Welcome to the Release Day Blitz for the series I Am Just Junco by J.A. Huss. Find out more about the books in the series, read some excerpts and then enter the giveaways!
Book One I Am Just Junco
By J.A. Huss
In 2152 the avian race is on Earth looking for something stolen from them decades ago – their genetics. At the center of the search lies the Rural Republic; a small backwards farming country with high hopes of military domination and a penchant for illegal bioengineering.
19 year old Junco Coot is the daughter of the Rural Republic’s ranking commander. She’s the most foul-mouthed, wildly unpredictable and ruthless sniper the Rural Republic has ever trained. But when her father’s death sparks a trip into forbidden places, she triggers events that will change everything she knows to be true.
As an elite avian military officer, Tier’s mission is to destroy the bioengineering projects, kill Commander Coot’s daughter, and return home immediately. There’s just one problem. Junco isn’t who she claims to be.
With no one to trust, not even herself, Junco must confront the secrets of her past and accept her place in the future, or risk losing herself completely.
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/Iz0PWDGoTJY
Picture yourself standing on the edge of a dock...I shake my head.Fuck that.I’m standing on a dirt road barefoot, exhaust from the Goat swirling the dust up my funeral dress, trying to make sense of things.The closed stop-gate in front of me signals the entrance to the Stag, but the antlered skull in the middle of the arm spawns a moment of pause. My eyes linger on the decorations only long enough to log them. Blood-red paint on the antlers, an old wooden arrow sticking out of one of the orbits, and a crown of acacia thorns draped around the tines.A child’s prank.The cigar slips between my lips. I cup my hand to block the wind, touch the cigar to the striker, and suck in deeply as the end glows bright orange. They make me stink, but I don’t care.Today, I don’t care about much.I slam the Goat’s door and walk towards the skull, then hear the tell-tale crack of a sonic boom and turn to squint at the sun. It’s losing its battle with the rotating earth and starting to sink. Peak City has been out of my sight line for hours but I know where it should be on the horizon and the contrail of a suborbital coming out of the north points back to my home in the distance.Turning back to the gate, I watch the wind pick up the strip of wood across the excuse for a road and make it dance. A stray magpie lands and rides the skull with a rhythm that reminds me of better days. It watches me, tilting its head to the side, and squawks, "Away!"I flick the half-smoked stub at it and it flies off.There is nothing here to stop my progress into the Stag but since this is a forbidden zone in the Rural Republic, I pause before taking this final step. Consequences tend to mean less with the loss of precious things, so they mean nothing to me now.Reaching up, I release my long auburn hair from the tie and let it flap around my expressionless face as the wind tries to carry it across the grasslands.If only the wind would carry me across the grasslands.My cold toes scrunch into the dirt and I remember my funeral shoes are in the backseat, discarded hours ago. I walk over to the Goat and fish around until I pull together a pair of field boots and some black thermals. I hike the warm leggings up to my hips and then sit on the edge of my old Humvee and meticulously lace up each boot so they are snug, but not tight.A sheathed hunting knife is in danger of dropping through the rusted-out floorboard and I rescue it, stashing it inside the boot. Then I slide my shotgun onto the front seat and drop my little pistol into the crap box with other items one finds in a vehicle. The lid drops closed with a snap.In the end I didn’t need to waste time in front of the gate. It was never a question of if I would go. Only when. I climb back into the front seat, jam the Goat in gear and veer off the road, pressing up against the low-hanging cottonwoods that have crept up from the dry riverbed. I brace myself as my vehicle bounces down into the ditch and then jolts back up. I gun it as the tires lose a little traction in earth soft from the rains, swing her around the ominous gate, and surge back onto the dirt track that still thinks it is a road.On the other side I stop once more to check for Peak City in the distance, but all I see is the magpie, back on the skull, riding it out. I flip it off and gun the Goat again. We lurch forward, sputtering out a cloud of smoke that could get you hanged in some parts of the world.But not here.The Rural Republic might officially be part of the United Republics, but that’s pretty much where it ends. Our national motto is quaint. Simple Serves . A reference to the throwback life we are supposed to be leading. But if you’re not from around here and need help, (which is strictly theoretical, we’re a closed campus, kids) the answer you get is disinterest. If you’re lucky.The drive out to Stag Camp is a stretch of open road, peppered with the occasional falling-down farmhouse or small herd of antelope. So I settle in, light another cigar, and slide the window down even though the warm November afternoon has given in to the cold November night.Nothing to do now but think about the job. My eyes track to the passenger seat, past the shotgun, and come to rest upon the thick envelope pressed into my hands as I left the funeral several hours ago. The label on the front is machine-printed, but it doesn’t say Junco. It says Dale. Resident of one Stag Camp in the middle of nowhere.The dying light seeps out of my world. The eye-shine peering back at me from the side of the road as I take a wide turn is what clues me in. The two glowing dots are far enough apart to estimate size and my body gives an involuntary shiver as I run down the short list. Nightdog or prairie lion. Either one would eat me alive.
The sky is filled with stars long before I spy the dark shadow of the landmark hill in the distance. It’s a slow climb that turns into a nightmare halfway up, then a flat patch to gather some steam so you can push your vehicle to its limit and struggle up the final grade that will plunge you over the other side.I watch the approaching ridge with some trepidation. Once over it, I’ll be more in than out. A sigh escapes my lips and I push the Goat until her body shakes, getting ready for the ascent.We hit the hill going about 110, but the steep initial grade checks us and we lose speed quick. I downshift, then again, and by the time the grade evens back out for several hundred feet we are barely skimming 40. I gun it again so we can gain some momentum to get over the hump and I catch a little air as we pass over the summit.The buck in the road never has a chance. The Goat slams into the animal midair and the tendons and bones snap loudly in the cold night. The lower half of the deer slips under the tires, creating a slick mess of tissue and blood on the road. The head flies straight at my face and the bloodied antlers crash into the glass.I slam on the brakes and the head loses its hold on the window and flies off out of sight. I hit a patch of greasy mud left over from the last rain and slide sideways, towards the edge of what may be a cliff, or a gently rolling embankment.I quickly correct, not waiting to find out, only to discover I’m now sliding backwards. I swing the wheel around, body parts flipping out from under the tires, and hit the brakes again. The Goat and I slip sideways into the ditch and I use the bounce to straighten out the wheels. When she comes down hard we’re moving forward into a sparse grove of pines.I force my foot down on the brake one more time, sliding sideways in the softened mud, and barely manage to aim between two old-growth Ponderosas as the lower branches slap against the Goat’s doors.I steer us through as best I can, but when you’re racing a five-thousand-pound vehicle through a small forest, you tend to run out of luck sooner rather than later. A deep ditch of water erosion plunges the Goat down, but she recovers and jerks back up. My head hits the steering wheel and I feel the blood slip down my face, then taste iron as it trickles into my mouth. The Goat’s front tires find another ditch and I lurch forward, cracking my head on what’s left of the driver’s side windshield. Finally we slam into the thick twisted trunk of a cottonwood. I have a second or two to moan, and then it all goes black.
