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Character interview: Khyria Ilan

Character interview: Khyria Ilan

Character interview with Khyria Ilan

Remote location on the Canadian West coast, with a Thermos of fortified hot chocolate.

J C Steel: I heard you took an assignment with Irin. Since it was in the news – what was Central Worlds like?

Khyria Ilan: Crawling in security. And high-tech marketing. I’m still debugging my systems of adware.

JCS: What do you expect the fallout to be?

KI: For Irin? He wants it all to go away. He’s refreshingly uninterested in anything that doesn’t have four feet and a tail. He’s been named heir to one of the most influential families in Central Worlds, and the clause he insisted on was making it temporary until another heir could be found. For Wildcat? Officially, nothing. Unofficially…I fully expect to hear from Irin’s father, in some shape or form.

JCS: What was you impression of Irin’s father?

KI: Intelligent.

JCS: And?

KI: You are aware that I was there on assignment, not a holiday.

JCS: Your personal impressions of a man are that highly classified? The Councils must have a high opinion of your intuition.

KI: [laughs] I remember when that line worked better on you. Fine. Intelligent, nasty, and rich.

JCS: Khyria.

KI: If Irin didn’t have – what’s the phrase? Daddy issues? – it’s possible he might find his biological father less odious. Or not. My personal impression of Irian do Maseka do Harek, since you ask, is that he and Irin aren’t so very different on some levels. However, unlike Irin, do Harek’s been running a business empire out of Central Worlds all of his life. There are lines that Irin has never contemplated crossing that do Harek has had to compromise on.

JCS: I see. Did you ever find out how Cahan of the Golden Valleys managed to make getting you to Central Worlds the problem of do Harek? Or even how he got an audience with the man?

KI: No. On the other hand, the link between Irin Seviki and Wildcat Cortia is publicly documented: that ill-considered rebellion Irin’s planet staged was covered by every major newscast. Once you assume that the initial step of Cahan gaining access to do Harek was feasible, as it demonstrably was, the rest was a simple matter of playing the odds.

JCS: Things you call simple keep my costs for headache medication high. It must have been…odd, to see Cahan and Irin in the same room.

KI: Was that a question?

JCS: An invitation. If you don’t want to discuss Cahan, how about Warron?

KI: Competent. Intelligent enough, on Central Worlds, to focus on understanding what the security measures and the threats were, rather than freezing at the amount of the unknown. Cahan made a sensible decision  when he put him in as guard commander. He’s tough and adaptable.

JCS: High praise, from a Cortiian for a human.

KI: You’re fond of the saying that the exception proves the rule.

JCS: [grins] Ouch. Do you think Cahan’s planet is going to get its entry into the Federated Planets?

KI: That would be the positive outcome for them and for the FPA. Taking a planet back to bare earth and re-populating is expensive, not to mention hard to keep quiet. Cahan’s appearance on Central Worlds indicates that the likelihood is high.

JCS: That happen often?

KI: The eradication approach? Not that the Cortii is aware of. Perhaps twice in the last millennium.

JCS: What do you think about their entry into the FPA?

KI: I recommended it.

JCS: I know that. I didn’t ask you what you thought the most practical containment solution was.

KI: I’d sleep better if the FPA were to erase life on that planet, my personal respect for some of its population not withstanding. As it’s not likely to happen…I’ve done what I currently can.

JCS: Last question: do you think Irin’s going to hear from his father more often?

KI: Yes. Irian do Harek didn’t strike me as someone who lets go of anything useful easily.

Unaltered and writing Irin

Unaltered and writing Irin

Unaltered and Irin Seviki

Unaltered was an interesting story to write, not least because, six months prior, I had absolutely no intention of writing a novella in the Cortii series. To add to that, Unaltered is written third person, like the rest of the series, but usually when I write third person I write from several viewpoints, and this novella is written purely from Irin’s perspective.

Yes, I’m a pantser. No, there is no cure.

In terms of reading order, Unaltered is set between Elemental Conflict and the upcoming fifth book in the series. Irin himself is a key character in Fighting Shadows, where he and Khyria first meet while Khyria’s on a recon assignment. However, aside from the fact that Irin and Khyria have a pre-existing relationship, and Irin trusts Cortiian competence to keep his hide in one piece, Unaltered is pretty much a stand-alone.

Irin’s also interesting to write from because he’s a human involved with the Cortii, and most of the series is the Cortii written from a Cortiian’s perspective. Because of that, there are things about the Cortii that he doesn’t know, and, because he’s not a complete idiot, knows he’d prefer not to know.

He’s also had, at least from a Cortiian perspective, a very sheltered life, which means that writing action scenes from his PoV provided some unique challenges. To put that in perspective, Irin’s reaction to a laser waved at him is closer to ‘huh, those look smaller in the shows’, than ‘shoot back!’.

Irin himself is the principal manager, when he can’t talk a sibling or cousin into doing it, of Seviki Equines and Exotics, which is a business that breeds exotic pets, including horses, for the wealthy of Central Worlds. Living on Central Worlds, the first four planets of humanity, is seen as a status symbol by various humanoid cultures. Space on ancestral soil is therefore at a premium, which makes the ability to own and house a large pet, such as a horse, a very visible ‘my credit balance is bigger than yours’.

