Tag Archives: YA

Now Available: Stolen Valor

Hey everyone!  Stolen Valor, Forsaken Valor book 2, is now available on Amazon.


They stole my life, so I stole one right back.

My name is William Alexander Armstrong.  I come from a long, honorable, military family.  My grandparents were heroes back home… but not me.  Kidnapped by pirates, I’ve had to fight to survive on the streets of an alien world.  Only now, I’ve got a way out.
The only trouble is, my way out is to serve in the enemy’s military, hidden under a stolen identity.  I’ve got to hide who I am, build alliances, and hope to keep my head down at a military institute where one in three trainees don’t survive.
But hiding isn’t in my blood.  I’m an Armstrong, I’m born to fight, born to lead… and in this case, that might be the only thing that saves me.  Because something is rotten at the Heart of Drakkus Prime, and stolen identity or not, valor may be the only thing to save the day.

Coming Soon: Stolen Valor!

Alright everyone!  Mark you calendars, because Stolen Valor, the second book of the Forsaken Valor series is coming!  Right now I’ve got it scheduled for June 8th.

I’m really excited to get this one out to everyone, because it’s been incredibly awesome to write.  William Armstrong has a very different story from that of his sister and the places it goes and the ideas and themes I’m getting to explore are a blast.  Plus there’s powered armor and big guns, so what’s not to like?

Stolen Valor will be live on Amazon on June 8th, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Valor’s Stand Cover Reveal and Blurb

“In valor there is hope.” – Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Jiden Armstrong has gone up against pirates, smugglers, traitors, and murderers but she has never faced anything like this.  Her homeworld of Century is looking down the barrel of a gun and the people behind it have not hesitated to kill, manipulate, and destroy.


To save Century, Jiden will have to build alliances with people she’s never met.  She will need to fight battles both in the depths of space and face to face.  There is a war coming, one where entire fleets, entire worlds,  may burn.  In that war, Jiden’s family and friends, the Militia she has come to love, could be corrupted or destroyed.  That war may well just be the prelude to something far worse.


To save her world, Jiden will have to dig deep, to find the things that truly matter to her.  She will have to understand pieces about herself, to understand why it is that she fights.  Because valor is in her blood and she doesn’t know how to quit, doesn’t know when to stop… and that may be all that saves not just Century, but all of humanity.

Lost Valor Snippet Two

Hey everyone!  Lost Valor is now live, but here’s the second snippet of the book.  You can read the first snippet here.  You can find the book on Amazon:   https://amzn.to/2UGbaeS


Chapter 2: I Make Some New Friends


I woke up knowing that my family and friends were all dead.

The last thing I could remember was the look of desperation on my older sister’s face as she kicked out the support that dumped thousands of tons of sand on her and the pirates trying to capture us. I thought, then, as the ceiling collapsed in a roar that I was going to die too.

From the fact that I was awake, I guess I’d been wrong about that.

I opened my eyes, squinting at the harsh light. My head felt, weird, like I’d been drugged. My first assumption was that I was in a hospital or something.

As I looked around, I realized that I was wrong about that, too. Dreadfully wrong.

I was in a cold, metal room, with a single overhead light. I wasn’t on a hospital bed or even a cot, I was flat on my back on the floor. The rust-spotted walls were almost featureless, but I could feel a rumble of machinery through my back, in contact with the steel deck. I guessed that meant I was on a ship, though it could also mean I was on a station.

Either way, I supposed I was in space, which, all things being equal, was a bad sign. If I’d been rescued, they would have taken me planetside somewhere.

I sat up, wincing as my head throbbed. My mouth was dry as the desert and I fumbled around, looking for anything to eat or drink. I didn’t see anything. In fact, other than the stained and dirty pants and shirt I wore, the only thing in the cell-like room was me. There was a door on the far wall, a metal hatch that didn’t have a handle on this side. I stood up, only to find my legs trembling and the room began to spin. I had to reach out a hand and catch myself, leaning on the bulkhead so I wouldn’t fall.

I squinted up at the light, wondering if I could use it somehow, but it was covered over with a wire mesh and that was welded to the ceiling. I didn’t have any tools and this wasn’t like one of the entertainment modules I’d enjoyed as a kid. I wasn’t the plucky kid hero who’d outsmart the pirates and get back home.