Picture yourself standing on the edge of a dock. In front of you is a mountain lake...The blood seeps into my mouth and I cough, then spit out a coagulated hunk of something before opening my eyes.Shit.I listen for noises around me and panic sets in when I hear the sharp snap of a dry tree branch off to my right. My head rolls towards the noise, not quite controlled, and I wait a few more moments to let things clear up a bit. The pain in my shoulder is like fire and the blood is hot as it trickles down the side of my head.In front of me is a stream, not a goddamn mountain lake.Wait.I shake my head.A small trickle of water has materialized from the last rain and the sound of it makes my mouth dry up immediately. I move my head slightly, allowing a moan to escape, and let my right hand reach out for the water bottle on the seat.Of course, it’s not there.I twist my body a little so I can make a more earnest search of the cab, then grab the steering wheel with my left hand to stabilize my movement."Fucking shit!"That hurts.The pain is pulled up into every synaptic center of my brain. The resulting vertigo almost makes me heave. A thousand birds take flight from the trees and the wingbeats flare up in my ears.And then the whispers start.The dark whisper of a flock of starlings too long in the company of men. There is nothing more creepy than human words coming out of a starling beak and the contents of my stomach experience another moment of protest until I can push it down. I reach into the crap box with my right hand and pull out the pistol, aiming it through the broken glass of the window in front of me. The shot rings out and the recoil travels through my body like a standing wave. When it reaches my left shoulder I scream again. This time the starlings stay silent.More tree branch snapping hauls me back to my current situation and my eyes dart around, alert for movement. I take a deep, cleansing breath and let it out slowly, but that does nothing to stop whatever is moving out in the trees.I shoot another round off and do a better job at damping down the recoil. This time I see a shadow of a great owl fly off in the distance. It must have been hunting in the trees.I sit there for a little longer and then swing my legs across the gear stick, scoot over to the passenger side door and release the handle. Pure determination allows me to coerce my legs into standing and then I seize my water bottle off the floor and down it in large gulps.A thorough shuffling through dirty field clothes leads to a belt. I position it across my body and slip my arm into the loop of leather to take the weight off my injury, then sling the shotgun over my good shoulder and grab my pack to begin my walk back up the hill to the road. Looking and listening for any sign of apex predators.The road looks like it usually does when a large deer gets mowed over by a military vehicle, so I don’t dwell on it and instead walk the short distance back up to the top of the hill and try to see if there are any lights in the distance.The Rural Republic is a chancy place to be stranded on any given day, but being alone in the Stag is exceptionally bad luck. There are no vehicles on the road, nor will there be. No one knows where I am, so no one will come looking.I look east and see nothing. I look west and see nothing. That pretty much sums up the extent of what’s available in terms of assistance. It makes no difference which way I go, the stop-gate back in Council 5 and the Stag Camp proper are about equal distance from the spot where I stand. I will have to winch the Goat up and out of that ravine before any other decisions can be made.The night isn’t as black as it could be and for that I’m grateful. The moon has fully risen in the time it took me to free myself from the Goat and hitch up my arm, and while it isn’t anything near full, neither is it a sliver of hopelessness. Walking outside of the boundaries of the road leads me to an almost flat, grassy patch of earth. I find the Big Dipper and then Cassiopeia to ease the creeping feeling of aloneness, then lower myself down on the ground and rest my throbbing head back into the palm of my hand for just a few moments of rest.The sounds of nature come back.And with them are the dark whispers of starlings. They haunt me as I drift off to sleep.
Picture yourself standing on the edge of a dock. In front of you is a mountain lake and behind you is a small cabin, pristine white curtains flowing in the breeze passing through the windows. Down below the water you can see the scales of brightly colored fish reflecting the sunlight...... and then you are in a church, looking down on a meeting.No, wait, that’s not how it goes.I’m a piece of stained glass high up in the window. I look down at my body and see that I’m naked, but that’s not the disturbing thing. Instead of feet I have long raptor talons that host a variety of knives instead of claws. From my mouth come the whispers of the starlings and the gurgling in my throat causes me to scream and break free of the glass. It shatters down to the floor where people argue. The shards of blood-colored glass kill them as they slice through their backs and then I am flying high up in the air, looking down on the Stag. I know it’s the Stag because of the tall perimeter wall and the guardhouse at the gate. I land near the guardhouse, still outside the camp, and my father exits in full uniform and puts his hand up to stop me. I need to get in, Daddy, I say – even though I haven’t called him Daddy since my mother disappeared when I was six. He opens his mouth and starlings fly out, screaming their whispers in my ears, and then they attack me with their long thin beaks and their wings beat against my body. I fly away, circling the Stag Camp, and then I dive down, spiraling into the gushing wind. It explodes and I am thrown up into the sky as a constellation where Orion hunts me like the bull for time everlasting.And then I am warm and the starlings are gone, but the whispers are still there, making me feel safe. They are soft now, not deep and evil, but soft. And I listen to them and I say OK.
