrush kept pace amongst the branches, its melodious song blending seamlessly with her whistling. It was a good day to be out, and Dóma smiled cheerfully down at the box she carried. It was a good plan; she hoped it worked. She so wanted it to work. For herself, for the Garden, and most of all for Freyda.

She’d seen other people come and go in the Garden, of course, during her century amongst Maskai’s trees, but there was something different about Freyda. Something special.

Dóma wanted to make everything right for her, make her smile, make her happy. She’d been friendly to other new residents before, but there was something about Freyda that made her want to do more than make friends.

Mine, a tiny voice inside her heart whispered, but Dóma ignored it.

Freyda was so lonely. Oh, she had her work with Maskai, which no other Aekhartain had ever had before, and everyone was eager to make friends with her. Yet something was missing. It didn’t help that Freyda kept running back to the world whenever no one was looking.
Dóma frowned about that. Surely after the way Freyda had been treated there was nothing in the world worth returning for.

“I guess we’ll have to give her a better reason to stay here instead, eh, Sym?”

The song thrush gave a low two-toned whistle, but whether in agreement or doubt Dóma wasn’t quite sure. Nor did she really want to know. So she hefted her precious ideas box higher in her arms and marched on with a determined hum in her throat.

* * *

SOMEONE WAS HUMMING. Freyda woke slowly, stirring in the delicious warmth of her covers, and opened her eyes to the soft twilight of the room. It was always gloomy in the Shadowy Garden, the light caught in the in-between hours of dawn and dusk, never quite brightening into day, never quite darkening into full night. Yet always, always, the stars burned in the firmament above, as bright and clear as midnight in the desert.

Freyda loved the stars. Seeing them shining up there reminded her of so many things – sad, lonely, but good too.

The stars had been her refuge for so many years. Her confidants, her only friends, her seeds of hope. She still hadn’t quite adjusted to seeing them whenever she looked up, though, whatever time of day. Yet she liked that they were there, watching, waiting, listening.

Sighing, Freyda rolled onto her back to sprawl amongst the covers, frowning up at the ceiling where shimmers of light rippled across it like water.

The humming came closer; a soft, lilting melody that tugged at emotions Freyda thought long lost. Ones she’d buried deep after her mother had left. It was the kind of tune she’d forgotten existed, and had never expected to hear again. Or wanted to.

A whistling tune of tumbling notes interrupted the humming, and laughter drifted in through the window. “Had enough of my song already, have you, Carroll?” a familiar voice chuckled. “Think you can do better?”

Freyda held her breath; of course it was her. Who else hummed as easily as she breathed? Who else’s voice rolled in a constant, unconscious rhythm, so full of song that it poured out of her like the mists of a waterfall?

Dóma. Even her name had its own rhythm, a sighing rise and fall. A sound of longing.

Carroll whistled again, making Dóma laugh and Freyda smile.

“Is that a challenge, Master Blackbird? Well, in that case, I accept! Come on, Sym, let’s show this poor excuse for a thrush how a real songbird sings.”

Since he’d started it, Carroll went first, his song tumbling into the twilight air as bright as the stars shining above. Freyda closed her eyes. She loved listening to him; he was the sound of freedom, of hope, of friendship. Of imagination.

“Well, now, wasn’t that pretty?” Dóma praised once the blackbird had fallen silent. “And yet, I think we can do better. What do you say, Sym?”

Chuckling softly, the song thrush took up the challenge, easily demonstrating how her kind had earned its name.

Not one to be outdone, Carroll tried again. Then Symphony. The two birds battled and entwined their melodies until Dóma was laughing.

Alone in her room, Freyda smiled. She loved to hear them both sing, even if it made her feel left out, adrift. Alone.

She couldn’t sing, or hum, or whistle. There was no music inside her, no beautiful song waiting to break out. No one had ever thought to teach her, and it was too late for her now. She lived in silence.

“My turn,” Dóma declared.

