• A.J. Super

Characters in the Cosmos: Meet Kale


We have a special Characters in the Cosmos this week. Author K.J. Harrowick got creative with the questions and wrote a short story, Enforcer, featuring her character Jason Kale. Kale can be found in Bloodflower, a medieval science fiction novel that Harrowick is currently editing. She has nine manuscripts in some tangible form, but her dragon fantasy, Blood & Fire, Ash & Bone is currently the only one polished and out on query. To check out the pitch for BFAB, click the picture below or visit Halon Chronicles.

Currently, Firestone, another medieval science fiction, is the other story she has on the docket to be polished, and she hopes to have Bloodflower out on query by early 2018.

Harrowick is, at this time, seeking representation for these and future books.

Now without further ado, and for the first time ever!

ENFORCER

by

K. J. Harrowick

Starship Hàlön

Bloodflower Arc Sector

Commander Jason Kale, Enforcer Second Class

Psychological Evaluation

Kale slid his thumb across the firemark, a small glass orb set into brushed steel glowing red. He lit a cigarette, the bitter smoke filling his lungs. Bright fluorescent light emanated from the walls, the question hanging between them. He glanced at the older woman across the desk, then doused the firemark.

Director Dényóra Alaza, Director of the Enforcement Psychology Guild, smoothed the front of her form-fitting gray uniform, the Enforcer emblem on each shoulder. Jet black hair pinned at the nape of her neck, her smooth, dark features withered in the violet light of the screen as she pressed a finger to the desktop. She cleared her throat and repeated, “Who are you? What do you do?”

Red light flashed on the metallic band around Kale’s forearm, then the unit went dark, cutting off his connection with everything outside the small interrogation room. “Commander Jason Kale, Enforcer Identification Number BF-KALE27936-2. I oversee hypersleep-to-combat training at the Borderland Operations Center.” He ran a hand over his head, the shaved hairs prickling his fingers.

The director tapped on her console, then stood. She held her hand out and narrowed her eyes. “Commander, you know the guidelines. Possession of contraband is strictly prohibited by Enforcement personnel. Cigarettes are contraband. Hand them over.”

He blew out a stream of smoke. The only thing worse than a psych evaluation with Director “Ice Queen” Alaza was getting his clearance revoked. He needed Enforcement resources to prove the bitch ordered Jàden’s abduction.

Kale pulled the pack of cigarettes from his front pocket and tossed them onto the desk. “As you wish, director.” He slid the lit one from his mouth and pressed it against the heel of his palm, crushing the ember before returning the butt to his pocket. The burn stung his hand, but he kept his steady gaze fixed on the Ice Queen.

She asked the same invasive questions every week, always in a different order. As if Kale didn’t have bigger problems in his life. He leaned back in his chair. “Next question?”

Dényóra Alaza sat and steepled her hands on the desk. Then she smiled and reclined in the smooth, white chair. She reached down to open a drawer, pulled out a glass and a bottle, and unscrewed the cap. The aromatic scent of lavender, citrus, and alcohol drifted from the bottle as she poured a finger of the clear felazar—a liquor distilled from the blue-stemmed ice flower—sparking with violet blue flames as it ignited in the open air.

“Nice to see you’re a stickler for the rules.” Kale crossed his arms over his chest. Tension in his muscles pulled tight, his skin no longer pressing against the inside of his Enforcer uniform. Six months ago, the gray material was tight. Now it hung off his thin frame.

He pressed a button on the interior of his armband. The screen remained dark, but the faint vibration traveled along his arm. The underside of the cigarette pack glowed pale blue for half a heartbeat as she placed the bottle back in the drawer.

She relaxed in her chair, swirled the clear liquor and sipped, staring at Kale. “What is your greatest fear?” A light grew in her icy eyes.

Kale curled his hand into a fist, keeping it well-hidden beneath his arm. “Are space rats an option?”

She glanced up from her glass. “No.” Alaza tapped short, manicured nails on the violet-lit screen. “Answer the question, or we’ll terminate this interview and I’ll revoke your clearance.”