The warmth of the dream fades and I wake shivering as the sweat drips off my body. A movement catches my eye across the expanse of wild grass and I sit upright in an instant, ignoring the fire in my shoulder. I have the shotgun out, propped in the area where my hip meets my stomach, and I brace my arm on my thigh as I level the barrel on the shadow in the distance as best I can. My finger slips onto the trigger and squeezes lightly as I prepare for the shot.It’s not a prairie lion because I can see the outstretched wings back-lit by starlight as it skulks across the field. And it’s obviously not an owl because it’s walking on two legs."I wouldn’t do that if I were you," it says.I squeeze the trigger and the recoil slams me into the ground, screaming in pain.I’m back in the blur of agony once again and fuck is coming out of my mouth at regular intervals. The black shadow stands over me now, the dark wings fully outstretched and imposing."I told ya not to do that."It’s a male voice.I pull away wincing, trying to sink down into the ground to avoid him as he leans into my personal space."That’s really going to hurt now. You humans. It’s always shoot first, ask questions later."I find my voice and snort at him. "At least a human would know better than to sneak up on a girl stranded in the middle of nowhere with a shotgun."The avian’s hypnotic green eyes brighten as he smiles at me. "Ya have a point there, darlin’."We have a semi-serious staring contest for a few seconds and then he reaches down towards me. "Ya need a hand?"I look him up and down from my unfortunate submissive situation. His wings are a lot more imposing than I figure they should be. I’ve seen images of avians here and there over the years, but not enough to be any kind of expert on them.Sighing, I consider my options as he waits. I can either roll around on my knees and try to get up – or I can get up with some dignity left intact. I shrug and extend my good arm up to him. "Sure."He takes it and I brace for the explosion of agony that will surely come from my shoulder, but he pulls me to my feet in a smooth, gentle manner. I manage to end upright with only a few squeaks of pain escaping my lips."That was unlucky, eh?""Unlucky? I almost shot you. I figure that’s pretty fucking lucky myself.""The accident, friend. An unlucky thing to hit that animal."I grab my gun and ignore him as I hitch my pack up on my hip and shuffle through to check my ammo supply."Missing something?"I give him a long once-over and he waits patiently for me to finish. "You do realize you’re trespassing, right? Aliens are not permitted in the RR under any circumstances.""You’d be surprised," he says.I swing the shotgun on the strap so it’s out in front of me, brace it on my thigh to compensate for my injured shoulder, cycle the next round into the chamber, and then point it straight at his chest. I strain to prevent the wince that really wants to leak across my face. "Look, I don’t know who you are, or why you’re here, but as a Farm Family Representative of Council 3, I’m asking you to leave under Regulation V.1.b – Aliens are not permitted in the Rural Republic under any circumstances. I have the authority to shoot and if you doubt me, I apologize ahead of time for taking your life. You are hereby legally warned.""Look, sweetheart–"I squeeze back and the round blasts out of the chamber but he’s high above me in the air as the shot passes into the trees. The leaves rustle and the birds are wild once again. The recoil pain isn’t as bad from the standing position, but I feel the blood leaking out under the skin on my hip, creating a bruise. I push the pain down. "I’ve been shooting since I could walk, sweetheart, and I’ve had a really shitty day. Do not fuck with me."He flies off over the trees about a dozen yards away and I can just barely make him out as he lands in the cover of the brush."Is that how ya treat someone who saves your life? Shoot them?"I snort. "Saved my life? I must have missed that one while I was sleeping.""Except ya weren’t sleeping, Junco. Ya were unconscious."It isn’t often that I get stunned into silence, but an alien knowing my name in the middle of nowhere can do it. "How the hell do you know my name?"Silence from him now.The glimmer of light that was previously there is gone, and so is he.I take stock of the mountaintop meadow. Where are you, where are you?Silence.I pivot on my heel, gun braced one-armed against my stomach to catch the recoil, and do a proper survey of the area. My good arm is tiring quick after all the adrenaline I’ve used up and it begins to shake. I force the bravado. "Guess you decided to take my–"Then he is behind me, the gun is flying across the field, and he’s twisted my bad shoulder just enough to make me scream out. His lips touch my cheek as he whispers, "Look, I’m not usually the type of person who abuses little girls, but you’ve shot at me two times now and I’m not going to stand for it. I’m here for the moment and you’re just gonna to have to deal with it. Ya got it?"He eases up on my shoulder and pushes me away from him.I rub the flaming tissue and wince. "Did you just insult me?"He tilts his head at me. "What? Me? Ya tried ta shoot me – twice!""I might be little, but the way you said it implied I’m insignificant. Which I assure you, I am not. And besides, you’re the one who’s trespassing, right? That’s you." I point my finger up at him. "I have every right to tell you to leave, I’m a fucking representative of Council–""3, yeah, I heard ya the first time. Who gives a shit? I’m here. Get over it."I stare at him in the dim moonlight and quite frankly, I don’t care for what I see. "You’re so fucking lucky I’m injured.""Or what?""Why are you here?""Why are you here?""Oh my fucking God, are we in playschool or what?""I know where you were going."I laugh. "The road only goes one place, alien. That’s not a hard deduction.""I know what you were gonna do, as well."That’s it, I’m done. I begin walking down the hill."Oi! Now what are you doing?" he calls.I ignore him as he trots a little to catch up. He keeps his distance to a few paces behind as I make my way to the road and then begin the descent down the slope back to the Goat. When I finally reach it I wiggle into the back seat of the cab and lie down, trying to even out my breathing before he gets there. My eyes close as I hear him climb into the front passenger seat."What are you doing?" he asks."I’m sleeping. Get the fuck out of my Goat." My good arm slides under the seat and I allow my finger to caress the high-powered rifle tucked away for emergencies. I can’t shoot it, my shoulder would never tolerate that, but it gives me comfort to know it’s there.He doesn’t get out. Instead he talks."I saw yer headlights coming in the darkness. I didn’t think much about it really, but the accident had me concerned. Ya hit yer head pretty hard, there."Yeah, thanks for the update."I’m sorry for twisting yer shoulder, OK?" The anger seeps out of me as I listen to his hypnotic words. I struggle to keep my eyes closed but an overwhelming force urges me to look him in the face."Junco, I did save your life. Ya had a bad concussion. It was a mistake to fall asleep. I was just tryin’ ta help when I brought ya out of it."This revelation jolts me out of my trance and I fight to shake off my weariness to get this story straight. "Wait," I say as I painfully push my body back up into a half-sitting position. "What? You were touching me when I was sleeping?"He squirms a little at my tone. "No, look, it wasn’t like that. Ya weren’t sleeping, ya were unconscious – I just – wrapped ya in my wings so I could bring ya back up.""You were touching me." It’s a statement this time, not a question. "In my sleep.""Look, I saved your life, for Christ’s sake!""How dare you swear at me! Don’t you realize–""I’m sorry, you’re right,” he looks away and blows out a breath, “I shouldn’t have said that. I forgot you are a pious bunch out here.""Get out!" I snarl. I feel the blood rush to my face and the adrenaline flood my muscles as I watch him extract himself from my vehicle, stopping only to release one of his wings from the floppy seat belt as he exits the Goat.I let myself smile after he leaves. That pious bullshit works every time on strangers. And he even heard me cussing like a soldier up on the hill. But I’m glad he’s gone. I don’t remember reading anything about avians having glowing green eyes before. Creepy.