Carroll whistled, and Dóma copied him. Symphony echoed them both, and soon the three of them were whistling in a round. They sounded pitch-perfect and wonderful. Together, bonded in a way Freyda would never know.

Envy and other emotions twisted deep inside her, hard and painful enough to make her gasp. Rolling out of bed, Freyda grabbed a pile of clothes and headed for the bathroom to get dressed. She couldn’t listen to them anymore. Not when they were so beautiful.

And she was not.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


Out Now!

Aekhartain, Books, Writing

Orion’s Kiss

Vol 1: Freyda’s Tale


Have you ever wished upon a star?

When Freyda arrived at the Institute she was just another orphan. By the time her two week quarantine was over she was an experiment. Ten years on she remains a puzzle that the scientists cannot solve. How does she stay cool in the hot, or warm in the cold? Why isn’t she effected by these extremes like everyone else? Freyda knows, but she isn’t telling.

Until the disdainful Beatrice Winters arrives, threatening to make Freyda homeless in a cruel, hard world. Freyda needs help, but she has no one to turn to – except the stars she wishes on every night.

Set on a near-future Earth where energy shortages have split the world into modern haves and powerless have-nots, this collection contains four stories about Freyda and the choices she has to make, including the novella Orion’s Kiss, a novelette, a short story and a very short interlude.

~ Smashwords ~ Amazon: US UK AUS CAN DE ~ iBooks ~ Kobo ~ B&N ~
(It’s also available wherever else these ebook stores operate.)


Orion’s Kiss in Brief
What’s in it?: Four stories, a novella (Orion’s Kiss), a novellette (Impossible Things), a short story (Blackbird) and a very short Interlude.
When is it set?: Circa 2030.
Where is it set?: The town of Simouth, South-West England on an AU Earth. (And the Shadow Garden, but you’ll learn about that in Impossible Things.)
What kind of story is it?: A coming of age/rescue tale, with stars, hope, magpies and some scientific experimentation going on. Oh, and lots of imagination.
What’s the genre?: Fantasy with a hint of dystopia.
Is this a series?: The Aekhartain stories all take place in the same story-verse with plenty of recurring characters, so yes, it is part of a series. However, these collections are designed to mostly stand alone. You don’t have to start at the beginning, but this story has always been a good entry point. That’s why I started publishing with this one, even if it isn’t the actual start of the Aekhartain storyline.
Any age restrictions?: Nope. No sex, no violence, not even really bad language. Tame, but emotional along the way.

Behind The Story
I wrote the original Orion’s Kiss in February 2004. It was a short story then (around 7,000 words) about a girl who looked up at the stars one night. I’ve always loved the stars and the constellation of Orion has always been my favourite, so when Freyda looked at the night sky it was obvious what she was going to see.

The Aekhartain themselves have evolved over the years too, from just a random character with wings (Shaiel had purple eyes the first time he showed up in a conversation with a friend), who made friends with a lost and lonely young man. That was Demero in Unbound and Free, which I first started in November 2003, but didn’t finish until later. I don’t quite know why the Aekhartain stories went from Dark Ages Europe to Near-Future AU, but it worked and they’ve been pinging about all over history ever since.

Blackbird was originally written in 2007 for a friend who wanted a little more from Freyda. I too was curious about a few things, and although it’s never been a favourite of my stories I do quite like the way it ties up some loose ends.

Impossible Things was a completely new story for this collection. I like that it gave me an opportunity to explore the Shadow Garden through the eyes of a complete stranger. I’ve never set a whole story there before (just snippets, excerpts and the occasional drabble type of thing), so it was nice to explore. I get the feeling it will feature quite often in future. It also allowed me to introduce Maskai, who is kind of important in the scheme of everything Aekhartain.

