As a thank you for mom, blogger, pilot's wife, and author Kimber An and her great review of The Warlord's Daughter on her blog (Sabra the "commando nanny"-- loved that), I wanted to treat her and you to a scene from the upcoming SUREBLOOD, which I imagine will be one of the few Space Pirate single mom tales on the shelves. Enjoy!
From the 8/10 release SUREBLOOD: A Tale of the Borderlands by Susan Grant (#3 in the Borderlands series)
Back on Artoom, Val’s long strides made short work of the distance between the dock and the village. As she passed the practice fields, she stopped to watch new apprentices go through their drills. It embarrassed her that funds were so tight that she couldn’t afford to outfit them with zelfen armor, but local livestock provided plenty of sturdy leather. She peeled off her shipboard jacket and hung it over her shoulder to enjoy some of the first sunshine of the season. She always needed these few solitary moments when first returning home. Body armor was shed onboard the ship, but before she walked through her front door she had to let down her emotional armor. Her clan and crew needed Captain Val; her family needed her.
Captain Val, Mama Val. It was as if she were split in two with the halves constantly shifting and grating like continental plates on a fault line.
Birdsong drew her attention to the budding trees lining the path. Ebbe-apples weren’t native to Artoom. Conn had brought them home long ago. Fates knew where he’d found them. She’d helped him plant the seedlings when she was small, no more than Jaym was now. It remained a vivid memory--the summer sunshine, her father, such a hero to the clan yet so doting with her. “Someday you’ll walk along with path long after I’m gone, Valeeya,” he’d said. “Look at these trees and think of me.”
She lit a cigarette and dragged squatters weed into her lungs. It had an instant mellowing effect against the memory of Conn’s prophetic words. I do think of you, Papa. Always. The trees had gone to bud, and some were beginning to blossom, looking as they did that cold, rainy day she’d kneeled at Sashya’s feet and listened to the woman compare the babe in her belly to the new life on the trees. Her mother had been right. Jaym had brought new life with his unexpected existence, pulling Sashya back from the brink of despair.
Every nerve ending in Val’s body strained toward that exuberant, high-pitched cry. She grinned as her son raced across the practice fields to meet her.
“Mama!” Sunlight glowed on Jaym’s golden head. His face was alive with excitement. Pure joy filled her heart as he barreled into her full-bore, jumping high to cling to her body, uncaring of the leathers and thick weapons belt. He wanted his mother, and she wanted her boy.
“I have so much to tell you!” He plucked the cigarette from her lips and threw it down.
To her surprise, she got choked up at the innocent act of caring. She was a narco addict, had been for years, and only her son seemed to mind. She buried her face in his silky hair. My baby. He smelled like dirt and sunshine and buttered bread. It wouldn’t be too long before he was too big to carry, and racing to meet his mother would be beneath his male dignity. “I love ya, boy.”
“I love ya, too, Mama.”
He arched back in her arms, his skinny thighs squeezing her waist as he flung his arms out wide. “This much!” He was getting a little old for their ritual but was still willing to play along.
The boy’s as much of a charmer as his father was, she thought with an accompanying, familiar pang of guilt.
“What wrong, Mama?” His gemlike eyes probed deeply, the way his father’s had, wanting to know even what she wasn’t quite willing to reveal. “You look sad.”
“Aye, a little. I was looking at the pretty trees and thinkin’ of your grandfather. I miss him.” He was too young to understand the rest. She gave him a squeeze. “And I missed you!”
He let her drop him back on his feet, holding her hand as they walked toward the house they shared with Sashya. “What’s all this news you wanted to share?”
“Well, Ferren’s teaching me to swim!”
“Is she now?”
“So I can go on sea raids. I don’t want to just be a space pirate, but a dirt-side and sea-farin’ one, too!”
“Ambition is good.” She laughed. Ferren could hold her breath longer than what seemed humanly possible, and once she was underwater, she was as agile as a fish. She even hinted to Val that she’d once had the ability to breathe underwater. To this day, Ferren refused to reveal her origins, but if her people were anything like she was, her homeworld was a special place and Val could understand the secrecy.
“And,” Jaym went on expansively, his brown-blond hair gleaming. “I’m gonna be the best raider Blue Clan’s ever seen! I’ll chase those greedy, lyin’ Surebloods to the ends of the stars and beyond! Like this.” Out came his imaginary dozers from their holsters. He whirled with natural grace and fired his two sticks. “Got ‘em, Mama!”
Her heart clenched with maternal worry. Like the romping of camp dog pups, the boy’s play was the precursor to real battle. She had no qualms about sending clansmen into battle. Sending her child was another matter entirely.
Jaym ran off toward the practice fields, picking up another, longer stick as he went, swinging it like a plasma sword.
Slaying imaginary Surebloods.
Hells. If only the boy knew the truth about his origins.
Jaym had kept Val’s heart from growing hard; he’d brought her joy in so many unexpected ways, but as deeply as she loved him, he was a reminder of her failings the night her father was killed. Jaym’s father was their clan’s sworn enemy. To reveal his paternity to the rest of the clan would endanger his life and cast her loyalties into doubt. What would happen to her and to Jaym should someone ever figure out the truth?
© 2009 Susan Grant
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