When I wake my crusted-closed eyelids are the least of my worries. I struggle to force them open once I realize the sun is up. My muscles have been welded into my current sleeping orientation and no matter how hard I fight against it, they reward me with an intense shooting pain in my left shoulder with the slightest of movements.A delicious smell meanders into the cab from outside so I force a shift in position until I can prop myself up without contorting my face into an expression of disfigurement. I ease my head up just enough to peer out the window and see the avian poking a stick at a roasting bird over a small campfire.He looks up at me and smiles.Dammit. So much for stealth. I should be ashamed of myself."Hungry now?" His accent is something different than mine, but I can’t place it. "Still not talking, eh? Well, I made breakfast," he points to the smoking fowl, "so that should buy me some goodwill."I wrestle around frantically for a second, trying to find an extraction route that won’t cause me to scream, but I can’t see it."So, how long do ya young ladies typically pout out here in the wilds, then?" he calls. "Can you give me an estimate?"I struggle again, pulling on the seat belt that hangs limply behind the driver’s seat to get some leverage, but the aging bracket attaching it to the headliner snaps off from my weight and I give up and lie back with a sigh.He appears at the broken window on the passenger side. "I can’t believe you slept back there in that tiny space." He laughs at me, and I have to admit, he’s got a nice look to him, plus his green eyes are bright in the sunlight and they are no longer glowing, so the creep factor has been dialed down a bit.His large black wings are tucked tight against his back and the tips cup over the top of his shoulders, so I can’t see much of them. A few loose arcs of dark hair tumble off his forehead and fall around his eyes. He’s wearing some kind of foreign get-up that might be the alien equivalent of black jeans and t-shirt, but they are cut to his specific body modifications and made out of some kind of heavy canvas. It has the look of light armor, something we might wear for war games. His skin is light, but not fair. Like fall has stolen most of the golden tan of summer away."That’s nice. Short jokes. Very funny." My voice sounds as cranky as I feel.He lets off a little laugh. "Need some help out?"I scowl and try to think up another way. But I can’t. "Yeah, sure. Just come around here to the other side of the Goat and get in so you can push me up a little." Then I add, "Please."He smiles at my manners, which make his eyes twinkle a little. Not glow, but still. The creepiness is just under the surface.The old door creaks as he opens it and I try to turn and look at him but the shoulder flares up at my attempt. I feel his hands reach under me to my good arm and I struggle not to laugh, but it bursts out anyway. I wriggle away from his touch before he pulls back in hesitation."Now, what the hell was that?""I’m ticklish, so kill me. You can’t just slip your hands into someone’s pits and not expect them to laugh."“Can I push you up or not?""Yes, push. Just don’t stick me in my pits."He does push and I flail around like a turtle on its back for a few embarrassing seconds, then find myself upright and looking out the window facing the campfire. It smells wonderful."Whew, that’s better," I say as I turn my whole body so I can see him properly. "Thanks, I really appreciate it." I even manage a smile, which in turn allows him to offer me one back."Would you like some help with that shoulder before ya eat?""What’s that mean?" I ask, looking at him sideways."The wings, darlin’," he says, pointing a thumb towards his shoulders, "they heal, remember?"Of course I remember but I’m not even remotely interested in letting him get a hold of me again, so I lie instead. "No, I’m fine. Really." And just to prove it I scoot over to the door and flip the handle with my good hand, then smile back at him as I push it open.His hand goes to my good shoulder and stops me before I can make my hasty exit. "Relax, Junco. I can fix it. We aren’t going to get far with ya like that, anyway.""I don’t know what you mean by we, but in case you haven’t noticed my legs are just fine.""Yeah, I see that. But we won’t be walking out of here. That would take days."I laugh a little and send him a crooked smile. "The Goat has a winch, so don’t you worry about me.""Sorry, darlin’, you won’t be winching anything if you don’t let me take care of that shoulder."My lips involuntarily form a snarl and my eyes narrow in anger. "What’s with this darling bullshit? Stop calling me that."He just smiles. "Fine, Junco. Come here, I’ll fix the shoulder. Think of it as a gift.""No." I move to get past him but his eyes catch mine and begin to glow. I’m drawn in and I can’t stop looking at him."I said come here, Junco."In my mind I say no. But my body is already wrapped up in his wings and my head begins to spin. I can hear him whisper in my ear, and his breath dances across my cheek."Does it feel good?" he asks."Mmmmhmmmm, yesss," I say, slurring my words a bit. The heat from his body exchanges between us and my shoulder is sucking it up like a vacuum. My thoughts twist around in an incoherent mess as we sit, melded together in heat. He stays that way for several minutes and my mind is carried away with the effects of his body.Then I am high above looking down on the Stag. I see a few straggling antelope and watch the wind caress the grass as I begin to float away. "Stop, no flying."In an instant the heat is gone and the avian has twisted me around to see my face. "What did you just say?"My shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore but my head is really fuzzy, like I’m drunk, so I don’t even remember what I said.He shakes me a little to jar my memory. "Junco? What are you talking about?"I think hard and squint. "Flying? Did I say flying?""What about flying?""The Stag is burning," I say as I try to open my eyes.I feel his chest collapse as he exhales. "What?""Just a dream," I say, forcing myself to concentrate. "It was just a dream. Didn’t make any sense."We sit there as I recover. He’s still got his arms around me, but his wings never return to make their addictive cocoon of healing. I stay still as the world comes back to me a little at a time. Then our closeness gets weird and I push him off. He hops out and comes over to my side of the door to help me out."I’m starving. Can I have some of that?" I point over to the browned bird strung up over the coals."Help yourself, there’s water too.""Aren’t you going to eat?" I ask. But he just walks away and busies himself with his pack."More for me then. And hey," I call out, "Thanks, I guess. Shoulder really does feel better."
Junco Coot can’t even remember her trip off Earth; she was too busy being morphed into her new avian body. But reality hits her hard when she wakes up to find her new life is not what she expected. Not even close. Tier is on trial for disobeying his commander’s kill order and only Junco seems to care.
In most places the avian coming-of-age Fledge ritual would be nothing more than mass murder, but here in the capital city of Amelia, it’s called growing up. Junco has no choice; either fight to the death to prove her worth or get sent back to Earth in the hands of her enemies.
Her new military team is hostile, her body is being taken over by an illicit artificial intelligence, the avian president wants her dead, and her only friend is a ten-year old throwaway boy.
On a foreign habitat, in a foreign culture, and surrounded by people she can’t trust or count on, Junco must find a way to save herself and Tier without losing her immortal soul in the process.