The Interlude is something that is full of little nods and references. It doesn’t just tie up a certain character’s involvement in this tale, but it lays down a few bits and pieces that will be useful for the future. Since the Aekhartain stories don’t really have a set reading order they’re often full of little clues and whispers that tie them to other tales, which may go unnoticed until you’ve read a little deeper. Some stories even have an informal Spot-the-Aekh game hidden inside them, but not this one. That will come later.

Read on for an excerpt of the Prologue and Chapter One from Orion’s Kiss!



ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER knock at the door. Kevin had been at the Institute long enough to know what that meant so early in the morning. Especially with snow on the ground outside and the chill of winter seeping in around the windows. He wiped the hint of pity from his face as he walked down the hall to answer the door.

Outside, the world was draped in a pristine blanket, soft and fluffy, covering up the worst of the ugliness around the Institute’s old compound. According to the pictures in the upstairs office, this place had once been surrounded by lovely parkland that swept down to the river, where little pleasure boats bobbed and sailed.

The boats were gone now, the parkland too. Instead factories kept cropping up, more with every year. The land around the Institute wasn’t being used for anything special anyway, while the factories churned out valuable things. Yes, pretty landscapes and beautiful wildlife were nicer to look at, but when it came to survival, well, food factories were more important.

So Kevin didn’t let himself look for the soot and the murk that lurked beneath the soft snow. Instead he studied the figures huddled together in the warm glow of the porch lantern.

What a pretty picture they made: blonde as wheat, slender as reeds, pale as the snow. The little girl was well wrapped up against the weather, frail wisps of pale hair escaping from beneath her green bobble hat. It was hard to tell how old she was, bundled up like that, but Kevin guessed somewhere between eight and ten. Her coat was two sizes too big and tattered from much wear, but it was keeping her warm enough not to shiver. Not so for the tall woman by her side, holding tightly to her hand. Her coat was thin, her head uncovered. She was shivering constantly, her bare hands red from the cold.

“We’re here to see the Matron,” the woman rasped, breaking off to cough harshly.

The little girl stared up at her with worried blue eyes, an expression no child should have to wear. Kevin had seen it before; he knew he’d see it again. He also had a job to do, so he stepped back and pushed the door wide, inviting the woman and child inside.

“The Matron’s office is this way,” he said, turning to walk down the hall, knowing they would follow. They always followed. They wouldn’t be here if they had any other choice.

As he walked, he couldn’t help but overhear the conversation going on behind him. “Remember your promise, Freyda,” the woman whispered, struggling to suppress her rattling cough. “You’ll be good, yes? Just like we talked about.”

“Yes, mummy,” the little girl mumbled back.

They walked in silence for a moment, marked only by pattering footsteps and hushed wheezes. “You’re a good girl, Freyda, but we wouldn’t want a repeat of the Widow Mariah incident, would we?”

“That wasn’t my fault!” the girl piped up indignantly. Then lowered her voice, as the cry echoed around the empty hall. “I didn’t mean for it to happen, but she was always so mean and smelled of cabbage, and the cat –”

“I know, Frey,” her mother interrupted, her chuckle turning into another cough. “Just promise me, okay?”

“I promise,” the girl muttered sullenly.

A pause, the soft sound of a kiss against a cheek. “That’s my Aeafreyda.”

Kevin paused politely, flexing his hands against his sides as he listened to the sound of material brushing together. He closed his eyes, able to picture the woman crouching down, her little girl’s arms clenched tightly around her neck.

“I’m scared, mummy.” It was the barest whisper.

“I know, baby,” the woman’s voice wobbled, fighting back coughs and tears.

“I don’t want to stay here. It’s big and scary. It’ll have ghosts.”

A soft chuckle, a sniff, then the sound of the woman standing up again. “There are no ghosts, baby, remember.”

“Because there’s nothing in this world worth staying around for.”


They started walking again and Kevin finally reached the Matron’s study. He knocked, waited a few moments, then pushed open the door.

“You have visitors, Matron,” he said, just as he’d been taught.

