QSFer Octavia Atlas has a new MM sci fi romance out, The Agitator’s Code Book 1: “Vaironian Tides”.
Darion Navarr savors a challenge. As a Negotiator for the Vaironian Government, he matches wits against Tolrek Marou, the nation’s most notorious rebel.
Tolrek Marou, an ace mecha pilot, jeopardizes his prominent military career. When he and his fellow pilots are blamed for the loss of a recent war, he leads a rebellion.
Tolrek ultimately surrenders to the government, but Darion suspects Tolrek has hidden motives. Even as Tolrek’s taken into custody, he’s focused on finding out why he remains important to Vaironia. Once he gets his answers, he plans on taking full advantage of the situation. His largest obstacle is Darion, who Tolrek believes understands him too well.
Both Darion and Tolrek are intelligent and stubborn, pushing each other mentally and physically. Negotiations, small and large, will impact their relationship. With the many stakes involved, who’s winning and what does winning mean?
Warning: BDSM (light), a few violent scenes (fights), discussion of rebellion and protesters detained/imprisoned, injuries to the main characters, injuries to a minor character, and a minor character’s death.
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Darion Navarr slid a metal box onto the wooden table. He watched Tolrek Marou, unable to decipher the rebel leader’s emotions.
“I’m not leaving without a decision I like,” Darion said. “And you don’t have much time to make one.” He pushed the small container toward Tolrek. “Inside are examples of what the government will do, if you don’t accept its terms.”
Tolrek flipped open the lid of the object and found five crisp, white scrolls, each bearing the seal of the Vaironian Security Branch. He selected one and read it aloud:
The VSB will take the 215 children from the Isolation Zone and categorize them as orphans. Seven births are scheduled this week; removal will include the newborns. Any children who are old enough to remember their parents will be psychologically programmed, until they forget.
Darion scrutinized Tolrek, as he silently read the message several times. The other scrolls offered similar dire scenarios. The Vaironian government couldn’t afford to be distracted by a rebellion. Ersha, Vaironia’s warmongering neighbor to the west, could strike again and faster than expected. Darion needed to neutralize Tolrek’s influence on public opinion, as quickly as possible.
“Think carefully,” Darion said. “Your rebels may be trained to handle this standoff, but their families aren’t.”
Tolrek reached for another scroll, unrolled it and read it. He did the same thing with the remaining parchments.
“These terms don’t have much variation,” he said, his voice calm and cool.
“Only the number of children changed. Slightly.”
“Yes.” Darion gave him a tight smile.
“If we surrender, what happens?”
“The families can leave the IZ. The Prime Minister will pardon the rebels, except for you.”
“Why not me?”
“As I recall, two weeks ago, you bypassed Nolan Barel’s home security.”
Tolrek had awakened the nation’s top military advisor, with a hunting knife pressed to his throat. One of Tolrek’s fellow rebels had recorded the terror on Nolan’s face and uploaded it to the multinet. The home invasion and the resulting public fallout had generated more heated discussions at all levels of the VSB.
“I hadn’t seen Nolan in months,” Tolrek said. “I missed him.”
“Are you interested in the deal, or not?”
“Why would I believe in the government’s generosity?” Tolrek shoved aside the metal box. “You’re a Negotiator. You lie all the time.”
Darion noticed Tolrek’s eyes shifting to a darker shade of green, a rare feature on the planet of Bharatos. During their three negotiation sessions, it had been Tolrek’s only indication of agitation.
“Insulting me won’t help,” Darion replied. “We established that, the first time we spoke. Focus on the matter at hand.”
“Does the government plan to use the pilots in the future, even those who rebelled?”
“The pilots remain valuable.”
The government was willing to overlook Tolrek’s revolt, which had occurred after Vaironia’s third war with Ersha. The two most powerful nations on Bharatos had fought for almost three years, before coming to a standstill. Vaironia had used 2,000 kezriun units—highly-advanced, combat mechas—to significantly damage its rival. Despite this, Vaironia hadn’t achieved the expected outcome of permanently shattering Ersha. Vaironia had then forced the kezriun pilots to take the brunt of the blame.
While Darion understood why some pilots had rebelled, he was determined to work on behalf of the Vaironian leadership to end the conflict. He glanced at his watch.
“I’m about to withdraw the government’s goodwill.” Darion met Tolrek’s eyes. “You have ten minutes to decide.”
A short while after Darion issued Tolrek the ultimatum, he reported to his superiors that the rebellion was pacified. Yet, as Tolrek and the other twenty-four rebels marched out of the mountain compound into the VSB’s custody, Darion sensed that something wasn’t right. The eyes of the other rebels brimmed with relief, their postures relaxed. Tolrek, in contrast, stood proudly. He didn’t wear his calculations on his face, but nothing about his body language showed he’d surrendered.
Darion had never believed Tolrek could be easily subdued. Every bit of information he’d reviewed on Tolrek—his military file, articles and even popular websites dedicated to him—had revealed that the rebel leader possessed a shrewd intelligence. That trait and Tolrek’s intriguing physical prowess were the main reasons Darion had taken the assignment.
Octavia Atlas is pretty mellow, on any given day. She writes contemporary, fantasy, and science fiction romance. When she’s not writing, she also enjoys playing video games, reading, traveling, or watching TV/movies. She’d love to hear from you. Connect with her on Twitter or through her website, where she includes story trivia.