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/b_LYS0N1OAY
Read an excerpt:
FLEDGE FIRST CHAPTER
I burst out of the tank and the desperate gasp for air is like a prairie devil sucking up a farmhouse. My fists latch on to anything that will prevent me from going back under as waves of thick goo slosh around my body. Only the whine of plasma charge snaps me out of it and I allow a multitude of hands to grasp my arms and keep me still as the voice booms next to my head.“Don’t make me regret letting you live, Junco.”I cough and somewhere deep inside my vomit reflex is triggered. Shit comes up, clogging my airway and making me struggle against the firm hands. Since my eyes are still glued shut, I have no idea what comes out.They pull me up out of the tank – completely out of the tank – so that I’m in mid-air for a few seconds, and then my feet hit the cold tile floor. My legs know what to do, but it’s not happening. They drag me and I count six pairs of boots as we travel. Damn. Six fucking avians for me. I’m about to feel special when I’m dumped on the floor. A door snaps shut and I know I am alone.A hydraulic click makes me twitch as my heart pounds in my chest. I take a deep breath and Tier’s words come back to me. Trust no one. Show no weakness. I count to five to calm myself, breathing in and out, up and down, and then scoot on the floor until I bump into a wall. My hands flail out, finding a rail, then I pull myself up and force my legs to stand. My whole body shakes with fear, atrophy and cold, but the legs hold and I straighten my back, let go of the railing, and lift my chin.And wait as the thick, sticky tank goo crusts in the ventilated room. My body feels lighter than normal and I realize that gravity must be less than one-G.It helps.A fine mist sprays out in all directions and I lift my arms up to let it coat me all over. It is only then, when my muscles are asked to respond, that I realize what’s happened.The smile comes out and I laugh, soft at first, then wildly, hysterical, and I turn my face upward to the drizzle as my lids are freed from their prison. Hot water blasts the soap off my body and I finally open my eyes.I expel the fear.I’ve been reborn.The water drenches me and then I step back to wipe my eyes and look around, holding the handrail for support. It’s a shower room, obviously. Small, but I can see through the clear surround that there are close to a hundred of them all lined up. Mine is the only one in use at the moment. I look through the glass to try and see if anyone is around, but the large room outside the stall appears empty.My attention returns to my shower and I lather my new body with gel provided by a wall dispenser. When my hands touch my chest and upper back I gasp with the changes. My upper body is pure muscle. The smile creeps along my face as I imagine the new power this will bring to my old skills. I turn my head to try and see my wings but all I get is a glimpse of the tips as they roll over to cup my shoulders.The water cuts off and the hot air blasts me in all directions, making my long hair fly up and whip around my face. Several minutes later the door opens with a click and my hair falls flat as the wind ceases.I scan the room and count more than two dozen possible surveillance points, then step out and look down the long row of empty showers and start walking. At the end I find a small pile of clothes inside a cubby. One small square filled among hundreds that are empty.I take the clothes and walk over towards a flat piece of furniture that sits low to the ground. I’ve worn Tier’s shirts back on Earth, so I know it goes over my head. I fuss with the bodice, noticing that the missing fingers on my left hand are still missing (oh well, one can hope) and then the remaining digits automatically track to the SEAR wound that runs the length of my jaw on the left side. I drag a fingertip down the raised line of scar tissue and allow my mind to jerk back to the memory.And then let it go.It is what it is.My attention returns to my girls, which need to be smashed down into the cups of the upper body garment. Tier’s shirt never had cups and they feel heavier than I remember, so it’s a struggle to get them to cooperate before sealing up the sides.In the end it fits like it was tailored specifically for me.The pants are made of the same black material as the top, synthetic, thick as light armor, and soft. They slip on easily up to my hips and it’s only then that I notice my SEAR dock under my belly button is completely covered by skin. I touch it and the dock opens, revealing the small blue wand within.I admit, I have to hold back my revulsion.“Do not remove the weapon, Junco.” The voice on the speaker is emotionless and direct.I completely ignore it and slip the SEAR knife into my hand. My thumb flicks over the small imperfection near the tapered end and it comes to life with a buzz. Another smile graces my face. I flick it off and dock it, then look up and find what may be the closest surveillance point. “You went through all this just to kill me in the waiting room? I don’t think so. It’s mine and I’ll take it out whenever I want.”I button my pants and move on to the socks and boots.This time I’m stumped. My feet are no longer feet and I stare at them in awe. Or maybe confusion, I’m not quite sure. Four toes and they are extraordinarily long. All point forward, but the two outer toes seem to have a mind of their own and can point sideways and almost backwards, if I wiggle them enough. I get up and walk around a little, looking down as I try out the new digits. They move and adjust as I change my pace. The talons clack on the hard tile and I imagine what it would feel like to clutch things. I wrangle them back into the forward position and tug on the socks and boots.When I’m finished a door opens and I walk through.The space is empty except for a mirror long enough to allow hundreds of avians to gawk at their new bodies at the same time. I stand there, stunned at what I see. I flex my back muscles and the wings respond. One stretches out to its full length and then retracts and folds, cupping back over my shoulder. I squeeze the muscles a little and I feel them collapse completely against my back. It makes me look human for a moment and I grin back at my reflection.My wings are not black. I get close to the mirror and try to see my back. They are a strange color – not white, not cream, not tan, not brown, not gray – a mottled mixture of all these hues. I squint at my eyes in the mirror, moving my head back and forth to get a clear look at them, expecting to see orange like Moju’s or green like Tier’s. But they haven’t changed at all and a grunt of disgust leaks out of my mouth.