Pain stabbed his chest, the familiar emptiness clouding his vision. Kale pulled a strip of cloth out of his pocket, dark green material stitched with silver horses. Jàden’s favorite animal. He caressed a calloused thumb across the embroidered threads. “I fear she’ll forget me.” Or I’ll be too late.

The Ice Queen’s eyes sparkled. She set her empty glass on the desk. “That she’ll forget you?” she taunted. “What if she already has forgotten you? What if she’s gone forever? What if you never find her? What if you fail? Have you thought about that?” She leaned forward, eyes glimmering. “What if this was all your fault?”

Heat rose along his neck. Their gazes held as the silence stretched across the barren walls. Breathed through the floors.

He wanted to punch her.

“It is my fault,” he whispered. The words stuck in his throat. Kale couldn’t show weakness, not now. “I couldn’t protect her.”

Alaza leaned back and waved her hand, turning her head. She swiped the screen. “What's the worst thing that's happened in your life?”

Violet arcs of light traced along the desktop console, displaying Jàden’s image alongside his. Her hair was pulled back in a long, straight tail, shorter brown hairs fringed across her forehead. Delicate brown eyes shone with a gentle light. She’d have made a wonderful healer, but her heart lay in the love and growth of their small moon’s flora. Citizens called her the mother of their world, the heart of Sandaris. “Losing Jàden. One minute she was beside me, the next shots were fired. She vanished into thin air.”

“And what did you learn from it?” Alaza goaded.

He met her gaze, his own hard and guarded. “What I learned, director, is you can’t trust anyone. Not even family.”

Her eyebrows arched. “Family. What do you consider family I wonder? What or who do you love the most?” Director Alaza ticked her head. Manicured nail circling the rim of her empty glass.

Kale rubbed his temple, trying to focus his thoughts. “Jàden’s my family now. She’s the only one I love.”

The director snorted. “I’m surprised you didn’t say your father. But then again.” She smirked. “I’m sure you two had your differences.”

His father, Frank Kale, found dead only hours before Jàden’s abduction. Enforcement officers filed the report, and no doubt the Ice Queen had read it.

Frank’s death was a lie, but the bullet wound in Kale’s chest wasn’t. He glared at the devious woman. “My father’s”—the one who took her—“dead. But I guess a murdered engineer isn’t big enough news for a Guild Director to look beyond a coroner’s timestamp.”

Alaza’s eyes iced. Her lips thinned. “So, I will assume you were happiest with Jàden?”

“Yes.” The biting tone sharpened his voice.

“When and where was that?”

Heat rose in his chest, softening the tension in his jaw. “The night before she was abducted. I was in love with her.” Spent the night with her. He didn’t need to spell it out, but didn’t doubt the director picked up on his meaning.

She glared at him over the console. The director struck the violet screen with her fingers rapidly, lips tight, nose flaring. “What is your most treasured possession?” she growled.

Kale met her gaze, his muscles coiling tighter. A bitter smile curled the corner of his lips and he pointed two fingers to his temple. “This. Because it’s the only thing that’s working to find her.”

He dropped his hand to his lap, fingers fiddling with the green bonding cloth. “Enforcement officers declared her dead. Jàden’s family buried her weeks ago. I do my job, director, but when I’m off the clock, she’s all that matters.” He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “I know she’s still alive.”

The Enforcement Director stilled. Squared her shoulders. “You have no proof, and the file is closed.” She ground her teeth. “It is what it is. We follow orders. You were ordered to stand down, commander. If you continue to go on about this. About her. You will be put in a psychiatric hold for seventy-two hours where we will assess your fitness as an officer and a citizen. You are better off finishing this evaluation and going on with your life.”

His fingers stopped moving. Fire burned into his veins, the biting edge back in his tone. “And what will be behind that, director? Another evaluation? More questions? Jàden healed Sandaris, a moon we all thought would never support life. Now she’s missing. The mother of our world. And you threaten me with imprisonment?”