Seated behind her desk, the Matron looked up, dark eyes flicking over the worn woman and the well cared for child. Then she stood and smiled kindly.

“Welcome,” she greeted, and waved at the chairs waiting before her desk. “Come, take a seat. Some refreshments for our guests, please, Kevin.”

He shut the door and walked to the kitchen, knowing that whatever went on in that room, it was not kindness. Not really. It was wrapped up that way, but it never turned out so well. He took his time with the tea, digging through the fruit juice bottles and wondering which one the girl would like best. Finally settling for apple and blackberry, he walked back to the office.

The woman was already signing the form. Kevin sighed and slid the tray onto the desk, while the poor woman coughed into her fist. There was blood on the handkerchief the Matron had given her. He’d suspected there might be.

The girl had been sent to the corner to play with the toy box, but even though she held a doll in her hands, her eyes were on her mother. Worried, dark, knowing.

He opened the bottle of juice, poured it into a glass and took it over to her. She stared up at him with her sad blue eyes. He could see the question she wanted to ask, one he would never be able to answer, but she took the drink with a polite mumble instead and glared at the doll in her hands.

By the desk her mother put down the pen and refused the offered tea. “I should go,” she said, coughing again.

“At least stay for a drink,” the Matron urged, her dark eyes holding a rare hint of pity. They all knew the form was meaningless. This was one woman who wouldn’t be returning within the month to reclaim her child. Nor would she manage to scrape together the funds to buy her back sometime over the next six. She wouldn’t survive that long.

Shaking her head, the woman got to her feet. “No. I should go. There’s someone I have to see, and it’s a long walk. I’d like to get there before dark.” Even though she was talking to the whole room, her eyes were fixed on Freyda.

The girl held the doll against her chest. “You’re leaving?”

“We talked about it, baby, remember? Mummy has things to do, and it’s too cold to take you with me. The nice people here are going to look after you, okay?”

Freyda sniffled, dropped the doll and threw herself against her mother. The woman crushed her child tightly against her frayed coat. Her eyes were closed, and Kevin had to look away. He felt like he was intruding.

“I don’t want you to go,” Freyda said, voice scratchy with tears. “Stay here. You’ll get better if you stay.”

The woman buried her head against Freyda’s bobble hat. She didn’t speak.

“Please,” the child whispered, and Kevin found himself blinking back tears of his own.

The woman’s slender frame shook as she pulled away, careful not to cough on her daughter. When the fit was over, she wiped her mouth and turned back to her child with a bright smile. “Be good, baby, like you promised.” She straightened Freyda’s coat collar with brisk motions. “It’ll only be for a month, then I’ll be back. Just like we said.” She held up her fist, little finger extended.

“Just like we said,” Freyda whispered, linking her pinkie finger with her mother’s. “And you’ll be back in a month, promise?”

The woman’s smile faltered, but she dragged it back up again and folded the front of Freyda’s hat up so it didn’t drop into her eyes. “You’re the best girl in the world, baby, and mummy loves you. Remember that, always.”

“I love you too, mummy,” Freyda said, but she didn’t move to hug her again. She just stood there, hands by her sides, watching her mother stand up and cough into the handkerchief before thanking the Matron.

“One month, baby. I’ll see you soon. Be good.” With one last smile and a kiss blown from her fingertips, the woman walked out the door.

Kevin was the only one to see her shoulders hunch in the corridor outside, the only one to see her shake with a mixture of grief and suppressed coughs. He was the one who opened the door to watch her walk out into the snow. And he was the one who locked that door behind her.

But they all knew she would never come back.

Keeping his feelings from his face, Kevin returned to the Matron’s office. Freyda was staring out of the window, even though it looked in the opposite direction from where her mother was walking.

“Take Freyda upstairs, Kevin,” Matron ordered, as he gathered the unused tea things back onto the tray. “She’ll want to settle in. Two weeks should do it. Take the doll.”

