Isolde's Initiative - Serialization of novel by J.A. Taylor
Damon Gyles, a talented Deltan Soarer pilot in the Delta-Linus stellar navy, becomes disillusioned with his latest career move to the Militia when he realizes the specialized training he is receiving is to be used to commit cold-blooded murder…
…and this grates against his conscience.
His idea of warfare is two foes equally armed and facing death on equal terms; assassination is not warfare in his book. With no other alternative, he deserts his military career on Delta and flees.
Lord Eidell Isolde, the governor/ruler of Paldaar, and Chief Consul of the Interstellar Council of Megna-Terran, the driving force of a galactic initiative against the aggression of Delta-Linus and other worlds like it, mysteriously vanishes while on a diplomatic mission to Alpha-Bynaurus. A galactic war is in the offing when Delta-Linus and Baldaninus join military and stellar forces.
Eidell Isolde’s sons, Owen and Corey, are targeted for assassination, and, his daughter, Cassia, is abducted.
By a quirk of fate, Damon Gyles inadvertently steps between Corey and his assassins. Shortly thereafter, he leads a rescue party to free Cassia from her Deltan captors. Although he has saved Corey’s life, Corey’s suspicious nature tries Damon’s patience, pushing him dangerously close to his warlike heritage. Cassia’s caring and inquisitive nature awakens emotions he had long forgotten and for her sake, fights to keep them under control. With the sudden realization that Delta-Linus is one of the chief culprits in the attack on the Isoldes’ organization, Gyles, now a “man without a country” or world, knows he can never return to Delta-Linus.
Yet, if he stays with the Isoldes, he fears dire consequences if and when his past comes to light.
As a galactic war heats up, Damon’s past comes to light and Corey and Cassia deal with their fears and prejudices as Damon struggles with his own identity. He must deal with his past: desertion versus his growing loyalty to the Isoldes; Corey’s animosity versus his own frustration in dealing peaceably with the young man’s anger; Cassia’s love versus his inability to accept the responsibility of returning that love…
…his Deltan blood spoiling for a good fight versus his conscience searching for peace.
Welcome to Megna-Terran
A galaxy where peaceful human worlds, having taken space travel and communication past the point of initial contact, face aggression from war-like factions and an aspiring interstellar tyrant with visions of galactic supremacy.
Come, experience another age-old story of good vs evil. Meet a hero from the "wrong" side of the galaxy who comes to the aid of a young woman burdened by a promise. Meet her brothers and two of the most human-like androids in the galaxy. Experience their fiery complicated relationships even as the galactic war heats up.
Enjoy this first installment of "ISOLDE'S INITIATIVE":
A private communique to Governor Frashure of Alpha-Bynanurus delivered by Governor Kettring of Lazera Twelve:
Frashure, my friend,
What shall I say then about Megna-Terran? Is it a galaxy ever growing? Yes. Every day, a world, whether yours or ours, discovers a new neighbor. Every day, we choose to reach out to that neighbor. Why? Curiosity? Maybe. After the curiosity…Fear. Yes, fear! Since time began, the Higher Power has seen fit to keep us isolated from one another, and rightly so.
Four centuries ago, we left the confines of our own worlds to explore the vastness of our galaxy, and discovered we were not alone. As children of a great universal family separated at birth, we found one another. And after our joyous reunion, vainglorious and covetous thoughts took over all reason. We saw one another differently: Some were rich in resources, some poor, some strong, some weak. Some intelligent, some simpleminded. Some peaceful…some violent.
Then, as time passed, acts of war and aggression erupted when worlds like Delta-Linus, reached out with their military might to take another’s resources or technologies to satiate an unquenchable thirst for sheer power.
These atrocities must end; and end they shall, as we, the Interstellar Council of Megna-Terran, join ourselves to the common goal of brotherhood among all the known star systems of our galaxy.
~Eidell Isolde of Paldaar
Chief Consul, Interstellar Council
Life and death awaited the outcome of the contest in the arena on Delta-Linus. On any normal day, the Deltan Militia practiced harmless drills with prisoners in this gladiatorial theater of horror. On any normal day, Lord Quillar, the Governor of Deltan-Linus, would not be in attendance. However, on this day, he sat on his private viewing platform above the arena, watching this hand-to-hand confrontation with great interest. Damon Gyles, a Rising Star pilot in Delta-Linus’ stellar navy, was the last of three men Quillar had personally selected for his special, elite force, and this was Damon’s graduation day exercise.