“Well, that fucking sucks. Not only do I still have hazel eyes, but you fuckers gave me hazel wings too.” I look up, but get no answer. Then I whisper under my breath, “That is so fucked up.”I’m done looking, satisfied with the novelty of my new body, but the next door does not open. I think of how I should act so that I don’t show weakness and decide on boredom. I lean my wings against the wall and then slide my back down until I’m sitting on the floor. I tilt my head back and close my eyes and my mother’s voice is in my head. Patience and inertia are not the same thing.She’s right after all. So I wait. And think about where Tier is. Hell, where I am for that matter. Are we in the Band? I’m not really even sure where the Band is, but Tier talked about it before we left Earth a few times. And then my thoughts slip back to Earth – to Selia. Did she get the message out? To Slag – what did he do after we left? To Moju. My hearts aches for him and I let a little frown cross my face before I catch it.This seems to be the magic signal that I am calm and ready to be rational, because the door opens and a man walks in.He doesn’t look avian. For a moment I wonder if I ever left Earth. But I feel the weight of the wings and the lightness of the less-than-G gravity and let that go. It doesn’t matter where I am – I am no longer human.He’s not a friendly looking man with his height and muscular bulk, not to mention the down-turned mouth and intense stare. His suit is black, tailored, and screaming money. His hair is fair and this too is different. So far all the avians I’ve ever met had black hair. Except me of course. My hair is still the same ugly auburn brown. His complexion is fair as well and his smile as he approaches me is forced.I look up at him for a moment, then get to my feet and wait.“I’m Lucan, Junco. Your new commander.” His voice is deep and calm. Almost soothing.“You don’t look like a commander,” I say, raising my eyebrows at him. For one, he’s not that old. Maybe early thirties. And for two, he’s wearing a fucking suit. I don’t get it.He gives me an indulgent smile, like I’m a toddler. “You’ve never seen an avian commander, so how would you know what one looks like?”I watch his deep blue eyes as he talks, find the power there and make myself behave. “You’re right. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Commander Lucan. Should I salute? Shake? You’ll have to forgive me, I am almost one hundred percent ignorant of your culture.”Another indulgent smile as he extends his hand. “We can do it your way, if you like.”I take his hand and shake it politely. “I would not like, actually. I would prefer to know how I am expected to act.”He retracts his hand. “We’ll get to that in time. But for now I’d like to know how you came to be on my habitat when I gave a direct order to kill you two months ago.”I smile. “Oh, that’s easy,” I say, still grinning up at him, “I was invited, of course.”“Ah, yes, your invitation. Would you like to know where Tier is?”“Not especially, no.”His brow furrows at my answer and I tuck down a smile. I can play too, buddy. Let’s dance.“Well, Junco, that surprises me. I think he would very much like to know where you are.”My stomach churns, but I shake my head. “No, I don’t think so, Commander Lucan.”“And why’s that, Junco?”I shrug and turn my back to him and walk a few paces, testing out my wings and feeling my new talons move and be restrained inside my boot. God, no wonder Moju was barefoot. It’s kind of annoying.“I’m nothing to him. He’s nothing to me. Why would we care what the other is doing?” I turn back and wait. Patience is not inertia, Junco. “He brought me back because I can be used and I came because, well – I’m sure you probably realize why staying on Earth wasn’t a real option for me.”He smiles again. I don’t. My face will crack if I have to keep up this fake shit much longer. He turns sideways towards the door and waves his arm, signaling for me to pass through ahead of him.I do and I am met by six avian guards with their plasma rifles pointed at my head. I listen to their footsteps and decide they are the same guys who just saw me naked and covered in goo not too long ago and shoot them a smile.They keep their aim true and ignore me.Lucan and I walk side by side down a long hallway wide enough to drive a few tanks through back on Earth. My gaze stays straight ahead and I do not gawk up or around, but instead listen to our footfalls echo as we travel. The guards match our pace and they surround me in a semi-circle, walking sideways to target me.I look at Lucan’s face and he feels my gaze and directs his eyes down in expectation. “I think it’s possible you’ve misjudged me, Commander. I’m just one small girl. Do you really think you need six heavily armed men plus yourself to control the situation? If so, you will seriously inflate my ego.”He sighs and I know the charade is over. “Junco, we know exactly who you are, what you do, and what you’re capable of – so you will excuse my enthusiasm for protection until we can all come together on the same page. I ordered you to keep that weapon of yours,” he hesitates as he points to my stomach and I squint up at him, “sheathed. Yet you insisted on removing it.”“Commander Lucan, that weapon is biologically attached to me. Taking it out and giving it a quick check was like wiggling my new toes. A simple reflex to make sure everything is working.” I reach for it and the rifles emit an electric field so strong it pushes me backwards. “Cool it, guys. I’d be happy to hand it over if it makes you feel better.”“Hands off, Junco. You will not use that weapon here, do you understand?” I don’t meet his gaze and I don’t agree to his terms, so he continues, “I would take it, but it cannot stay away from you for long, we tried while you were under. It was – not ideal.”I shrug. “I lived without it for weeks on Earth.”“This isn’t Earth.”Yeah, I think I’m getting that, thanks. “Well, you know, I can’t help it the thing is attached to me. It wasn’t like anyone asked if I wanted a biological weapon grafted onto my body, ya know.”He stops in the hallway and waves the men off a bit. Without the echo of boots the only sounds are the environmental units pumping out conditioned air. The guards step back but the rifles are still on alert. “Junco, I’m not playing games. This sweet-talking you gave Tier will not work on me. So save your breath.”I laugh out loud this time, I can’t help it. He gives it a good shot, but he’s unsure what to make of me and it shows. “Commander, I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, but it certainly wasn’t Tier if you think the reason I am alive and fucking up your habitat is because of my wily ways with men. Tier and I had no conversations about what he was and was not doing beyond a handful of words the very last time we talked.”Lucan’s composure is back and his lip curls up slightly as he speaks. “Is that so? Well, Tier must be mistaken then, because he said something quite different.”I don’t even miss a beat. “You’re a liar. He never said anything other than what I just stated because that was the truth. And if you know so much about me, then you know that death carries very little meaning at the moment. You can try and kill me if you want – I don’t give a shit. I have nothing to lose. You’re no different than the assholes I left back on Earth and if you really want to know what I’m doing on your habitat, you better ask yourself. We both know I’m here because you want me for something.”I watch the guard behind Lucan raise his eyebrows at me and smile, then redirect my eyes back to Lucan’s face and wait for his reply.He turns and continues to walk and I catch up and walk by his side. We travel in the echo of our footsteps once again and then he stops at a door, palms his hand over the biometrics and it slides open. He waves me in and I step through, but he stays where he is.