So as the Matron went back to her stacks of important paperwork, Kevin put the tray to one side, picked up the doll from where it had been abandoned on the floor and called the girl softly. Those sad eyes stared at him again, but there were no questions in them now, only blank acceptance. She took the doll when he offered it to her and followed him upstairs to the tiny room put aside for such occasions.

The Institute took in many children – orphans, runaways, abandoned babies, ones whose parents couldn’t care for them anymore – but Freyda wouldn’t be allowed to meet any of them just yet. Not when her mother was slowly dying somewhere out in the snow. Usually Kevin hated this rule, thinking the children would get along better if they could make friends from the start. That it might make their loss easier to bear. But as he settled Freyda into her room, helping her out of her heavy coat, he saw the empty expression on her face and her complete lack of curiosity, and knew she’d prefer it this way.

So he left her the doll, pointed out the books on the shelf and told her how to summon someone if she felt thirsty or hungry. Then he left, locking the door behind him, off to change his clothes and boil the ones he was wearing. It was called quarantine for a reason.

* * *

ALONE IN HER new room, Freyda pushed the doll to one side and climbed up onto the tiny windowsill, gripping hold of the freezing metal bars. Outside it was snowing again, the dark river almost invisible in the whirling white. Freyda stared and stared until it felt she’d gone blind.

“Goodbye, Mummy,” she whispered to the white day. “Get better soon.”



IN THE RUINS of the town, lost amongst the shadows, a bell tolled. Freyda sat at her open window and counted the chimes. Four in the morning, and all was well. Huddled in a blanket, she stared up at the night. When she’d first arrived here ten years ago it had been hard to see the stars so close to town; nowadays it was easy. Smiling, she tucked her blanket around her feet and marvelled that there were good things about the energy shortage after all.

The stars were beautiful tonight, fiercely bright and so very clear. As she angled herself to stare south over the sea, she felt all the tension in her body unwind. Orion was rising. There were the unmistakable three bright points of his belt, and the four corner stars. From there it was easy to see the sword at his side, the club in his upraised hand. The hare ran beneath his feet and his faithful hounds followed close behind, the bigger one glowing with the blue brilliance of Sirius.

Freyda loved the stars. There was something pure and clean about them that was too far away to be tainted by the ugliness of this world. They knew nothing of nightmares and bad memories. They listened to her troubles without ever passing judgement, and they carried her secret wishes inside their burning hearts.

They were perfect. Freyda didn’t know what she’d do if she couldn’t see the stars.

“Have you got a window open in there?” The strident voice of Warden Margie called through the door; it startled Freyda so much she almost fell out of the window. “Freyda? Freyda! I said have you got a window open?”

“Not now,” Freyda grumbled, sliding off the sill to pull the window shut. Frost glittered on the old-fashioned catch, biting into her fingers as she dropped it into place.

Too late – Warden Margie was already searching through her keys. Sighing, Freyda gathered up the blanket and flopped onto her bed. The lock turned with a clunk and torchlight swept the room. The beam landed on the young woman sitting defiantly in the centre of the sagging mattress, a patched blanket thrown over her shoulders, oversized socks sagging about her ankles.

Warden Margie pursed her lips. “How many times, Freyda?”

“I can’t sleep with my window closed.”

“It’s minus five out there!”

Freyda shrugged. She hadn’t noticed; she never noticed the cold unless she wanted to.

Warden Margie rolled her jaw, looking set to give Freyda a proper dressing down, but the hands of the luminous wind-up clock on the wall must have caught her eye. “It’s gone four in the morning, my girl. Long past time you were sleeping. You’ve a big day coming.”

As if Freyda could forget. As if anyone would let her.

“Leave that window shut.” The torch beam flicked to check that it was indeed closed. “Just because you don’t get cold, unnatural as you are, that doesn’t go for the rest of us. There’s an energy shortage on, miss, in case you’ve forgotten. It’s hard enough to heat this old cowshed as it is, without certain people opening windows that ought to stay closed.” The woman gave a prim nod, swung her torch away and shut the door.