Quillar had witnessed the demise of Damon’s two predecessors at the hands of the prisoners’ current champion, Sebo Strake, a burly, red-haired man of unknown descent—his status earned by his numerous practice victories over the Deltan trainees. Instead of wooden clubs, this time it was an assassin’s blade: from the finger-guard to its tapered tip, a straight, double-edged, and razor-sharp dagger nearly ten inches long.
Under the rules of the graduation exercise, Sebo would be granted his freedom if he defeated three Deltans in a row. Damon Gyles would be number three and his ticket out of Quillar’s theater of horror; for Damon, a lifetime of service in the Militia and all the benefits of the promotion. He had no choice—it was victory or death.
The match had gone well past the allotted time and Quillar grew impatient. Gripping the arms of his chair, he rose to his feet. With one hand resting on top of the waist-high wall, fingers drumming, and the other hand wrapped around the hilt of the ceremonial dagger hanging at his side, the Deltan lord watched and waited.
Eight meters below on the far side of the arena, a wall of armed Deltan regulars held at bay eleven scruffy, bearded prisoners who watched in coerced silence with clenched fists at their sides. Their faces, bruised and swollen from sparring exercises, twitched and jerked vicariously as they watched every move their champion made against Gyles.
Sebo, unlike Gyles, seemed oblivious to the distracting cheers and jeers issuing from another group—Deltan Militia Trainees—standing in a loose, elliptical ring about them. It was all Damon could do to keep his concentration. Each time his attention strayed, Sebo’s blade left a bloody nick on an unprotected area of his body.
Nils Adomas, one of three Deltan soldiers closer to the action and a fellow trainee who harbored a grudge against Gyles, glanced up at Quillar, deriving satisfaction from Quillar’s marked displeasure at Gyles’ performance. Adomas cheered loudly as Sebo’s blade swiped past Damon’s midsection cutting through the Deltan’s loose-fitting white shirt and leaving a thin, shallow, bloody trail across the exposed skin of his stomach.
Nils nudged a companion on his left as Sebo drove Damon back toward their little group. “Ten-to-one Sebo takes Gyles!”
Standing to Nils’ right, Malik Graeme, Damon’s friend, replied, “I’ll take that!”
The third Deltan shouted. “You’re a fool, Malik. Sebo’s already killed Baryn and Ramzi, and they were the best. All Sebo has to do is take Gyles out, and he’s a free man.”
“Best, you say? The best don’t get themselves killed in their graduation matches,” Malik said.
Damon Gyles, on the defensive, parried high and low jabs from his opponent, and then Sebo’s blade swung past face. Some graduation day. To pass, I have to be the one standing at the end of this death match. Baryn and Ramzi? Yeah…they were the best all right…at underestimating Sebo. Damon had watched both their matches with this man. Sebo gave them no quarter; he just kept pursuing and attacking. Now, with back-to-back victories under his belt, Sebo could not be more dangerous. The red-haired man fought with the unrelenting fierceness of an entombed spirit.
The match, thus far, had all the characteristics of a close-quarter fencing match. Damon would parry, jab, and thrust, and then Sebo took his turn. The spectators drowned out the sounds of the blades clashing and raking against one another.
If I lose, Sebo is a free man…I have to keep a cool head…find his weakness.
Each offensive and defensive tactic Sebo employed was nearly flawless, and Damon’s body bore small superficial wounds and now, a gaping arm wound to prove it. Sebo showed no sign of fatigue except for an occasional stagger and jerk of his head to one side or the other. It was not until Sebo and Damon locked hands about one another’s wrists that Damon was close enough to see it. His left eye…he’s half-blind.
Damon’s arms cramped from the strain, and his grip on Sebo’s sweaty arms was slipping. He has you if you don’t think of something quick! This was where Ramzi made his big mistake.
Sebo was slowly twisting free of Damon’s grasp when the Deltan rammed his knee into Sebo’s groin. Rolling onto his back, Damon flipped Sebo head first over him to the gritty arena floor. Damon was back on his feet, stepping to the man’s blind side by the time Sebo shook off his disorientation and got back to his feet. With Damon out of his line of sight, Sebo panicked and his head and body jerked about in a searching sweep. Damon kicked at Sebo’s outstretched hand and the blade flew from his hand like a freed bird, arcing halfway across the arena.