“Goodbye for now, Miss Coot.” And then the door closes.I turn and find Layla gaping at me from the far side of the room. I look up and around and she smiles and waves the thought away. “No cameras allowed here, Junco. I’m so glad to see you!” She walks over to me and hugs me to her chest.I return her hug and push her back. “What did they do to Tier?”She winces at his name and shakes her head. Her mouth drops downward as she speaks. “He’s fucked, Junco. On trial for treason.”The room is a cross between a lab, a clinic, and a hotel. It screams Junco’s new vivarium. I pull a chair from the table and sit across from Layla as she waits patiently for me to settle. The chairs are strange, with only a thin backrest, but as soon as I lean back I understand why. It supports my spine without crimping or impinging on my new wings. I slouch a bit, even though the straight back makes it difficult, and feel very tired and sad. Since Tier’s warning instructed me to trust no one, I have to presume that Layla will deliver reports on my moods and behavior and force a neutral expression as I wait for her to give me some sort of explanation.She smiles and then lets out a long breath. “When we discussed everything that could happen when we brought you back, Junco, treason never even entered the realm of possibilities. But” – she hesitates – “here we are.”“What were the possibilities?” I ask as I avert my eyes and study the furniture. In the living area there is a bed, a desk, a large screen on the wall, and a bedside table. I see a door that might lead to a bathroom. That takes up about a quarter of the space.About half is devoted to medical and lab equipment – centrifuges of various shapes and sizes, some molecular cloning machines, glassware of course, a bench lined with bottles of chemicals, buffers, pipettes, books, a plate reader, cell sorter, a few medium sized coolers, a hood for tissue culture, four microscopes, a gleaming stainless steel minus-80 freezer for samples, and lots of other stuff that looks like it belongs in a research facility. Let’s just call it a well-stocked, scratch that, a well-funded lab.The other corner has a counter that holds canisters filled with paper goods, 2x2 gauze, cotton-tipped applicators, shit like that. There is also a built-in sink and glass front cupboards that hold enough drugs to treat a small town back in the RR.“Demotion, mostly. We thought maybe if we were really fucked they’d kick us out of the Aves. We spent quite a few hours talking about what we’d do if they did.”My brow furrows and I try and put it together. “Are you and Tier – together?”Her smile is crooked. “No, Junco. I’m on his team, his scientist. We’ve been together, hell, since he came out of Fledge really. Not counting that stint I did on Lacerion for post-training in moleculars.”“Sorry, I feel a little lost here, ya know. I have no idea who he is, only that I agreed to let him bring me here. We never discussed anything that might happen afterward, so–”“Well, we figured you’d be like a bonus – one of the Seven that we thought was lost but wasn’t. We were pretty sure it was gonna work fine, Junco. It’s not like we were just yanking ya on that end. And it did, right? Look at ya! So pretty.”Her sudden pickup of Tier’s speech patterns makes me swallow the sadness once again. “I don’t like the color, to be honest.”“Really?”She looks a little hurt and I wonder if she made me this way on purpose, but it’s too late now and I just shrug. “I like the black wings. These,” I say, peeking back at their almost yellow paleness, “feel like a target.”“Oh, well. Sorry. I think they’re beautiful. And I bet everyone else does too. You’ll see. Anyway, the whole purpose of being on Earth was to get the Seven and bring them back. We knew you were the Seventh,” her fingers do little air quotes, “and the Seventh Sibling is not well-liked around here in theory. But we discussed this for days before we came to the decision, Junco. I’m pure because someone made me that way. Ditto for everyone else. So, if someone altered you as you grew up, and they did – we know this – then how can you not be pure? Just because your alterations took place after birth, why should that make any difference?”I look away at her question because I don’t want to think about anything right now, least of all my avian biological status. “So, what went wrong?”“After we put you under we let the others come in, but you were undergoing the morph, so you had special protected status. It’s a vulnerable position, right? Being unconscious for weeks on end, helpless and under the control of your medical staff. They couldn’t do anything to you then. They just had to wait it out.”I don’t want to ask the question, in case someone is listening or Layla is taking notes on my questions, but I do anyway. “And Tier?”She shrugs. “He’s ranking officer, so they couldn’t do anything to him either, unless they wanted to mutiny, which they didn’t. But, well, everyone has a boss. And Lucan wasn’t happy when we arrived in the Band. They arrested Tier immediately.”“The charges,” I ask, still avoiding her eyes, “are treason?”She nods and gives me a half-hearted crooked smile when I finally look over at her.“Because he didn’t kill me.”This time she doesn’t acknowledge me, just releases a deep breath.“Anything else? Charges, I mean?”“Something to do with breaking a treaty. And the old stuff, the unauthorized murder charges. He was on – like a probation – and they revoked it for this last charge.”I nod and get up and walk across the room to the bed. “This for me?”She nods but doesn’t rise.“And all this?” I say, pointing to the medical equipment.“Tests. Not today though, it’s late and I’m sure you’re still tired. And,” she hesitates, “maybe it will help to know that these feelings you’re having right now, the sadness and lethargy? It’s normal, Junco. We all get this way after morph. It’s an endocrine reaction, the changes really fuck you up. So whatever you’re feeling right now, just give it a few days, OK?”I sit on the bed and start unlacing my boots.“We’ll have to have guards in here with you at all times, just for a little while, though.”I shake my head without looking up and write her off for good now.“Ashur is taking the night shifts and Braun is taking days.”I remove the boots and the socks and finger the blister that has formed on my right foot after the short walk from the showers and I wonder for the first time how I will hold up in this new environment.Layla stands up and walks towards the door, then turns back. “It’ll be better tomorrow. We’ll do the tests and then you can leave here. You’ll see.”I lie down on the bed and turn my back to her.“See you tomorrow. Ashur’s outside, you remember him? From the battle at your house?”I ignore her.“OK, well, I’ll send him in on my way out.”“Layla?” I ask without turning to look at her.“Yes, Junco?”“Why aren’t you on trial for treason?”“I’m his subordinate, Junco. He’s my captain. I could no more deny his order to save you than anyone else on the ship.”I close my eyes and never even hear the other avian enter because I simply shut down and go looking for the dock.But it’s gone.So I settle for nightmares. They come easy. History repeating.