“I don’t care either way if you end up in the brig or the psych ward. I will see you in either one if you don’t stop.” She leaned forward and set her jaw. “Now. Next question. What do you most value in your friends?”

His gaze hardened, the tension in his features stretching thin. He clenched the green bonding cloth to keep his hand from shaking. “Honesty.” He leaned forward, keeping his eyes locked with hers. The cigarette box cracked open. An invisible stream of DNA-targeting gas leaked into the air. His arm band vibrated against his sleeve. “Because I will find the truth.”

She cleared her throat. “There is no truth to find. Only questions to be answered. And you won’t like those questions.” She rubbed her temples. “Now, tell me about your best friend. How did you meet? What do you like about them? What do you think they like about you?”

About damn time we get to this. Kale leaned back, the hard chair rubbing into his shoulder. “Gen Taki, a maintenance worker in Hàlön’s pipeworks. But you already knew that.”

Alaza shook her head, eyelids drooping. Leaning on her hand, she waved at him and slid her fingers across the console. “What do you like about this person? What do you think they like about you?”

He narrowed his eyes. “Has anyone ever not found anything to like about Gen? He keeps his head down. Does his shit job without a single complaint, but he’s a better Enforcer than half the soldiers on this starship.” Kale traced his fingers across the bonding cloth, watching the director’s every move. “What the Guilds forced him to do was unforgivable.”

“And what was that?” she slurred.

His fingers stopped. Kale leaned forward and laid the green bonding cloth across the desk. “He followed orders. Everyone follows orders, if you press the right trigger. Right, director?”

She stopped fiddling with the violet screen. “What orders? I don’t know. He follows orders, I’m sure.” Her eyes unfocused as she stared at the console. She breathed. Ran a hand across her face. “Where were we? Yes. Yes. Almost finished.” She bent to the drawer, opened it, and grabbed the bottle of clear liquor, pausing. Alaza muttered again, “Almost finished.” She put the bottle back in the drawer. “Yes. Next question is—”

Director Alaza sat upright, swaying. “I don’t know what you did to me.” Her shoulders sank. “Nerve agent? Truth gas?”

He smirked. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

Her head bobbled. “But the next, the next question determines what happens now.” Her hands skittered over the console and turned off the violet light. “I’m going to go off the. Off the record. With this. You asshole.” She ran a preening hand over her hair. “What is the worst thing you have done to someone and why?”

A smile tugged up the corner of his mouth. “Let’s find out, shall we?” Kale grabbed the back of her neck and slammed the director’s head into the desk. The screen blipped, then continued scrolling through his data file. He leapt across the desk and grabbed her by the scruff, yanking her head back.

Rivulets of blood seeped from her nose. She grabbed his fingers and peeled his hand off, then spun to face him. She lifted a knee to his groin.

He blocked the jolt into his inner thigh and shoved her against the desk, obscuring the console as it scrolled through his life as an Enforcer. Kale grabbed her neck and squeezed.

She gasped, clawing at his fingers. Pulled at his thumb again. She slapped the glass desk, kicking at his shins.

Kale opened the drawer, pulled out the bottle of felazar. He unscrewed the lid with his teeth, spat it on the floor and poured the rest of the blue-violet flaming alcohol into the glass.

The director gasped, her black hair pulled from its tight coif.

“My turn for questions, Dényóra.” He squeezed her throat until her eyes closed, then loosened his fingers. “Did you give the order for Gen to clean up the blue-haired woman before Enforcers arrived? She’s not on the report.”

She gagged. Struggled to breathe.

He released his grip more.

“What order?” she croaked. “I don’t know what you’re asking.”

Kale sipped the full glass of felazar, the clear liquor icing his throat. Hazel eyes hard and muscles coiled tight, he set the tumbler on the console with a deadly, quiet calm. “Your bodyguard was found dead on my ship.”

“That little bitch has you all twisted up. Doesn’t she?”

He slammed the back of her head against the console. “Answer the question!”