Confident that he now had the advantage, Damon drove Sebo backward with a series of jabs and slices until he carelessly over-extended his arm. Sebo seized his wrist and elbow, and in the next instant, slammed Damon’s forearm twice over his knee, sending a sharp pain and tingling numbness to Damon’s hand and fingers. Damon instantly lost his grip on the weapon and the blade dropped to the ground between them.
In their mad, diving scramble, Sebo got to the blade. He and Damon flopped about on the ground with Damon holding desperately onto Sebo’s sweaty wrist, keeping death at bay at little while longer.
Pinning Damon beneath him, Sebo gripped the knife with both hands for more control, and raised himself up over the Deltan to bring the weight of his body into the equation. Clumps of sand and sweat from Sebo’s face and body fell down into Damon’s mouth, nose, and eyes. Sebo’s face reddened with the physical exertion and his foul, hot breath puffed out with each major effort to thrust the blade down until the tip of the descending blade penetrated Damon’s left shoulder. Damon screamed as the stabbing pain released a new surge of adrenaline that brought him renewed strength. Bending his knees, Damon planted his feet beneath him, to bow himself upwards and push Sebo off him. Sebo landed on his back with a thud.
Both men labored for breath, and were slow getting back on their feet. Damon staggered back against the wall of the arena, his hand pressed to his throbbing, bleeding shoulder as he fought off dizzying effects of shock. Sebo, blade still in hand, charged at him. Damon stepped again into Sebo’s blind side, clasping both hands together, and delivered a double-fisted blow to the base of the Sebo’s neck. Sebo slammed headlong into the wall, dropping the knife. As a dazed Sebo turned around, Damon unleashed three two-fisted strikes across to Sebo’s face in quick one-two, right-left fashion. The final forceful blow was a right uppercut to the jaw. Sebo spun halfway around and fell face down onto the gritty floor.
The arena became dead quiet. Nearly breathless, Damon staggered to the knife lying a foot away from the wall and picked it up. Wiping the dirty sweat from his eyes on the sleeve of his bloody shirt, Damon leaned forward with his hands braced just above his knees, and took in deep breaths.
He straightened with a slight wobble and glanced up toward the viewing balcony.
Lord Quillar drew his ceremonial dagger from its scabbard and ran its dull edge across his throat from ear to ear. It meant only one thing—death for Sebo, who was barely conscious. Damon felt Sebo had done his best and that he deserved another chance to win his freedom. Damon shook his head in defiance of Quillar’s command.
The angry Deltan Lord leaned over the banister, brought the dagger down with a forceful, stabbing motion. The high energy in Damon’s system was subsiding, the lighting seemed to fade around him, and then he heard the approach of fast, heavy footsteps bounding toward him from behind. Someone yelled, “Damon…behind you!”
Damon spun around. The blade in his right hand impacted with a thud and warm blood ran from the blade down onto his hand. In defeated surprise, Sebo clawed at Damon in his last dying effort. As Damon watched the living light in Sebo’s right eye go out, Sebo’s grip loosened, and he dropped to the floor at Damon’s feet.
Two dejected inmates gathered Sebo’s body up between them and carried him out, while the Deltan guards herded the rest of the prisoners from the arena. Malik and two other trainee spectators rushed to give Damon congratulatory slaps on the back, but when Nils joined them, and his eyes met Damon’s, it was evident that Damon’s victory was a severe disappointment to him.
“It was close, Damon,” Malik said. “You had me worried for a second, but damn, you did it!” Malik turned to Nils with his hand out. “Which means you just lost a hundred, Adomas. So, hand it over.”
The disgruntled Deltan, his still eyes flashing with angry discontent at Damon, pulled a bag of credit chips from the breast pocket of his black tunic, and slapped it into Malik’s outstretched hand. “He was just lucky—next time, he won’t be.”
There won’t be a next time, Damon thought.
Then, everyone turned their attention toward the prison door on the far side of the arena, except Damon. He derived no pleasure from this daily event.
“Hey, look!” said one of men. “There’s that stubborn Vrende that won’t fight.”
“It’s only a matter of time. Wait till his conditioning to kicks in,” Nils said.
