I’ll be having at least one more J.C. Daniels book out this year…but it’s not a Kit book.

It’s not urban fantasy, either.

J.C. is trying her hand at science fiction. SF with a splash of romance.

Here’s a snippet of FINAL PROTOCOL, due out from Samhain in July.

~*~

Some people said that this was what Old Earth would be like by now. Well, except for the population thing.  Aris still had a thriving population.  Disease and war had all but decimated Old Earth.  There were rumors that those who had remained behind no longer even resembled anything that we’d consider human.

Personally, I think human is just another word for animal.  None of us are worth much.  Me, included.

The ariste were a different beast altogether. Some of the kindest, most gentle people I’d ever come across resided here, on this hot, desert planet that travelled too close to its sun.  The people made me nervous and I wanted nothing more than to kick the dust of this planet off my shoes and leave it far behind.

Leave these smiling people far behind.

I had very little use for people in general.  If I couldn’t fuck it, then the only time I was likely to come in contact with anybody was when I was sent a contract to kill.

Like this old man, with his round, cheerful face and his silver eyes—ariste eyes, hidden behind the tinted lenses he wore.

I was here to kill him.

And he knew.

A smile creased his face as I moved into the room, not bothering to conceal myself.

He already knew I was there.  Why bother to hide?

Either he’d called for help, which would mean I had to move things along, or he thought he could handle me myself.

Neither would change the outcome.

He would die, because the alternative was that I would likely die and I didn’t plan on that being the case.

He nodded at the table where he sat.

“Would you join me?”

I paused, my hand on the darts I’d planned to use.  The problem was he hadn’t been on the long, narrow balcony taking his normal walk.  He was ariste, and one of the older ones.  They had a thing about the setting sun.  It was a religious fascination as far as I could tell.  All of the houses had balconies that faced the west, so they could watch as the brutal, burning sun sank below the horizon.  Even the poorest of families would struggle to get a simple opening so the family could face the death of the day.

Cree Ru was far from poor.

Yet he hadn’t taken his sunset walk.

“Come.” He smiled at me.  “Sit.”

I said nothing. I knew better.  My voice could be used to track me, pin me to the crime, if anybody was successful at hunting me down.  I’d evaded capture on a dozen planets in four different systems. This was an amateur’s mistake.

Just like walking in that open door was an amateur’s mistake, I chided myself.

“You will not sit then.” Cree nodded.  “Very well.  I’ll speak a bit.  I’ve time yet.”

He must have sensed something because he slid me a small smile.  “No.  The authorities weren’t alerted.  I sensed you three days ago and had the time since then to decide on the actions I’d take.  First, I had to think about who must have hired you.”

That wasn’t an answer I could give him.

I accepted the money, the job, all from my handler. There were other things I took from him, and some things he forced on me, but he never told me who hired me.  It was essential, he’d once told me, that he protect his clients.  Names were never given.

Cree didn’t let my silence stop him as he leaned back, steepling his fingers together as he looked out into the night.  He had thick, floor to ceiling walls of what the locals called plaris.  It made me think of the pilastene, a manufactured material that was used in almost everything for those who’d settled the New Earth colonies.

The NE colonies weren’t home to me, but many of my tools were NE made.  It was what I was familiar with, what I was used to. Pilastene was nearly unbreakable, safe to manufacture and inexpensive.

Plaris, like ‘stene, was durable, and nearly unbreakable, something that served this volatile planet well, designed to endure quakes that could have leveled cities.  His entire home was made of plaris, and the windows were the clear stuff, the most pricy form of it out there.  Eyes on the night sky, he studied the twin moons and said, “I hated to admit it to myself, but there are only two people who would have done this. Only two who would benefit.  My son and his wife.”

Arching my brows, I edged in closer, searching for weapons.  So far, I’d yet to see a single one.

“I cannot tell if the look on your face is curiosity or merely an attempt to distract me.”  He sighed and then reached out, pushed a plate toward me.  “If you are any good at your job, you’ll recognize this.”

My eyes moved to the plate, a thin disk of what looked like hammered gold.

The sight of the three small berries there made my belly clench, even if I was there to kill him.

Death’s seal, the most poisonous plant in three systems.  Deadly, and outlawed on almost every planet in those three systems.  Just the touch of it on the tongue was enough to kill a child.  Half of a berry could kill a woman my size.  Three berries could kill three men.

“I’m going to make this easy,” he said quietly.  “My son seeks to kill me, thinking he’ll inherit.”

Cree reached for a berry.

“Wait,” I said, the word ripping out of me despite my intention not to speak.  “Why?  If you wish to fight him, then why do this?”

“I don’t wish to fight him.”  He smiled, rolling the berry between his fingers.  “I wish to deny him what he tries to take by betrayal.”  Then he shrugged.  “And I refuse to let him use another in his endless vendetta against me. Do you know…it’s our belief that for every life you take, you must save two more if you want to leave this existence with your soul intact.”

I inclined my head.  “I have no soul left.  You do this for nothing if you try to spare me.”

“If you had no soul, it wouldn’t concern you to see this berry in my hand.”

He smiled at me as he tossed it up in the air.

I don’t know why I did it.

It should mean nothing to me.

I could easily claim his death as my own.  Poison wasn’t unknown to me.  I suspected I even knew who had provided him with those three priceless, deadly berries.

But my hand moved, almost as though it had a mind of its own and the sliver-thin dart stole the berry from the air and I quickly used two more darts to destroy the other two berries.  He could still lick the plate, I supposed, but somehow I didn’t see this regal, elegant man choosing that route.

“Why?” he asked, his voice puzzled.

Staring at the plate, at the thin stalks of the darts, I shook my head.  “I don’t know,” I murmured.  Then I looked at him.  “Do you count now?  As one half of a life?”