Aries 181 launches in paperback and Kindle on March 26, 2019. Read on for a sneak peek of Chapter 1.

Chapter 1 – The Aries Research Lab

A dead engineer was an inconvenient way to start the week.

From the passenger’s seat of his Bentley, Tony used his phone to post a new job opening.

“Get her car out of the parking lot. Torch it so it looks like tragedy struck on her way in.”

“Yes, sir,” said Reah, weaving through traffic as she took him to the Aries office.

Accidents were uncommon in the research lab. The work involved too much time behind a computer for that. But when the occasional ‘whoops’ did happen, it was an annoyance. Covering them up was a pain. Finding a willing and qualified replacement was worse.

“Warehouse,” said Scott when Tony entered the lab to check the damage. “She was modifying the propellant.”

Tony stifled a curse. Of course it was the propellant—the substance too stubborn to realize its own potential.

“Show me.”

He and Scott crossed the lab with its white lights reflecting off white tiles, white walls, white tables, and white lab coats. The five other engineers kept working, unease leaking from their pores like sweat. With only seven of Tony’s two hundred employees cleared for the lab, the hole left by their dead colleague was more of a chasm.

Tony was unruffled. Their non-disclosure agreements were thorough enough for a situation like this.

“What’s the damage?”

“She, uh—she was completely burnt, Doctor Ries.”

That much was obvious. Scott’s fluorescent-pale skin and lab coat were smudged, leaving a goggle-shaped clear spot around his eyes. Holes split the toes of his shoes, revealing socks with hamburgers printed on them.

“Was anything else destroyed?”

An empire of technology filled the warehouse. These were his top achievements, past and future. No accident, no matter how messy, could quash the pride he felt every time he entered it.

He flung open the double doors. The stench of burnt metal and hair tickled his gag reflex.

“Minor damage to the surrounding area,” said Scott, dabbing his sweaty brow with a singed sleeve. “No property was ruined.”

Delightful.

It took a moment to blink the warehouse into focus. Dim, cold, and vast, the place could have passed for a storage facility. Walkways snaked between mounds of technology.

An early prototype of the Aries satellites—what the world came to know as the Aries 180 fleet—stole Tony’s attention as he entered. The size of a bald eagle and mounted on a podium, it was the one now-useless technology he refused to incinerate. He caressed it as they passed.

Yet, despite all that filled the floor, the place was a cold vacuum, a void. Like the invisible substance called dark matter, every space in the warehouse represented an irksome gap in knowledge. Empty corners, walkways, every molecule of dead air held promise. As creator of the Aries universe, Tony intended to use any means necessary to fill those gaps.

Tony’s watch vibrated. He looked at it to find a text.

Reah: Need your clearance to get her purse. Locker 4.

He replied, 5 mins, and quickened his step.

The temperature rose as he and Scott drew deeper into the warehouse. A drone whirred overhead, taking photos at intervals. More drones hovered beneath the three-story ceiling, LED lights marking their presence. He would have to review the surveillance images later to see what happened. He might enjoy popcorn with it.

They stopped at the explosion site. The concrete floor rippled, like it had melted and hardened again. Every adjacent surface was dented and singed. Five dry chemical fire extinguishers lay nearby. Most intriguingly, a black, body-shaped imprint traced the floor like a shadow, a dusting of ash in its center.

Tony scattered the ash with his toe. “Looks like this place was pretty lit.”

Scott cast him a sideways glance.

The culprit was the twelve-foot vat towering beside the scene of the accident. Smoke wisped from the top, Tony’s hopes and plans disappearing with it into the black ceiling. The heat wrapped around him like a wool blanket.

“So the propellant isn’t going well,” said Tony, like a challenge.

“It just reacted badly,” said Scott. “I’m confident we’ll get it in time.”

“Hm.” Don’t placate me, Scotty. What churned inside that vat represented tens of millions of dollars.

Sure, every aerospace company had rocket propellant, but no one had this. This was his next opportunity for international success—his next Aries 180 fleet, so to speak. If only the damn stuff would stop failing him. The setback choked his sense of control like a vice around his throat.

His father had told him there was no point in going into business unless you were going to be the best. Rather, the advice had been something like, “You wanna run a business, you gotta do whatever it takes to get on top. Might as well quit and be a shit-scraper if you’re gonna be a pussy about it.”

Tony held that wisdom close. Using methods no one else was brave enough to try, he was on his way to upgrading Aries from a humble Canadian startup to the world’s most cutting-edge aerospace company.