The Vrende’s name was Rufah, a bronze-colored, mountain of muscle, nearly seven feet tall, and not a hair on his head. He was naked, save for a rough-woven loincloth. The skin on his back and chest was broken, bruised, and nearly stripped away by the bites of the whizped, a whip inlaid with sharp rivets on the ends of nine thin, leather straps. Tethered to five stocky Deltan guards by lengths of chain fastened to his ankles, wrists and neck, the Vrende offered no resistance.
Damon marveled at the giant’s stamina as he endured the daily whippings. Nevertheless, he suspected that behind the benign black eyes, there lurked the fury of a thousand demons. If this conditioning ritual of cruelty ever produces its desired effect, I pity whoever is on the end of those chains.
“How many days has it been?” Malik asked.
“Five,” said Adomas. “He can’t hold out much longer.”
“Oh yeah? Well, this hundred says he’ll die before his conditioning runs its course.” Malik waved the bag of money under the nose of its former owner.
Repulsed by the bloody blade still in his hand, Damon flung it away from him and clutched his throbbing wounded shoulder. This is insane.
The whizped’s unique sound cut through the air, slapping bare flesh in rapid succession—one…two…three—by the time the seventh lash struck, the Vrende was down on one knee.
“Why don’t he scream out?” one soldier asked another.
“He can’t. That’s the nature of the beast. No voice box,” another answered.
Damon had heard and seen enough, and was staggering away from the group when Nils purposefully grabbed the top of Damon’s left shoulder. “What’s the matter, Gyles, stomach a little queasy?”
Damon wheeled about—the back of his right hand caught Nils across the mouth. Damon continued on his way.
When Nils tasted blood, his temper flared. Malik and the two other men intervened before he could jump Damon from behind.
“One of these days, Gyles,” Nils said, “we’ll settle this, you and I.” His Deltan comrades released him. “You hear me, Gyles?”
“Don’t press your luck, Nils,” Malik said in passing, “you’re not in the same league anymore.”
Damon was at the arena gate when Malik caught up with him. “Hey! Damon, you all right?”
“I’ve had it, Malik,” Damon said.
“What do you mean?” his friend asked.
Damon directed an icy stare back toward Quillar still on the viewing platform. “I’m outta here.”
Malik glanced over his shoulder. Quillar was upset and his face showed it. “What are you saying? You’re in for life, you knew that when you signed on. Anyway, the old man won’t let you.” He leaned in closer to Damon. “You can’t just flush your career down the crapper. Hell…you just graduated! It’s all over now. So, what’s got you so upset?”
“This whole damned place, that’s what. I have had it with these senseless murders and mutilations! A year ago, I was in a nest of Uvalde Vipers over Brigdaan, next thing I know, I’m here. I didn’t sign on—I was drafted!”
“Drafted or not, downing ten Vipers that day put that Rising Star insignia on the fuselage of your Soarer. If you ever went back up there again, every hotshot enemy pilot in the galaxy would be gunning for you. It’s like saying, come-and-get-me-if-you-can. Probably shorten your days. You ought to be grateful. At least, down here on the ground, your assignments will be few and far less risky. Lord Quillar did you a favor.”
“Favor? I just killed a half-blind, unarmed man, and for what…a graduation exercise? You know…and I know the reason for all this training.” Damon pressed his bloody right hand to a security screen pad at the gate, leaned heavily against it while a sensor scanned. “At least out there”— he jerked his head upward, “it’s a level playing field. Every man has a fighting chance.”
A slight buzz sounded, gate lock disengaged, and the gate slowly slid open. “Nils was right about one thing.” Damon was wobbling on his feet and Malik reached out to him. “I am sick…of this place…” Damon lost consciousness.
The Deltan night-watch officer in the prison never saw his attacker. The struggle ended quickly—first, a brief scuffle, a muffled moan, and a thud when the guard hit the cold, hard, stone floor. Damon Gyles, in his black Militia uniform, snatched a ring of keys from the guard’s belt. Clutching them tightly in his hand, he tiptoed to the iron gate that provided immediate egress to the outside of the prison.
Hastily, he inserted one key after another into the lock, and with each unsuccessful try, the key flipped over the ring to meet its predecessor, producing a jingling and clinking. When the right one fit the slot, the key scraped as it turned until the lock disengaged with a snap. The rusted gate emitted its own squeal when Damon’s shoulder leaned against it and forced it to swing open.