Irin doesn’t actually care about Central Worlds status symbols, beyond the number of zeroes he can fleece them for, and among the status symbols he really, truly doesn’t care about is the whole ‘genetic purity’ discussion. Because the vast majority of the Federated Planets Alliance, and all of the more recent humanoid governments, are space-faring, almost everyone has had some modification made to their genes to make life a little easier – a tweak to make them more comfortable in artificial gravity, a tweak to let them tolerate lower oxygen levels…the list goes on. On Central Worlds, therefore, and elsewhere, being able to prove that your genes are free of modification is an elite status symbol.

Unfortunately for Irin, an accident of birth means that he actually is genetically ‘pure’, not that he’d ever given it much thought before Unaltered.

Much to his annoyance, his genes make him a person of interest on Central Worlds, and when he finally runs out of denial and creative avoidance, Khyria Ilan is the genetically impure mercenary he trusts to watch his back while he tries to deal with the fallout.

Character interview: Cristina Batista

Character interview: Cristina Batista

Interview with Cristina Batista

Sitting on a nice secluded end of a breakwater with a good view of the harbour

J C Steel: There are times I miss sunshine, wind, and palm trees.

Cristina Batista: I didn’t want to move to Europe in my teens, and having seen it, I still don’t want to move there.

JCS: Your family was originally from Spain. Which area?

CB: My father was from Cáceres, in Extremadura. I have no idea where my mother was from, she left after I was born.

JCS: And your father moved you all onto a yacht and sailed for the Caribbean. What was growing up on a yacht like?

CB: …when it’s how you grow up, and you have known nothing different, growing up on a yacht is very normal. I played in the harbour with the children from other boats, when there were any; I learnt to row and sail; I learnt to shop in the open markets, and how to tie up a dinghy so I didn’t end up swimming after it. I explored around the anchorages, I snorkelled. You must have been asked this one often enough.

JCS: Very, very often. Now I’m asking you. How about schooling?

CB: We had a basic set of material from a correspondence course. It wasn’t designed for complex thinkers, but it provided the basics.

JCS: Yeah, amen on the last part. Where did you spend most of your time?

CB: Mostly between Grenada and Martinique. We visited St. Eustatius once.

JCS: Do they still keep an elephant at Pitons?

CB: I think so. I haven’t been there in a few years. Papá liked the less touristy areas. Union Island was one of his favourites.

JCS: Least favourite aspect of living on a yacht?

CB: Water runs. For something that empties so quickly, it takes an amazing number of jerry-cans to fill a water tank.

JCS: Any opinions of living in a house?

CB: I have hardly lived in a house. Let’s say…they don’t move, and if you open the windows there are bugs everywhere.

JCS: You have Spanish citizenship. How do you respond if someone asks you where you come from?

CB: I tell them I spent most of my life in the Caribbean. My nationality is never very relevant to my life until I need to pass Customs.

JCS: Most people don’t believe in vampires. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing, from your perspective?

CB: I find that the facts remain the facts no matter your beliefs. It makes my job a little easier, in some ways. Vampires have a vested interest in human ignorance, so populated areas can provide good cover under the right circumstances.

JCS: Is it true that vampires can be driven away with a cross?

CB: No. Or any other type of religious symbol, either, unless you sharpen it.

JCS: Where do you think that belief originated from?

CB: I’ve noticed that people believe a lot of strange things when it comes to religion. Personally I prefer stakes and fighting knives if I need to kill a vampire.

Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Interview with Jean Vignaud

At a table in a hole-in-the-wall pub with a good view of the exits

J C Steel: I like the location.

Jean Vignaud: Try not to describe it too well, I would like to come back. My partner tells me you have some questions.

JCS: I heard you like Chinese take-out. How did you come across that?

JV: Take-out is one of my favourite things of this century. When I was born one had to travel to eat differently, and the experience was not always…positive. If you are trying to put the Frenchman at his ease by asking about food, be assured: I am quite relaxed.

JCS: In fact, you’re rolling a cigarette. You only do that when you think I’m going to ask questions you don’t want to answer, but I notice you never smoke them.

JV: Science has discovered many miracles. Among them, unfortunately, that smoking is not good for you. Not something for vampires to be concerned with, but for me, yes.

JCS: So there are some things that you miss about being a vampire?

JV: Ah. The end of the small talk. As the junkie misses his high, there are things I miss, having left the night. Cristina tells me you are fortunate, and have never encountered a vampire. Do you think, once this book publishes, that that happy state will continue?

JCS: I will quote you a great British author, Terry Pratchett: ‘…no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences.’

JV: A wise man.

JCS: I think so. Not a very popular definition of freedom in this day and age, as it happens. What’s your take on consequences and personal responsibility?

JV: I believe that my actions are my own. Who else should I blame? God?

JCS: You’re religious?

JV: I was raised a good Catholic, but according to that religion, vampires have no soul. Therefore, the only judge I need to satisfy is my own conscience.

