QSFer Molly J. Bragg has a new FF space opera book out (Bi, Lesbian), Paladins of the Republic Book 1: The Inevitable Singularity.
Sean, a mercenary, is the bodyguard of Grand Master Caila of the Order of the Paladins of the Republic. A fact that the entire Order, except for Caila herself, resents deeply since they kicked Sean out almost twenty years earlier. It doesn’t help matters that Caila has taken a vow of Celibacy, but everyone knows that she and Sean have feelings for each other.
Sean’s presence is only tolerated because Caila is the official Seer of the Paladin Order. While all Paladins can see the future to a limited extent, Caila’s gift with foresight exceeds even the head of the order.
But when a mine destroys Caila’s ship just as they arrive in the Ptolemy system to settle a dispute over a hyperspace route, it quickly becomes clear that someone doesn’t want their mission to succeed.
With only Reagan, a Paladin with a personal grudge against Sean for support, Sean and Caila make their way to Ptolemy, recruiting allies along the way. But each time they look into the future, Caila sees a vision showing her that Ptolemy will be reduced to a lifeless cinder if they leave, and Sean receives a warning that Caila will die if they stay.
Can they avoid disaster, or will Caila be forced to sacrifice herself to save an entire world?
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SEAN COULDN’T STOP HERSELF from smiling as she stepped through the hatch leading to the ship’s Ambassadorial salon. Caila, as usual, was the source of the smile. She sat on one of the ridiculously ornate silk couches, watching the oversized display built into the front wall of the salon. She had her hair pinned up, and it framed her face in silky black curls, leaving her long neck and small, delicate ears exposed. She’d tossed aside her robe and surcoat and sat in the tight-fitting black keikogi.
Sean took a moment to enjoy seeing Caila relaxed for the first time since they’d left Teraprim Ring. If anyone had asked, she would have told them Caila looked beautiful, but she never really thought that word did Caila justice. Sometimes, she would admit to herself that part of that was the fact that she was totally besotted, but that little detail didn’t change much. Moments like this always filled her with a longing to just reach out, take Caila in her arms, and never let go.
“Take an image,” Caila said. “It will last longer.”
Sean laughed, even though she felt a bit of regret that the moment had ended so quickly. She walked over to the couch where Caila was sitting and took up a guard position next to her. “We should hit the transit point in a few minutes.”
Caila looked up at her with bright green eyes and that beaming smile that never failed to make Sean’s heart skip a beat. She shook her head, laughing a little. “You know I’m just here to negotiate control of a hyperlane, right? You really think you’re going to need a full hardsuit?”
Sean shrugged and gave the same response she always did. “I’m a bodyguard. You pay me to be paranoid.”
“And here I thought I paid you to keep me from being bored to death by all the other Paladins.”
“That’s just a fringe benefit of having me around.” She turned and looked back towards the hatch. “Speaking of Paladins, where are your babysitters?”
Caila gave her a small, mischief-filled grin.
“I pointed out that, in their concern for me, they’ve been neglecting their daily meditations and insisted they all go spend some time in quiet contemplation in the aft conference room.”
“They actually bought that?”
“No idea, but one of the benefits of being a grand master of the Order is that lowly squires, pages, and knight sergeants have to at least pretend to believe everything I say and obey my orders.”
Sean grinned. “Look at you, abusing your power.”
Caila’s grin got wider. “I know. Perhaps the Council is right, and you really are a bad influence.”
Sean laughed. “I could have told you that, but then, I think you could use more bad influences in your life.”
Caila sighed. “Sadly, I don’t think Reagan bought it. I can feel her headed this way.”
Sean snorted. “I think she bribed the Marine sentry outside your door to call her any time I come to see you.”
“Surely you’re not suggesting that a knight sergeant of the Order of Paladins would stoop to base bribery?”
“Only because she doesn’t have a big, strong bodyguard to bash people over the head for her until they do what she wants.”
Caila swung her hand up, swatting Sean in the stomach. “I resent that. I’ve never once asked you to ‘bash’ anyone. I’ve simply asked you to persuade them to see reason.”
“With my fists.”
Caila nodded in agreement. “And occasionally your guns.”
“That too,” Sean said. “Though lately, I wish I was a little bit better at persuading with words.”
“Why is that?” Caila asked.
“It might help with Reagan.”
“Why are you so worried about her?” Caila asked. “A Paladin giving you attitude has never bothered you before.”
“In this case, it just does,” Sean said.
“Oh, come on,” Caila said. “There has to be more to it than that. Tell me what’s going on.”
Sean shook her head. “Nope. You don’t pay me enough for that.”
“I could authorize a bonus.”
“Wouldn’t do you any good. The Order doesn’t have enough money to get me to answer that question.”
“Well, now I’m really curious.”
“You don’t pay me to satisfy your curiosity,” Sean said.
“Conversation isn’t usually something I have to pay extra for.”
Sean turned towards the display and forced herself not to reply to Caila’s comment. It wouldn’t end well. Caila was usually respectful of the few boundaries Sean established in their relationship, but despite having told her to leave the situation with Reagan alone, Caila kept asking, and Sean was getting tired of it. “You should put your robes back on. If one of your minders catches us like this, they’re liable to run their mouth to the Council.”
Caila stood up and reached for her surcoat. “Wouldn’t be the first time someone got the wrong idea about us.”
Again, Sean said nothing, choosing instead to watch silently as Caila pulled the black surcoat over her head and centered the crimson Aum emblazoned on it before fastening it into place. The truth was most of the people who got the ‘wrong idea’ didn’t. They might not be sleeping together, might not have ever exchanged so much as a kiss, but that didn’t really matter. The vow of celibacy Paladins took was meant to keep them from falling in love, and while they had, at Caila’s insistence, obeyed the letter of the law, its spirit had long since been trampled.
Sean took a great deal of pleasure in that. She would have cheerfully told the Order where they could shove each and every one of their rules. Of course, she’d already done that, right before they kicked her out.
Molly is a trans woman with a degree in Astro-physics and a love of storytelling. She loves science fiction, superheroes, and giant robots. Her hobbies include collecting transformers, watching way too many crafting videos on YouTube, and complaining bitterly about the way a certain comic book company treats her favorite superhero.