Damon motioned to someone in the darkness beyond the gate. “This way, quick,” he said, and rushed back down the dimly lighted passageway.
Gil Zeno, a Gregonian, stepped cautiously through the opened gate, pausing long enough to listen for Damon’s steps in the darkness beyond. By the time he arrived where the guard lay unconscious, Damon was pulling the locking bolt back on a solid wooden cell door and stepping inside.
Zeno followed and found Damon standing over the Vrende giant sitting on a straw-covered, stone block with his wrists held fast in iron shackles above his head. The man’s eyes were open, but he did not make a sound or move while Damon unlocked his restraints and his arms dropped one at a time to his side.
Zeno leaned over Damon’s shoulder in curiosity, noting the giant’s battered condition. “You Deltans sure do some piece of work,” Zeno said, “Is he still…?”
The Vrende exploded in blind fury, Damon was shoved headlong with considerable force into the stone wall, and the giant’s two colossal hands clinched Zeno’s throat as both men hit the floor in a violent struggle.
“Get him off,” the Gregonian gasped.
Damon shrugged off his disorientation and went to Zeno’s aid. “Rufah! Stop!” He pried at the stranglehold, loosening the grip of one powerful hand and going to work on the other. “Let him go. He’s a friend!”
With one arm pinned beneath him, the Gregonian was in panic mode as his free hand groped for one of his holstered disrupters. When Damon finally broke Rufah’s grip and managed to shift the gargantuan frame, Zeno rolled up to his feet. Clasping his throat and gasping for breath, Zeno staggered backwards, and drew his weapon.
Damon stepped between them with his hand extended toward Zeno. “Zeno, no!” he shouted. “He don’t know what he’s doing!”
“Fine!” The Gregonian craned his neck. “Make him understand, or my friend here”—he shook the disrupter he held—“will do some explaining on its own!”
Damon turned to the Vrende who was struggling to get to his feet. “Rufah, listen…it’s all right! He’s a friend! We’re getting you out of here! Okay?” The giant calmed, and Damon looked up to Zeno. “Come on, we’ve got to hurry.”
“You reckon he understood?”
“He understood. He’s weak…help me get him on his feet.” Damon draped Rufah’s right arm about his right shoulder and neck to get the big man to his feet. “What are you waiting for? I can’t do this alone!”
“Weak, you say.” Zeno approached with caution. “I’d hate to meet him at full strength.”
When it seemed safe enough, Zeno holstered his weapon and placed the Vrende’s other arm across his own shoulder, and with one strained groan, Damon and Zeno had the giant on his feet and were on their way out of the cell.
They were in the passageway a few short yards from the open gate when the revived guard shouted from behind and fired off two rounds from his disrupter.
An energy bolt grazed Damon. He clutched his seared upper right arm and, as his knees buckled, he and Rufah both went to their knees, putting Zeno in an off-balanced position. The Gregonian hung onto Rufah while his right hand drew his weapon and fired back at the man with deadly accuracy.
“That’ll cost you extra…extra…extra…” Zeno’s voice echoed.
Damon awoke in a breathless panic from the replayed memory, bolting upright and banging his forehead into an overhead conduit. “Oh-h-h!” He sat cradling his aching head between his hands, massaging his temples to relieve the pulsating pain behind his eyes.
Temporarily disoriented, he wiped a profusion of sweat from his face and slowly looked around the near-dark, cramped quarters. A narrow space separated him from another low bunk situated between storage lockers, and on it laid the unconscious Vrende.
Without thinking, he rose up grabbing hold of some overhead ductwork. “Oww!” I don’t remember that being there. He checked his hand and found no burns on his fingers. Now, how do I get out of here? He tripped over a crate nearly going down. “What the…”
A light came on in the compartment. “I’d turn up the lamp before moving around in here, if I were you,” Zeno’s voice said from behind.
“Thanks for the advice,” Damon replied. He rubbed his shin and blinked his eyes while adjusting to the light. “Anyone ever complain about your accommodations? You know, you could get sued for all these hazards.”
“Never happen.” Gil Zeno casually leaned against a bulkhead with his arms crossed in front of him.