After all, I didn’t have a home anymore. My family was dead.

The realization hit me again, this time like a physical blow. I sagged against the wall, sliding down until I was seated on the cold metal deck. I brought my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them, in turn. I put my head down and fought back tears. This wasn’t fair. This wasn’t right. I wanted to see my dad. I wanted to see my mom. I even missed my bossy older sister, who at least had been less obnoxious since she started at the Academy.

I’d never see any of them ever again. They were gone. The pirates, the same ones who’d locked me in here, had killed them. My mother, my father, my sister, they’d all died fighting. Here I was, still alive. It wasn’t fair.

Who said life is fair? My internal voice sounded an awful lot like my older sister or possibly my mom. I let out a shuddering breath. What had happened had happened. Fair or not, that didn’t come into it. The pirates who’d killed my family, they had me as their prisoner. I might not be the hero in an entertainment module, but I could still try to escape. And even if I couldn’t escape, I owed it to my parents, to my sister, to all the people at Black Mesa Outpost to at least try to escape, to bear witness, and to do what I could to bring these hocking pirates to justice.

Despite the chill of the room, I found my rage was sufficient to keep me warm.



I was ready when the door opened.

A tall, skinny boy came through the hatch, holding a tray. I lunged for him, but I was still pretty weak and I wasn’t as fast as I would have liked. He saw me coming.

He let out a girlish shriek and dropped the tray. “Don’t hurt me!” He flinched back against the wall.

That was strange enough that I froze, staring at him in confusion. “Who are you?” I demanded.

“I’m Ted! Ted Meeks! Please don’t hurt me!”

“Well, that’s just great,” I muttered.  I looked from him to the door, which had slammed shut behind him. A slot opened on the hatch and I got a brief glimpse of eyes, then the slot slid closed. Apparently they didn’t care what happened here.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” I ground the words out. I felt defeated. I’d thought I could at least take out some anger on one of my captors, but I got the feeling that Ted here wasn’t anyone’s captor.  “What’s going on?”

“They captured you, a few weeks ago,” Ted whispered, slumping down against the wall. I stared at him, taking in details as much as I could. His skin hung off him, as if he’d lost a lot of weight. He had a nervous, almost mouse-like expression, and his complexion was pale, like he hadn’t seen the the light of day in months or years. “I didn’t have anything to do with it, they captured me too, a while back.” He shuddered. “At first I thought they were going to kill you. Whatever you did, Wessek’s son, Vars, really doesn’t like you.”

“Wessek?” I asked. I sort of remembered that name. “Wait… did you say weeks ago?”

Ted nodded in a quick, jerky motion. “They kept you drugged. They like to do that, when they…” He swallowed and pointed at the back of his head, “when they put the implant in.”

“Implant?” I demanded, reaching a hand back behind my head. I found scar tissue, there. It wasn’t clean, either, I could feel a long scar running along the top of my spine, right where it joined with my skull. “What did they– What did they do?!”

“It’s a control implant,” Ted said weakly. “They put one in me, too. And others.” He shivered. “They put it in all their slaves.  There’s nothing you can do about it.”

“I’m no man’s slave,” I rejected the very thought.  I stumbled away from him and my back hit the wall behind me. I slumped down, staring at Ted in a mixture of shock and horror. “How long have you been here?” I asked finally.

“I don’t know… years, maybe?” Ted shrugged. “They were going to kill me or sell me off, but then they found I was an accountant in training so Wessek kept me around.” He rubbed at his face, as if looking for glasses that weren’t there. “I stumbled onto some crazy book-keeping stuff at Champion Enterprises and—”

“Wait,” I interrupted, my head perking up as I realized why his name was familiar. “Champion Enterprises? Jiden mentioned you, you were another intern there, one who helped her uncover the smuggling ring!”

Ted blinked at me in shock. “Well, yeah… I was. You know Jiden Armstrong, then? I mean, she actually survived? I thought they’d killed her, like they told me they were going to… like they said they’d kill me if I didn’t do what they told me to do.”