The director gasped. “I don’t know about any order. I don’t know. Let me go.” Her fingers slid along the console behind her, tapping.

Icy felazar seared through his veins. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. You—”

The door to the office slid open and two officers in gray uniforms—Enforcer emblem on their shoulders—pounded into the room. They pulled their guns at the sight of Kale looming over the director, then split to each side of the desk.

His features hardened and Kale loosened his grip. He slid his hand across the console, his data files pushed to the side while a single image remained: Jàden in her Guild trainee uniform, a soft smile on her face. Below the image were three words: Missing, Presumed Dead. Kale slid the bonding cloth across the image. “She’s the only thing that matters.”

The director pushed Kale away, rubbing her neck. “You’re an idiot. You don’t think I haven’t been attacked in here before? I interview crazy people. There are protocols for this.”

He stepped back, hands to the side until each of the Enforcement officers was in his peripheral. “She’s alive, and I’ll never stop searching. So, you either tell me who gave the order, or I’ll consider you in my way, director.”

Alaza straightened her uniform jacket and stepped toward him. “I’ve been beaten and bruised by tougher than you, asshole.” She grabbed the glass of felazar and downed it in one gulp. “But I must say, none had the balls to drink my liquor.”

A smirk tugged at the corners of his mouth.

She nodded to the officers. “Take him. Put him on a seventy-two-hour hold. We’ll see if he’s fit for duty.”

The Enforcers holstered their weapons and restrained him. Kale kept his gaze fixed on the director. “Change your files. If you don’t reopen the search, I’ll assume you gave the order. And trust me, Doc, you don’t want to witness first-hand the worst thing I’ve ever done.” The Enforcers dragged him toward the door.

“Hold,” the director growled.

The guards turned and faced the desk, pulling Kale with them.

“I still don’t know what you are going on about. So, either you are delusional, and I’m finally going to have a chance to put your disobedient prick ass out of service, or you have proof of something. And since you can’t possibly have proof of something fictional, I’m looking forward to cutting your shit off. For good. Because whatever this order is, that you think I gave. Never happened. I find you arrogant and self-serving. You can be sent to the mines, for all I care. Now. I suggest, commander, that you take the next seventy-two hours to get your head right. Because if you don’t. I’m coming for you.” She ticked her head. “Go.”

Kale stiffened as he was dragged toward the door, calling out over his shoulder. “You forgot to ask me about my ideal world, Dényóra.” He shoved his foot against the door jamb, halting their progress. “She saved this ship. Saved Sandaris. If you put her in the grave, then we’re all headed that way. You need her to be alive.”

The guards shoved him through the door. It whispered closed behind them.

Director Alaza sat. She placed her forehead on the palms of her hands and breathed. Leaning back, she smoothed her disheveled black hair and closed her eyes, hands migrating to the bruising on her neck. Wiping the blood from her nose. Alaza pulled at the front of her uniform, smoothing it. Eyeing the tumbler, she grabbed it and rolled it in her hands. Then she lifted her arm and shattered it against the bare wall across from her desk.

Alaza inhaled sharply and leaned to the console. She keyed the comm. “Lieutenant, I’m going to need a special dispensation to do an evaluation of maintenance worker Gen Taki. Make it on the grounds that I have a patient accusing him of a crime.” She paused. “And I’ll need a janitor in here.”

Grinding her teeth, she leaned back. “If that shit commander is telling the truth, the little bitch better be alive. She has a lot to answer for.”

The director flipped through the console and opened the closed case file for Jàden Ravenscraft. She scrolled to the status of the file and hovered over it. Closed. She tapped the screen. The status changed. Secondary Review: Psych.

She leaned back and crossed her arms. Jàden's face hovered over her desk. “You’re going to get us all killed. Aren’t you?”

K.J. Harrowick loves to see new people. You can find her "With pants on... Most days..." on Twitter, @KJHarrowick, on her website Halon Chronicles, Goodreads, and FaceBook. And if you go to her website, don't forget to sign up for her newsletter or to just say "Hello!"

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