I toss and turn in the bed as my nose wrinkles with a familiar but out-of-place smell. It fades and my dream takes me to my bedroom where I lie on the bed in my shorts and puff on a cigar, happy with who I am.Wait.That wasn’t a dream, that was real.Where am I?“Junco?”The strange voice triggers my reflexes. The SEAR comes out from under my shirt and I’m standing on the bed in attack mode before I can even process all my actions.The large avian is bent down in a defensive stance, his plasma weapon pointing up at my head. “Junco! Put it down, now!”“Fuck!” I let out a long sigh and retract the SEAR and slip it back into the dock. “What the fuck?”He watches me step off the bed and stand on the other side of the room, but he does not lower his weapon.“Ashur?”He nods.“Put your fucking weapon away or we’re gonna tangle.”“You cannot take that knife out, Junco. Ever. If you do, you’re going to get hurt.”I shake my head at him. “It’s docked. What more do you want? Put your weapon down, Ashur – or we will fight.”He stands upright and slides his weapon in the holster that hangs at his hip. My eyes trace the familiar smell that woke me and I lean to look past Ashur. A smoldering cigar is sitting in an ashtray on the table. “You did that on purpose.”He gives me a crooked smile. “I know you like them. And I was bored. Can you think of a better way to be woken up?”I just stand there, pissed. “Well, yeah, actually. There are about a thousand better ways of being woken up than having some strange guy in my room smoking a cigar that reminds me of home. Thanks.”Ashur walks over to me and takes my arm and leads me over to the table where he was sitting before I went commando on him. He points to the chair and slides a cigar over. “Here, have one. Relax a little, shit. You’re so jumpy.”I don’t have it in me to protest and the little gray box that holds the cigar is calling my name. I slide it out, press it to the striker, and puff. “Thanks.”He takes his seat and I do the same, then we both puff in silence as we watch the screen on the far wall. The sound is off, but it’s the news so the captions at the bottom of the feed tell all you need to know. I guess some things never change, no matter what world you’re on.“What time is it?”“2 AM Standard, why? Got plans?” His lips attempt to smile around his stogie.“What time did I fall asleep?” I say as my attention goes back to the screen.“Eight or so.”I nod. “Oh.”“Done sleeping then?”I look back at him. He could be Tier’s brother, that’s how similar they are. “Probably.”“Want some breakfast?”“No.” Just the thought of food makes me want to heave.He takes his cigar out of his mouth. “What do you mean, no? You haven’t eaten in almost two months.”“Obviously that’s not true or I would be dead. I’m definitely not hungry.”He’s still holding his cigar in his hand, not puffing. “I’ve already been warned about your eating habits, Junco. I’m in charge of making you eat breakfast, so we’re having some.”I screw up my face at him. “I can’t think of a single person who would even know what my eating habits are, Ashur. So spare me.”“Both Layla and Tier mentioned your lack of enthusiasm for food.”I snort out a laugh. “And how they hell would they know?”“They said you were severely undernourished when we took you, that’s how.”“Which means nothing. You guys got to see the tail end of what a very bad week does to my appetite, so what? I wouldn’t base anything off what I did that week, let alone assume I have an eating disorder.”“Good, then we’ll have eggs for breakfast.”“Knock yourself out, Ashur.” Just stop fucking talking to me, I don’t add.He gives me a look of superiority, like he won the argument or something, then pushes back his chair and exits the room through the door I thought was the bathroom last night.I stub out the cigar and go back to bed watching the newscreen. It’s all in English but it shows a lot of stuff that makes no sense. Winged people fighting each other. Killing each other actually, in what looks to be an advertisement for an upcoming arena fight of some kind. Some more winged people having a party. Some people with no wings in what looks to be a government session. Some personal interviews. I just sit there in disbelief. I didn’t watch the screens much at home, only when on the road, but it’s all a little too familiar. I traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, millions maybe, and I’m on a totally different planet, habitat, whatever, and still the news is filled with the same shit. Violence, parties, and politics. The irony isn’t lost.Ashur returns a few minutes later with eggs and toast and beckons me to the table. At least it’s real food and not that shit Tier tried to feed me in the cave. It doesn’t look horrible, but my head shakes out a no as he slides the plate in front of me. I keep the disgusted look as I meet his eyes. “If you make me eat that I’ll throw up.”He shrugs and takes his seat, shoving food in his mouth before he even settles. “It’s good, real eggs and everything. Tier said you only eat fresh food, so lucky us, right?” He shoots me a smile.“Tier would have no idea, Ashur. He saw me eat a total of three meals.”“He’s the resident Junco expert, like it or not, what he says goes. Might as well enjoy the food, Fledge food is like military field rations.”I force myself to eat three bites and push the plate away.“Ya know, you don’t have to make everything so difficult, Junco. You can have it made here, if you want.”“And what would I have to do in order to have it made?”“Follow the program,” he meets my gaze, “and just do what you’re told for once.”“For once? You’re an asshole.” I let out a deep sigh, get up, and go flop down on the bed and bury my face in the pillows. “I’m sorry I came here.”I hear him set his fork down and push back from the table and look up to see what he’s doing. His head is in his hands. A gesture that reminds me of Tier when he was thinking out at the cabin, right before he told me that he killed my father.“Ya know something, Junco, we’re probably all sorry you came here. Except one person, maybe. And that’s Tier. So for fuck’s sake, try and do what you’re told for his benefit. The guy’s sitting in prison for saving you and” – he lifts his head and stares at me with bloodshot eyes – “and if I had it my way, Junco, I would have killed you myself in order to save him from that.”He stands up and walks to the door. “If you need something, I’ll be outside until Layla comes.”Good job, Junco. Making friends already.
Escape from Earth. Check.
Morph into an avian body. Check.
Survive Fledge and Deliverance, soul intact. Check.
Bring her Siblings back to Amelia and restore the avian race? Not so fast, darlin’.
There’s a new twist on an old prophecy and this one brings the End of Days. Junco must make a choice, but the choices all confirm her only worth is tied up in killing.
Lucan has secrets. Secrets that will make the Stag Camp look like playschool. And the lies are flowing like a mountain river during spring thaw. But he needs Junco to cooperate just a little bit longer or it all falls apart.
The Siblings on Earth are waiting for the Seventh to return and pull their clutch together. But Earth has secrets too -- secrets that change everything.
Junco has survived against impossible odds, but the cost of survival is higher than she ever imagined. Luck is about to catch up with Junco Coot and her debt must be paid.
About the Author:
J. A. Huss never took a creative writing class in her life. Some would say it shows. Others might cut her some slack. She did however, get educated and graduated from Colorado State University with a B.S. in Equine Science. She had grand dreams of getting a Ph.D. but while she loves science, she hated academia and settled for a M.S. in Forensic Toxicology from the University of Florida.
She went on to write science curriculum for homeschoolers and now runs a successful home business that creates and offers online science unit studies. When she’s not writing science curriculum or fiction, she works as a farm inspector, traveling the Eastern Plains of Colorado in variety of environmentally friendly vehicles that never have four-wheel drive, so when she gets stuck in the mud in said vehicles, she has to beg for assistance from anyone who will help her. She is not bitter about that at all.
She’s always packing heat and she is owned by two donkeys, five dogs, more chickens and ducks than she can count, and of course, the real filthy animals, her kids. The I Am Just Junco series was born after falling in love with the ugliest part of Colorado and the Rural Republic is based on the area of the state she currently resides in, minus the mutants, of course.