“They didn’t kill her,” I told him. Then I felt the rush of pain and anguish, “Well, they hadn’t. I’m her brother, Will Armstrong. She killed a few of the smugglers who tried to kidnap her and then she went to the Academy.” I shook my head, “The Enforcers said you were dead. They had a funeral, if I remember right.”

“Jiden is still alive?” Ted shook his head. “That’s amazing… but they thought I was dead?” His expression fell, “Oh, man, my parents… gosh, I can’t imagine what they’re going through.” He let out a little sob, “That explains why no one ever came looking for me, I guess. Everyone thought I was dead…”  He sat back, looking stunned.

“It’s okay,” I said. “The authorities will know what happened at Black Mesa Outpost. They’ll…” I trailed off then, as I realized that there wasn’t very much they could do. If we were on a station or ship, then we could be anywhere. “Where are we?” I asked.

“Wessek’s ship,” Ted sounded miserable. Then again, I’d just told him that everyone thought he was dead. “Probably headed to one of his bases.”

“His bases?” I asked.

“He has a few of them,” Ted shrugged. He rubbed at his face. I thought he was wiping away tears, but I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t imagine what he’d been through in the past few years, a prisoner to pirates who’d threatened to kill him. He sighed, then, and stretched out on the deck, reaching for the tray he’d dropped. On his hands and knees, he picked up the tray, then the overturned bowl and the two cups on it. I watched in confusion as he carefully scraped what looked like gruel, off the floor and back into the bowl.

“Want something to eat?” Ted asked in resignation.

“That’s our food?” I asked in shok.

“Well, it was,” he admitted, staring down at the gruel, with bits of dirt and rust from the deck plates in it. “Water to drink and foot to eat… they won’t give us anything else, either.”

“Us?” I asked, staring at him. The tiny bowl seemed inadequate for one person’s meal, much less two.

“Yeah, they aren’t too happy with you. They said I could share my food, if you woke up, but I think Vars really doesn’t like you,” Ted sighed. “Not that he likes anyone, but I guess Wessek put him in charge of capturing you and some others, and I overheard that Vars only got you, so…” Ted shrugged.

“So Vars is in trouble with his dad, that’s good, right?” I asked.

“Except he’s probably going to kill you,” Ted answered. “Then I’ll be alone again.” He sipped at a little bit of the water left in one of the cups. “If you’re going to eat or drink, you’d better do it now. Otherwise I’ll eat it all.”

My throat was screaming at me to remind me how thirsty I was and my stomach rumbled, telling me I hadn’t eaten in weeks. I moved over and sat across from Ted. I took the other glass of water. Like the other stuff on the tray, it had mostly spilled. There was a tiny bit of water left in the flimsy plastic cup and I sipped at it. It had a harsh, metallic taste, like it had been through a recycler too many times.

I didn’t care, not just then. I let the water soak into my parched mouth and then took another sip, fighting the urge to gulp it down in a single swig.

“Food?” Ted asked.

I wrinkled my nose at the thin gruel in the bowl, complete with bits of dirt and flakes of rust from the floor. “No,” I said, forcing myself to smile in thanks, “You can have it.”

“Don’t need to tell me twice,” Ted muttered. He slurped the whole bowl down in a single motion, then held it up to get the last little drops. “It doesn’t taste good and it’s not very filling… but it’s all we get.”  He gave me a weak smile.

“We?” I asked, “Have there been other prisoners?”

“Yeah, quite a few,” Ted admitted. “Wessek likes to take prisoners, most of the time he takes them back to one of his bases for questioning. I don’t know what happens after that, but Vars told me that he gets to kill any that don’t do as they’re told.”

I hadn’t even met Vars and I already hated him.

“Tell me about Wessek, and the ship, and any of his personnel you know or have dealt with,” I said.

“Why?” Ted asked. He inched away from me and put his back against the wall, staring at me with dull, tired eyes.

“Because, maybe we can use that information to escape,” I fought the frustration down. Ted was my only resource, I couldn’t afford to get him angry with me. For that matter, he’d been through a lot in the past few years. I couldn’t judge him based off how he was now.

“That’s pointless,” he noted. “Even if we could escape, most of his bases are on airless moons, we’d just die. Besides, there’s the implants they gave us. Wessek or Vars could just kill us outright with those.”