Freyda said nothing; there was nothing to say. She just sat on her bed, hands in fists, listening to the rattle of the keys and the clunk of the lock. The sounds of her prison. What did it matter if she could lock the door herself from the inside, when they could just as easily unlock it again and enter at will? Where was the privacy in that?

As Warden Margie’s steps faded away down the hallway, Freyda lay back on her pillows and stared at the dark ceiling. It was cold, she realised with a shiver, and burrowed into the blankets. She had little wish to sleep now, but as Margie had said it was a big day. She would need her rest. So she closed her eyes and forced herself to sleep, willing the memories to stay in the past where they belonged.

* * *


She looked up from her solitary breakfast in the old staff room and tried to ignore the happy chatter of children clattering past outside. Instead she stared at the face she knew so well.

Professor Cochran was the head researcher at the Institute. He was the perfect image of a scientist in his long lab coat. His silver-streaked white hair was cut short and neat, but he was unable to disguise the rising height of his forehead.

The glasses perched on his thin nose were solid and black, no nonsense and firm. Like him. His eyes were black too, his pallid skin starting to sag with age and there were liver spots on the hands clutching the clipboard to his chest. Strong fingers, even if the skin covering them was parchment pale, the nails at the end bitten below the quick.

Science and technology had come so far, so fast, according to the history books they had made Freyda read. Yet here he was armed only with a trusty clipboard and pen. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same, Freyda thought with a humourless smile as she pushed her half-eaten porridge aside.

“You’re ready then.” It wasn’t a question. They never asked Freyda anything that might warrant an opinion. They gave her orders, made observations and never expected her to answer back. Which was just as well, because after ten years in this place there was very little Freyda had to say to any of them. So she followed the Professor out into the now empty corridor.

It was a bleak, cheerless sight. Concrete floors that were always cold, even in the middle of summer, and thin plaster walls originally painted a pale lime green that had faded patchily over the years into blobs of nasty nicotine yellow. Rumour had it that this place had once been a hospital, or perhaps a residential home for the elderly, maybe a school. As it partially was now.

Behind the numerous doors along the corridor adults were talking, occasionally answered by higher voices as the day’s lessons began. There was even a burst of laughter as Freyda followed the Professor down the cold hallway, past rooms she had never been allowed to enter. There were many orphan and unwanted children at the Institute – another way to secure funding – but there was only one Freyda.

There had been a time when she would have given anything to be normal, to be just like the others sitting in lessons, chatting with friends, playing in the courtyards. Freyda was past caring now. She’d never had friends, even before the Institute; she’d never stayed anywhere long enough to make them. Until she came here – and everything had changed.

Swiping a blonde hank of hair back behind her ear, Freyda brushed the memories away and focused on Professor Cochran’s back. The lab coat hardly moved as he walked, it was so starchy and stiff. Just like its owner. She didn’t think she’d ever seen the Professor smile, not in any if the years she’d known him. He’d certainly never laughed. He rarely even spoke, except to give an order. All his observations were written down.

Freyda stared at the shiny bald spot on the back of his head, surprised to see it gleaming as they passed between the bars of light coming down through the high windows. Even in this bitterly cold place the Professor was sweating. It made Freyda wonder what a man so cold and clinical could have to sweat about. Was he nervous? Was he feverish? Was he worried?

Yes, today was a big day, but every month was the same. Once the Institute’s government allocated energy rations began, so did the experiments. Freyda was used to them by now; she’d been spending several days a month on them for the last decade. Everyone always said how important they were, how vital for research, how fundamental for funding and rations. Every month always began with Big Days.

So why was today any different?