JCS: Renouncing the chance to live forever sounds like a penance.

JV: …I fear I have not had enough rum to have that talk.

JCS: The first Pirates of the Caribbean. I understand you were an actual pirate in the Caribbean for a time.

JV: Pirates is such a generic term. In this day and age I would wear an expensive suit and gamble with other peoples’ money.

JCS: So you would equate stock-brokers with piracy?

JV: Let us say…in my day, if a man stole your money, the expectation was that you would try to kill him. Today, the expectation is that you elect him.

Character Interview: Captain Jannat Slainer, FPA Exploration Arm

Character Interview: Captain Jannat Slainer, FPA Exploration Arm

Debriefing / *Classified 1Nebula*: Captain Jannat Slainer, Exploration and Development branch

Officer in Charge: Captain, state your identification and rank for the record, please.

Captain Slainer: Jannat Slainer, ID FPA-ExDev 2380567, Scout Captain second class.

OIC: You understand and accept that this briefing, due to the nature of the information, will be classified to Nebula level, and discussion of any facts concerning your latest mission would constitute a level one breach of security resulting in loss of rank and privileges?

Capt. S: I do.

OIC: You and your crew were the initial contact with the humanoid population of Intelligent Life Found, 276/5346, Satellite IV. Per your report, your crew identified widespread biological and sociological anomalies resulting in a temporary withdrawal from the planet surface. Please elaborate in your own words.

Capt. S: There were no Abilities at large on the planet. No latent telepaths, none of the usual borderline empaths working with animals, no reports of people who see the dead or start fires. Given that the incidence of mental Abilities in standard deviations of humanoid is over 30%, we were concerned.

OIC: You also noted widespread presence of personal weaponry on the planet. Your report didn’t indicate that this was a primary concern.

Capt. S: It’s extremely common, in primitive cultures. Often seen as a symbol of sexual prowess.

OIC: Indeed. In any case, you and your crew briefed the contractor hired to…

Capt. S: Get shot at, sir?

OIC: …establish initial tolerance in the population. Yes. What were your impressions of this contractor?

Capt. S: …competent, sir.

OIC: I understand, Captain, that the Cortii are a sensitive subject. However, this briefing is not optional. Your full report, please.

Capt. S: *sighs* They sent a commander. Cortiora Khyria Ilan, of Wildcat Cortia, out of Corina Base. Black hair, green eyes, some scarring visible left cheek, both hands. A palm-width taller than I am, looked as if she weighed a little less. Intelligent, excellent memory, extremely high tolerance for stimulants. A very strong Ability. I’ve never met an IESRO-reg before, but quite possibly she would qualify. They put a double-squad of Interstellar Close Combat Specialists around her, and she looked…amused. She spent most of four days taunting them when she got bored.

OIC: And her interactions with your crew?

Capt. S: Professional. Clearly had to translate some of the questions she needed answering into terms we understood, but did it politely enough. Even though getting her full attention could be…powerful.

OIC: Elaborate.

Capt. S: Every so often, it felt as if she forgot to…hide what she was. Meeting her stare or drawing her attention could freeze any of us in our tracks. I put it down to her Abilities.

OIC: You think she was exerting Ability on you without your consent?

Capt. S: No.

OIC: Very well, Captain. You also attended her debriefing at the end of her mission on the surface. Your impressions of the Cortiora at that point, please.

Capt. S: She’d been severely injured, mentally and physically. She declined medical assistance, but permitted a medical scan as part of the debriefing. Beyond that, she presented as suffering from a severe level of Ability over-exertion.

OIC: You went on record earlier as stating that you believed her to be an Ability of unusual strength. What, in your estimation, would cause that level of injury?

Capt. S: Nothing I would survive meeting, sir. I have no idea. She implied that it had been caused during a meeting with the heads of the religious organisation of the planet. As I reported, this planet apparently has an Ability-backed religion based on Elemental symbolism. They had previously declined to meet with any of our people. The Cortiora reported that she was…invited to participate in a religious ritual that included the use of drugs.

OIC: You hesitated, Captain. Please clarify.

Capt. S: *pause* Bluntly, sir, I believe that they broke her. Somehow.

OIC: And yet you failed to put this observation on-record, Captain.

Capt. S: It has no basis in verifiable fact, sir. Instinct, if you like.

OIC: So your professional opinion is that the Cortiora lied to us during her debriefing.

Capt. S: No, sir. While I don’t doubt, given our relative rankings, that she could lie to me and hide it from me, I had no impression that anything she actually said was in any way untruthful.

OIC: So you were unaware of her official recommendation that the Interspecies Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation should be involved in the planet’s entry negotiations at the earliest opportunity?

Capt. S: I was not aware, sir.

OIC: What are you impressions of that recommendation?

Capt. S: That the Cortiora very likely is IESRO-level, and that she believes that the Abilities she encountered are a serious threat.

OIC: Indeed. Thank you, Captain.

*Notes on file indicate follow-up/urgent, regarding the psychological stability of Captain Jannat Slainer, Interviewing officer believed that at some level he felt obligation to the Cortiian operative.

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