“We can’t give up,” I told him, talking to myself as much as him. “We’ll find a way to survive and escape. I promise you, Ted, I will get you out of here. I’ll get you home.”

Those words tasted like ashes in my mouth, though. I didn’t have a home, or a family. Not anymore.

Ted seemed to perk up at that. “You really think? I’d… I’d almost given up any hope at all.” His gaze went distant. “Okay, so Wessek, he’s a big guy. Really scary. Talks nice to you one second and then he’s got a knife out the next, threatening to cut off your fingers.” Ted shuddered. “His pirates, they’re all scared of him, man. And his son, Vars, he’s even meaner. He’s not as big, but he doesn’t even pretend to be nice.”

“The ship?” I asked.

“Wessek’s cruiser, the Zairan,” Ted answered. “It’s an old ship, Wessek isn’t big on spending money on stuff like paint.” He waved a hand at the rusty metal walls of our cell. “Wessek says he won it in some kind of game, but I couldn’t tell you how it’s armed or anything like that. There’s hundreds of pirates onboard. I know Wessek has two other ships, I’ve seen cost reports on them.” Ted made a face, “Wessek hates how expensive his ships are, he’s always telling me to cut costs however I can, but parts are expensive and—”

“Okay,” I interrupted, “What about his bases, you said there’s several?”

“At least three. One of them is in Century’s outer system. We left there a few days ago. Wessek left his other ships there, I think. They have some kind of deal worked out with the Enforcers…”

“Wait, what?” I demanded.  The Enforcers were Century’s police force.  They had authority over stopping smuggling and criminal endeavors like piracy.

“Wessek brags about it. I guess he knows someone in the government. He didn’t tell me the details or anything, but he’s connected.  And he’s got some kind of connections in other places too. Like when I told him one of his ships was really low on antimatter, he just sent off a message. A few weeks later, a military ship of some kind showed up at his base and they transferred it. Even his pirates were impressed.”

“Okay, so where are we going?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Ted admitted. “Sometimes Wessek visits some of his other bases. Sometimes it takes weeks or even months. We might be doing some kind of raid or attack.” Ted shuddered. “I really hope it’s not that, Vars always comes back and brags about how many people they killed.” I got the feeling that Vars terrified Ted even more than Wessek. At this point, I was honestly surprised that Ted wasn’t crazy. Maybe he was tougher than he looked.

“These bases, what are they like?” I asked.

“The one at Century is some old mining station on an asteroid. Wessek had it retrofitted to hold air, but it’s really just a few habitat spaces bolted on to the surface of an asteroid. There’s not much to talk about there. There’s another two I’ve been to before, both of them on airless moons.”

“How do you know they’re airless?” I asked.

“There’s portholes in some of the outer areas, and airlocks,” Ted answered. “You can see outside, nothing but empty rock and starry skies.”

That didn’t sound promising. “No bases in cities or inhabitable planets?” I asked. Someplace like that, maybe we could escape and find some way back to Century, at least.

Ted just shook his head, looking miserable. “I tried to escape… once. Wessek had Vars beat me until I couldn’t move. I hadn’t even managed to get off that level, I just managed to get to a computer terminal that wasn’t locked down… and that’s when Wessek found me.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I remembered a little of what Jiden had told me about Ted. He’d been cheerful, helpful.  I hadn’t paid much attention, beyond remembering how sad she looked, thinking about the friend that she’d gotten killed.

Only he wasn’t dead. He’d been here, trapped, working for a pirate who regularly threatened to kill him and had him beaten when he stepped out of line.

“Don’t worry,” I told him with as much confidence as I could, “we’ll get out of here. I promise.”


New Release: Valor’s Cost

Valor’s Cost is out today!

You can get your copy from Amazon, here:  https://amzn.to/2DCqO6J

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”  -Norman Cousins

Jiden Armstrong has seen death and destruction, visited upon people around her.  She has spent the past three years attending the Century Military Academy in the hopes that she can protect her people.  Now, though, she has lost those most dear to her.  Worst of all, the people who did it were coming after Jiden.
She’s going to have to rebuild her life.  Jiden will have to fall back on her friends and her family to recover.  She’s going to have to find a new reason to live and come to terms with her losses… and her enemies haven’t given up.  To them, Jiden Armstrong is another pawn in the game… one that is inconveniently placed.  They’re going to keep coming after her so long as she stands in their way and if Jiden can’t stop them, then the people paying the cost of Jiden’s valor may well be those closest to her.