His watch vibrated.

Steve: Korean Space Agency wants you to join the call.

Korea would have to wait. He was already late for an appointment with the bank.

“What are you going to do to fix it?” he said to Scott.

“We’re, uh, looking into it.”

“I hired all of you because you’re the smartest engineers in the world. You’re telling me you don’t know?”

Scott hesitated. Tony hated hesitation.

“There are other engineers who might know more about high-energy liquid tetrapropellant, Doctor Ries.”

“I’ve scoured universities. I’ve head-hunted in the Silicon Valley. They’re too—” Tony waved a hand. “They’re not ready for the scope of the job.”

Scott didn’t need to know how many applicants failed the psychological evaluation. A PhD and a 150 IQ meant squat when the candidate couldn’t pass a basic obedience experiment.

Tony’s watch buzzed again. He ignored it.

If he wanted this propellant, he would have to get his engineers something to work from. Sometimes, they needed a push. Call it inspiration, or pieces of the aerospace puzzle.

This was a gap in the matter that made up his universe. It needed to be filled.

“Give me a week. I’ll get you the data.”

Global Nanosats was making headway in liquid propulsion. They could be of use.

He pulled out his phone to check his calendar. An email notification appeared, reminding him of a development meeting in twenty minutes. He swiped it away.

Stress tickled the base of his brain. He would have to make time to get that data between his other appointments, or cancel a few. This was more important.

He’d known for a while that he was overexerting himself. His universe was expanding faster than he could manage. If he wasn’t careful there would be a stellar collision. He couldn’t keep filling these voids alone.

He needed someone to help him get this information—someone smart, fearless, and malleable. He needed a personal assistant.

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On my tenth birthday, my parents bought me a Maltipoo puppy. My sister, who turned eight that year, got a Sheltie. We gave them the most logical names that sisters living in the 90s would give two puppies. We named them Mary-Kate and Ashley. Read More

This writing prompt was part of the Indie Fall Fest—several weeks of author interviews, giveaways, fun questions, guest posts, and more. The challenge was to write about a character who has one of your bad habits, and in which that bad habit gets out of hand.

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i enter the barn at the end of the day
worries and stress squeezing my shoulders
scrunching my brow
and hitching my breath

halter on and brushes out
i tie the lead rope and pull back my hair …
and i’m angry.

but i can’t let her feel my stress
or she’ll bolt faster than light before my foot hits the stirrup
so i curry in slow circles
over her neck and shoulder and haunches
hearing her sigh and stomp and swish
and i let the rhythm lull me

i can’t let her feel my anger
or i’ll eat dirt faster than i can say giddy-up
so i brush in soft flicks
watching the dust curl in the rays peeking in
smelling the hay and grain and wood
and i let the tranquility calm me

i can’t let her feel that stab of sadness
or she’ll go where she wants despite my commands
so i brush her face with the softest touch
and she closes her eyes and leans into the bristles
i feel the tickle of her mane on my skin
and i let the serenity cheer me

and i brush and pamper ‘til her red coat gleams
and i rub her mane and tail with sheen
she’s beautiful, shiny, no dust to be seen
and all that dirt is on my face and my jeans …
and i’m happy.

dedicated to Bailey

In winter nineteen-thirty-two
On humble Makwa plains
Born to Julia and Walter
Art Warner was his name.

He dug for gold when he was eight,
Went trapping after school,
He learned to fly, and ride, and boat,
And live by his own rules.

He pioneered a company,
He hunted, fished, and snared.
He worked, he farmed, and once – no lie –
He fought a grizzly bear.

To four he was a loyal Dad
And husband to their mother,
To eight he was a caring Umpa,
To others, son and brother.

Now this cowboy reunites
With Doc, his trusty steed.
He rounds up cattle, gallops on,
And lives that cowboy creed.

Although he’s passed beyond this life,
His spirit still lives strong
Within our memories and hearts
For that’s where it belongs.

His love and life are worth the tears
We shed for this great man,
So if we had to live once more
We’d do it all again.

So on the shining BC coast
This great man he became.
Admired, adored, and full of life,
Art Warner was his name.

Arthur Oswald Warner

She paced around the darkened room,
Her lovely face drained white.
Her thoughts obsessed with what did loom,
That cold and daunting night.

The candles danced and flickered low,
The dinner plates were set.
Her golden hair donned with a bow,
The stew not ready yet.