The Professor glanced at her over his shoulder, a flash of something new crossing his face. A hint of anxiety perhaps? Irritation? His pale lips pulled long and thin. If he disapproved of her, she couldn’t see why. It wasn’t like she was misbehaving. She certainly wasn’t resisting his orders, or making trouble. She was just doing as she was told, as she always did, because there wasn’t any point in doing anything else.

Stopping outside a small metal door, the Professor tilted his head towards her, his expression neutral once more. “Your things are inside,” he said, and strode off without waiting for a reply.

Freyda didn’t bother to give one. Putting her hand on the icy metal handle, she entered the small ladies’ bathroom and found her running clothes stacked neatly beside the basin. It was to be an outside day then. Freyda sighed. Wonderful. How long before it started snowing?

With such a cheery thought in mind, she locked the door and pulled her thick jumper over her head, swapping her warm jeans for polyester shorts and a thin t-shirt. Well, she wouldn’t want to overheat, now would she?

* * *

LEAVING THE INSTITUTE was always a jolt; stepping away from the cold, dead concrete and onto the cracked earth at the bottom of the steps. The ground was littered with weeds that no one could be bothered to control and the near distance was dominated by black factory hulks. But beyond those dark signs of human despair, Freyda couldn’t help but look.

Even though she knew the river was a sluggish, murky brown sludge full of too much waste, the sight of it always made her smile. The tide was in, leaving the water high and placid. Weak sunlight glinted along the waves of the rippling current, shining like scattered jewels.
The far side of the river was nothing but wild forest, occasionally broken by the tips and tops of the abandoned villages that had once thrived in the steep valleys. Now only trees lived there, with squirrels and foxes for company.

How Freyda wished she could get over there someday. But the river was wide, and though the tide fell nice and low twice a day, the mud it left behind was thick and treacherous. There had once been a bridge across the half-mile between the shores, but it was gone now. Broken by storms, scrapped for salvage, swallowed by the mud. Still, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it must have looked like less than twenty years before, when the giant struts still had work to do.


The shout shattered her imaginings and Freyda shivered as a gust of wind swept up the river, fresh from the sea glinting beyond the docklands and sand bars. Rubbing at her bare arms, she stamped her feet in their threadbare trainers and walked across the grass towards the waiting scientists.

As she moved, she imagined that the wind was coming directly from the Sahara, so many miles away, yet still full of the heat of the desert. Her goosebumps settled and her hands fell away from her arms, as she raised her head to meet the avid stares awaiting her.

The Scientists of the Institute. The Researchers. The Watchers. The Jailors. Her Keepers. Few of them met her gaze. Not because they were ashamed of what they had done to her since she was a little girl, barely eight years old, but because they were too busy observing her. Was she shivering? Were those goosebumps on her arms? Was her skin pale or flushed? Was that a new freckle? Had she put on weight? Lost it? Was her hair longer? Paler?

She was just the experiment. Her eyes weren’t important, unless the scientists were shining a light into them. When she scanned the familiar huddle for a second time, however, an unfamiliar blue stare met hers. Freyda was surprised enough to look more closely.

The newcomer was a woman, not much older than Freyda herself. Just as pale, almost as tall, but her hair was even blonder. She was dressed in white – unsurprisingly, considering the company she was keeping – but it extended beyond her coat to the trousers and high-heeled boots peeping beneath the hems.

There was a white fluffy hat on her head and the rimless glasses perched on her delicate nose were stylish and pricey. Even the clipboard between her expensive natural wool gloves was white. When she smiled at Freyda’s long scrutiny, her pale pink lips glinted with a hint of gloss.

Makeup. Expensive. Like everything else the woman was wearing. She had to have come from a city, possibly Birmingham, but more likely London. Which made her no ordinary scientist. Freyda’s eyebrows twitched and she gave a silent, inward whistle. No wonder the Professor was sweating. The Institute’s research projects were being assessed. That hadn’t happened for almost five years, but it could change everything.