Valor’s Cost Coming Soon

No, really, I promise!

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”  -Norman Cousins

Jiden Armstrong has seen death and destruction, visited upon people around her.  She has spent the past three years attending the Century Military Academy in the hopes that she can protect her people.  Now, though, she has lost those most dear to her.  Worst of all, the people who did it were coming after Jiden.
She’s going to have to rebuild her life.  Jiden will have to fall back on her friends and her family to recover.  She’s going to have to find a new reason to live and come to terms with her losses… and her enemies haven’t given up.  To them, Jiden Armstrong is another pawn in the game… one that is inconveniently placed.  They’re going to keep coming after her so long as she stands in their way and if Jiden can’t stop them, then the people paying the cost of Jiden’s valor may well be those closest to her.

Since there’s some rather… impactful events that happen in the first chapters, I will not be snippeting Valor’s cost.  But it will be out and live on 28 September.  Mark down the date!

Valor’s Duty: Reviews Wanted

Valor’s Duty by Kal Spriggs

Thanks to everyone who purchased copies of Valor’s Duty!  It has been hanging out in the top ten of its category on Amazon and the initial feedback looks great.  I’m really grateful that everyone seems to enjoy the book, especially since I love writing this series.

If you’ve read the book, I would love to hear your feedback, either by email or through Amazon or Goodreads.  Reviews help to sell books, so please help other people find these books and leave reviews!

If you haven’t got your copy yet, you can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Lc19Bw

Thanks again for reading!

Now Available: Valor’s Duty!

Valor’s Duty is now live!  You can get your ebook copy exclusively from Amazon.

Link:  https://amzn.to/2Lc19Bw

Duty is heavier than a mountain; death is lighter than a feather. 

Jiden’s life at the Century Military Academy is forever changed when she is asked to volunteer for a special program.  They want to implant her and other cadets with a special, prototype neural computer.  It will make them smarter, more capable, and able to split their attention between dozens of activities.  Her friends jump at the opportunity… but Jiden isn’t so certain.

She sees it as her duty to volunteer. Despite all of her doubts, it’s a duty she owes to her world and to her friends.  But as things begin to go wrong, as her life is put in danger once again, Jiden quickly realizes that she may have shouldered a duty that she can’t bear.  The implants might be driving her fellow cadets violently insane… and Jiden may be next. 
She will need to muster every ounce of courage, every bit of intelligence, in order to save her friends.  Even then, her own survival might be too much to ask.  But Jiden doesn’t know how to back down, and she’ll do her duty no matter the cost


Valor’s Duty Snippet 2

Here is the second snippet from Valor’s Duty, coming 18 May, 2018.  You can find the first snippet here: (Link)

Chapter 2: Sometimes I Get Myself In Trouble

 Imagine a train hurdling along at over three hundred kilometers an hour.  Now put it over fifty meters below sand and rock, in a pitch-dark tunnel.  That was the military train that I got to ride back to the Academy.  It was part of the defense infrastructure train lines that connected most of Century’s cities and all of it’s military bases.  One of my engineering projects over break had been to write a research paper about it.  There were over thirty thousand kilometers of tunnel, much of it between fifty and a hundred meters deep.  It had taken twenty years to complete the main lines, and the main sections were designed to survive near-misses from orbital ships.  It was a pretty amazing feat of engineering… the cost estimates rivaled that of starships.

Of course, what that all meant to me was that I had just over a six hour train ride.  I’d coordinated to link up with my friends, but most of that had gone out the window when the onrush of cadets had flooded the train.

When we arrived at the Academy, the masses would assemble into something resembling order, but right now, the train was chaos, with civilian-dressed and uniformed cadets running back and forth, people struggling with bags and what seemed like far too much noise after two weeks at home.