She painted pink her cheeks with blush,
She brushed blue ’round her eyes.
Pulled on her skirt without a rush,
Then heard the doorbell’s cries.

Her nerves were gone, replaced with joy,
She trotted to the door.
“Hello, good sir!” she told the boy,
And smiled at him once more.

The fellow said, “How glad I am,
You’re giving me this chance!
You having me for dinner, ma’am,
Is true first-date romance.”

“I thought so too,” she smiled and said,
Hanging up his coat.
He kissed her cheek and she blushed red
And told him not to dote.

He sat down in the dining room,
While she went to the pot.
She stirred the stew and pretty soon,
It boiled nice and hot.

“You’re quite the chef,” he said and smelled.
She turned to look at he.
And then with shock, he saw she held
A knife as large as three.

“What’s that for?” he asked with fear,
Her eyes a twinkling red.
“I’m having you for dinner, dear.
Is that not what I said?”

“I’ve had before a rabbit soup.”
She clenched, unclenched her hand.
“As well as one of duck and goose,
But never one of man.”

He shouted out and stood up quick,
To stop her in her path.
But late he was, and with a flick,
She made a hot blood bath.

The crimson ran onto her dress,
And sullied up the floor.
She giggled down at all the mess
She must, for now, ignore.

“This boyfriend soup will not be bland,
Once I mince this meat.”
She licked her lips and wiped her hands,
And made her tasty treat.

Consult your physician
As seen on TV
Enlarged to show texture
It’s not you it’s me

Legal separation
Please hold your applause
Studies have shown
I’m calling because

National bestseller
Attempted suicide
Antioxidant-rich
Look on the bright side

Scientific method
Ladies first
Performance review
For better or worse

We’re gonna need backup
Results may vary
Let’s get wasted
Eat drink and be merry

Regulate your cycle
Read package directions
Nonsurgical face-lift
We’ve got a situation

Pro-life pro-choice
Procrastination
Pro-active pro-rated
Professional opinion

One-millionth visitor
Come claim your prize
I want my lawyer
Actual size

Guard dog on duty
Recommended dosage
Side-effects include
Take out a second mortgage

Remember to log out
Remember to vote
Remember to smile
That’s a misquote

War on terror
Jesus loves you
God hates gays
Have you heard the good news?

Capital punishment
Christmas in July
It’s only a theory
The cake is a lie

Mad cow salmonella
Bird flu swine flu
Nervous breakdown
Your books are overdue

Trespassers prosecuted
She’s a train wreck
Physical examination
Practice makes perfect

Go for coffee
Enter to win
Plagiarism
Intervention

school shooting
zero trans fat
probation
instant chat

tax-free
GST
audit me
HST

own
lease
war
peace

truth
lies
laugh
cry

sex
death

lust
greed
wrath
envy
pride

This is a deleted scene from The Infinite Knowledge of J. T. Badgley. I removed it because it’s a thought tangent that does absolutely nothing to advance the plot—but I’m still fond of it, so here it is. It happens on page 141, when Jake is trying to sneak back into the Kremlin.

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I have to share this. It’s one of the first poems I ever wrote. The positive reaction from the class and teacher was a huge factor in inspiring me to keep writing. Moral of the story: praise a kid’s work, because that encouragement makes a big impact!

When I make my snowman
With a carrot for his nose
Along comes my pony
Munch munch! Off she goes!

When I make my snowman
With peanuts for his toes
Along comes a squirrel
Munch munch! Off he goes!

When I make my snowman
With no nose or toes
Along comes my puppy
Now he has yellow clothes.

To match the human to the face that has Picasso drawn
To find among the autumn leaves the still and silent fawn
On such a day I know the truth whether the path is set
Be the ground fresh laid in stone or be its clay still wet

Does great Hecate see me there in grass that seems more lush?
Or should the daisies at my feet subdue my need to rush?
Is it a house that I’ve begun to build with this brick wall?
Or is it meant to crumble here ’til brick by brick, it falls?

Beyond the bricks perhaps there lies an Earth of paradise
But since its snow is free of prints it may be mere thin ice
I can’t but tell unless I try to build my house from snow
If it shall melt I still at least have all those bricks to show

And so I carve said house of snow but build the bricks up still
In hopes someday that igloo holds, and move to it, I will
For I cannot but know for sure the nature of my path
The trades of safety, fun or growth, responsible or rash

I will not be the fawn so still on clear untrodden land
But rather be Picasso’s work, and paint my Earth by hand