A ripple of orders passed through the cluster of chilled scientists and two women stepped forward, monitors in hand, probes at the ready. With the minimum of contact and fuss, they taped the various sensors to the many exposed patches of Freyda’s skin. Familiar with the routine, Freyda held out her arms and stared up at the blue sky overhead. It was a beautiful day, if one didn’t mind the cold.

High above, a seagull scythed through the air. It had no need to flap as it adjusted its wings to slice through the wind. Then it whirled and soared away, cradled by the sky. What she wouldn’t give for such glorious freedom.

“If you would begin, Freyda,” Professor Cochran ordered, with unusual courtesy, after the scientists stepped away from her. Normally he just nodded to one of his assistants – Freyda could never be bothered to remember their names, since they changed every few months – and the harried-looking man or woman would bark, mumble or grunt at her to start.

Before she did, though, Freyda patted her chest to make sure the heart monitor was in place and stretched her neck from side to side, ensuring the pulse collar wasn’t too tight. The one on her right wrist needed a half twist for comfort and the one of her left ankle was a little itchy, but she knew once she got moving she’d soon forget about it. Bending her knees, she bounced on her toes to ensure the other wrappings on her legs weren’t about to come loose.

Sadly not. Everything was in place, taped firmly down and ready to go. All that was left was herself. So she turned her back on the scientists and jogged away along the track.

It was dull stuff and well within her limits, since she’d spent far too many hours pounding the dirt and mud around this same scraggy patch of wasteland, little more than a casual dumping ground for the surrounding factories. Ice crackled beneath her feet, part of the same frost that feathered the dead grass and gilded the spider webs hanging from abandoned tires and rusted metal springs.

Freyda saw all these things and appreciated their abstract beauty, but she didn’t feel them. She didn’t feel the cold. She didn’t feel the exertion of the run. Instead she imagined the winter sun on her skin was actually that of summer, and that she was running down a hill of wildflowers, somewhere out in the deserted countryside.

She didn’t know if such places existed anymore. Perhaps they had all been ploughed under or grazed into nothing by the giant farms that worked so hard to feed the enormous appetites of the cities.

Those cities were special places where electricity was still constant and the air was kept clean by hardworking filters. Where the floods were held back by impressive defences, and every street had storm shelters for when the weather got too wild.

There were no blackouts for them. No city had to face the unpleasant view of factory shores, see their rivers choked up with brown sludge or cough their way through the morning smog. Life in the cities was designed to be as perfect and futuristic as possible. It was only outside that reality was allowed to flourish, in a world of dwindling natural resources with a climate rampaging out of control.

Not that Freyda noticed, or even cared much these days. She might not live in a city, but she hardly had to face the wild world either. Not when she spent her life under the watchful eyes of at least ten scientists – often more. The climate was irrelevant to her too, since if she didn’t like the weather she could usually imagine herself something better, evading the worst of what everyone else had to suffer.

That was why she was here, pounding the dirt of the track, dripping with outdated and costly technology. Because she didn’t have to care and she didn’t make sense. The scientists hated anything that didn’t make sense.

Her feet carried her back to where her watchers were muttering to each other. One held a stopwatch and was showing it to his friend. Two more held the monitors that tracked her sensor readings. Another three came forward when Freyda stopped, ready to check the other meters.

They talked busily amongst themselves, never to her. They compared findings, exclaimed over anomalies, and when they were done, two women reset everything and the Professor asked her to go around again.

Freyda did, knowing all eyes were upon her, including that new blue pair from the citified stranger. Their focused attention was like an unpleasant itch under her skin, worse than the cold or the fatigue.

So she ignored it and imagined herself somewhere else. Somewhere warm. Somewhere far away. In a world that didn’t exist in this one anymore. It was beautiful, wild, unrestrained and free. The sun shone warmly on her skin, glinting off the hair that kept falling across her eyes. Smiling, Freyda imagined that a hot breeze came to brush it away. Laughing softly to herself, she tipped her face up to the warm blue sky and ran on into the day.


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