I glanced at my datapad and checked the text from Ashiri a third time.  She said she’d managed to get a spot in one of the private cars, which would be something of a refuge from all this chaos.  Ashiri’s family lived in New Albion, which meant that Ashiri had boarded the train several hours earlier, well before I’d arrived at Duncan City.  I pushed through the mess, hoping that I’d catch up to Kyle or Sashi on the way.

I finally reached the right train car, this section of the train was notably quieter and I paused outside the suite to pull out my datapad.  Since I had no idea where Sashi or Kyle had been swept off to, it was probably best if I messaged them, rather than trying to find them on the train.

I faintly overheard a voice on speaker from inside the suite.  After a moment, I thought I recognized Ashiri’s mother’s voice and I heard Ashiri respond to something, her voice oddly muted.

“You listen to me, daughter,” Ashiri’s mother grew louder, her voice angry, “those so-called friends of yours are no good to you.  Do you think it is coincidence that two years in a row you have been third place to them?  They are using you, and keeping you down!”

“Mother!” Ashiri protested, “It’s not like that at all!   I have done well!  Third in rank is nothing to be ashamed of!”

“Listen to me with respect and never interrupt!” Ashiri’s mother’s voice was sharp.  “Third is nothing.  Did your so-called friends not vie for first and second?  Do you think it coincidence that your roommate’s grandmother runs the Academy and her granddaughter finishes first almost every year?  When I was your age, I was first in everything.  What kind of example do you set for your siblings by failing to be first in all that you do?”

“Mother,” Ashiri protested, “I’m doing very good.  Better than hundreds of others–”

“You will do better,” Ashiri’s mother snapped.  “You need to do whatever necessary.  Those so-called friends of yours, you need to cut them loose.  You are better than them, you do not need them!”

“Mother…” I heard Ashiri start to protest.

“If you are not first this year, daughter, then you are nothing.  I will expect you to succeed.   Your family expects you to succeed, do not fail me.”

“Yes, mother,” Ashiri’s voice was resigned, barely audible.  There was silence on the other side of the door for a long moment.  I felt suddenly guilty and a bit ashamed as I realized I’d been listening in on the private and potentially embarrassing conversation.  I hadn’t meant to, but I’d still overheard things that were none of my business… though they were things that shocked me.

Granted, I wasn’t terribly surprised that Ashiri’s mother didn’t think highly of me.  The one time I’d really met her, I’d managed to put my foot in my mouth.  But that she thought that Alexander Karmazin and I were using her daughter to improve our own scores… that made me angry.  Worse, she’d all but accused the Admiral of rigging things so I came in first.  That idea was so absurd as to be ridiculous.  I couldn’t think of someone less likely to do that, and if anything, I felt like the Admiral was extra hard on me because I was family.

It wasn’t like I could defend myself, though.  I’d have to admit to listening in on a private conversation and that wouldn’t exactly make me look good.  At least it sounded like the conversation was over.  I reached for the door handle, but before I could touch it, the door opened.

“Oh,” Ashiri froze, staring at me.

“Hey,” I said in as cheerful a fashion as I could manage.  “I guess I found the right place.”

Something flashed across my best friend’s face.  Some emotions that came and went too fast for me to understand, maybe too complex for me to really comprehend.  Something like shame or embarrassment, something like anger.  I wasn’t sure and I was half-convinced that I imagined it all, it was there and gone so fast.  One thing I was sure, though, was for a moment, Ashiri wanted to ask how long I’d been standing outside the door.

“Yeah, this is the right place,” Ashiri replied finally, her voice almost detached.  “Where are the others?”

“I lost Sashi and Kyle in the crowd, but I was just about to message them,” I gestured with the datapad in my left hand.  Ashiri made a face, though I wasn’t sure whether that was about Sashi Drien or my excuse for why I was standing just outside the door.  “Have you seen Karmazin, yet?”

“Alex?” Ashiri shrugged, “No, I assumed he’d be with the rest of you.  Last I heard, he was going to catch the train in Duncan City like the rest of you.”  The Enclave didn’t connect into the defense train system, for a bunch of complicated reasons, not least of which was that it wasn’t technically a part of Century’s planetary government, it was a weird sort of autonomous sub-state.