The men stood facing one another in the bright lighting, seeing each other for the first time. Their initial connection came through a broker who profited by arranging contacts between mercenaries, smugglers, and the like, with those requiring their specialized services.
Zeno, a dark complected man of thirty-five with a head of thick, curly black hair and a handsome handlebar mustache that curled upward on the ends, smiled. If there was any truth to Zeno’s reputation, the twin disrupters strapped to his thighs were not for show. For all the tales Damon had heard, Zeno did not appear the ruthless mercenary; he certainly did not dress the part. For lack of the appropriate word to describe Zeno, Damon thought of the plumed rastas of Kalanda. Even those bird-like creatures had to take second place to the stark whiteness of Zeno’s tunic and trousers, embellished with red-orange piping and glittering sequins. Not wishing to incur the man’s wrath, Damon chose to keep opinions to himself, and just returned the smile.
“What makes you so sure?” Damon leaned over to check Rufah’s vital signs.
“Never any place long enough for papers to be served.” Zeno nodded toward Rufah. “How’s our friend doing?”
Damon, coming back to full stature, unconsciously cradled his right arm just below the scorched spot on the sleeve of his black tunic. “I don't know.”
“Here—” Zeno kicked an empty crate over to Damon. “Sit down. Let me look at that arm. I’d get shed of that uniform right soon, if I were you.”
Damon unsnapped his black Deltan tunic, pulled his good arm out first, and with Zeno’s help and considerable pain, pulled the garment from the seared flesh. The wound broke open and began to bleed.
Zeno pointed at the half-healed gash in Damon’s left shoulder. “How’d you get that?”
Damon sat down on the crate, giving his shoulder an unemotional glance. “Accident.”
Zeno turned to an overhead compartment, took out a bottle of amber liquid and a white cloth. “Did this accident have a name?”
“How soon to Uvalde?” Damon said purposely evading the question.
“Too long. If you ask me, I’d say you’ve gone to a lot of trouble for nothing.” Zeno popped the cork from the bottle with his teeth, saturated the cloth with the liquid, and slapped it onto the open wound. Damon straightened involuntarily. It stung with a fire hotter than the disrupter charge that had hit him. “Hold that on there till the pain goes away.”
Damon’s hand covered the dressing and he watched Zeno take a satisfying gulp from the bottle.
“So, you’re Deltan Militia,” the Gregonian said. “Personally, I have no use for your entire Deltan race, particularly you murdering cutthroat militiamen. A few years back I hired on a Deltan to operate Whispering Wind’s guns. We got along okay until the day he tried to relieve me of my ship and the Capricaneon magnamite crystals we had in stores. Nobody messes with me and my ship and lives—not even Deltans.”
“Like to brag, do you,” Damon said.
Zeno straightened, pursing his lips. “No brag. Just fact.”
“I’ve heard Gregonians are mostly garden variety thieves who’d take the shroud off their dead father’s body if there was a profit in it,” Damon replied.
Both men stared at one another without batting an eye, until Zeno’s face lightened. He raised the flask of liquid in a salute. “I like your style, Deltan.” He took another swig and then offered the container to Damon. “By the way, what’s this Vrende to you anyway, a friend…partner?”
Damon downed a coupled of swallows. “Neither.”
“Then, why are you headed to Uvalde-Minor of all places?” Zeno received the bottle back, and savored another slow gulp before slapping the cork back into it. “What you got in store for him?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you’d like to make a profit on this venture, I know someone who’d pay a handsome price.”
The Vrende moaned in restless delirium and Damon knelt down, placing his hand on Rufah’s feverish brow.
“That is, of course, if he survives. There’s this mining colony on…”
I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.” Damon pulled the blanket back up under Rufah’s chin.
“I don’t get it. You just said he’s nothing to you. Anyway, you owe me extra for finishing that guard off back there. You’re slipping, militiaman. You turn your back on a live enemy, you end up dead.”
“How soon did you say to Uvalde?”
“So, what do you say we make this all worth our while?”
Damon stood up in the mercenary’s face. “Get this, Gregonian, if you don’t get this crate moving any faster, I’ll do it myself!” Damon lowered his hand to the grip of his disrupter. “Make no mistake…I’m not just any humdrum Deltan you’ve ever met. If he dies…”
“Is that a threat?” Zeno took a defensive posture.
“No threat,” Damon replied, “just fact.”
© 2015 Janet A Taylor