“Huh, I hadn’t seen him either,” I said.

“Well, come on in,” Ashiri stepped out of the doorway.  She settled to her seat and gestured at her datapad, “I was just finishing up edits on my Military History paper for Commander Bonnadonna.”

“Ugh, that was a brutal one, right?” I stepped in and took a seat, messaging Alexander Karmazin, Kyle Regan, and Sashi Drien with our location.

“Yeah,” Ashiri showed genuine emotion for what seemed like the first time.  “I enjoy his classes, but he sure does load us down with assignments.”

Last year we’d had a ten page paper due every week for Commander Bonnadonna’s classes.  The worst part was, we didn’t get the papers returned, he just seemed to be able to magically read every paper and comment and address things we brought up in our papers during class.  I couldn’t imagine him managing to read that much every week, but somehow he did it… and he managed to make subjects that I found dry and abstract into things that mattered.

Someone knocked on the door, “Come in,” Ashiri and I said at the same time.

Kyle opened the door and stuck his head in, “Hey, Jiden, I think Sashi needs your help.”  There was a nervous edge to his voice that had me up on my feet and out in the corridor almost before he finished speaking.

I saw what he meant right away.  Just down the corridor, right at the junction from this car to the next, I saw Sashi Drien with two young men boxing her in.  I recognized both of them almost instantly, it would be hard not to, after all, since their short stature, dark hair and tan skin looked so similar to that of Sashi.  They were her older brothers, and their faces were harsh with anger as they faced her.

I studied them as I advanced.  Nahka Drien wore the collar insignia of a Cadet Commander, his tan, handsome face drawn back in a harsh sneer.  His younger brother, Toro, wore a Cadet Second Class rank.  Both of them were tense, their expressions angry and their postures showing that they were on the edge of physical violence.  I wasn’t sure how I knew that, maybe it was something I picked up from my kerala classes with Commander Panja.

Nahka looked over as I came up, his eyes darting between his sister and myself, even as he snarled at Sashi, “…bad enough that you refused our grandfather’s offer, that you resign and come home and limit any further disgrace to our family.  But this?  To take refuge with our family’s enemies?  How could you embarrass yourself so?”

“Leave her alone!” I snapped.

“This doesn’t concern you,” Nahka hissed at me.  “Go back to your real friends, hongro.”

I frowned at him, “Sashi is my friend.  Leave her alone.”

Nahka turned and stepped towards me, “You’re using her.  You’re setting her up for failure, to make my family look bad.  She isn’t suited for this life.  She almost failed out last year.  You leave my sister alone, hongro.”

I flinched at his harsh tone, but I didn’t step back.  I realized that, in his own twisted way, Nahka did care for his sister, he didn’t want to see her fail.  But at the same time, he was doing her more harm than good, he was bullying her, trying to get her to quit.

He didn’t see how capable and strong Sashi could be, because he was too busy trying to protect her.  “No,” I snapped.  “You leave my friend alone.”

I stepped past him and stood next to her.  “If not for Sashi, I would have failed out during Indoctrination.  She’s smart, she’s strong, and she’s going to do just fine… as long as you two get out of her face!”

“You shouldn’t take that tone with upper-classmen, Cadet Third Class,” Nahka Drien snapped.

“We aren’t at the Academy, yet,” I replied.  “And this kind of thing wouldn’t fly there, and both of you know it.”

They both shifted uncomfortably at that.  They monitored our every move at the Academy.  While a lot of that was hands off, this was something that was likely to get them in trouble.

“You’re right,” Nahka said, his voice low and threatening.  “We aren’t at the Academy.  Maybe someone could suffer an accident, fall down and get hurt.  Especially if she was alone and sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.”

“She’s not alone,” Kyle said from just down the corridor.  Behind him, I saw Ashiri and Karmazin.  Nahka and Toro both looked sour.  Clearly their plan, whatever it was, had just fallen apart.

Nahka stepped forward and stopped only a few centimeters away from me.  “We’ll remember this, Armstrong.  Whatever happens to our sister, it’s on you now.”  He stepped past me and then he and his brother stepped through the doors and into the next train car.

“Well,” I said, as calmly as I could manage, “that went well.”