I self-published my first novel, Daugment, in January 2017. It’s the story of an introverted military genius who’s forced to take on the form of a dog and make friends in order to take down a galactic conspiracy. I drew heavily on my childhood influences (Timothy Zahn, John Scalzi, John R. Erickson, Brian Jacques, and many others) to put this book together, and I think it turned out pretty fun. You can buy the full book on Smashwords or through Amazon (and other major ebook platforms), but you can read the first chapter here.
Pitney buttoned his shirt all the way to the top, because it was that sort of morning. He could already hear the pre-dawn hee-haws of the snowbirds, which local scientists insisted were beautiful, complex love-songs. The force of his disagreement with that conclusion made him cinch his tie too tightly against his Adam’s apple.
Pitney choked and swore, but finally clawed the tie loose, taking with it the top button. Its lazy arc took it under the bed, out of reach.
Snowbirds never had to get gussied up and attend social events.
Granted, they didn’t earn medals for saving their species, either. Pitney Scolan was no snowbird.
No more distractions.
One more ceremony. One more day. Then he could take his well-earned retirement bonus from the Human Authority Government (a good three years’ spending money, at least), and finally, finally, set foot on his personal planet, Prowess.
First he’d call the one thousand, four hundred and ninety-one sentient laborers putting the last touches on the self-sustaining terraforming systems and let them know: all contracts were terminated. Prowess would take care of herself, and he could live there alone, forever free of judgment and stupidity.
First, though… First he had to go and collect his medal.
Damn the Human Authority Government. Damn them and their need for ceremony, for pomp and ritual. It made today stretch longer than the last six decades combined.
Pitney marveled at that. Sixty years’-worth of plans, executions—not enough of those, perhaps—more plans, revisions, revisions, more revisions… and waiting. Somehow, he’d survived sixty years of sleepless nights, hoping against hope and against the asteroids, aliens, programming errors, and dirty freeloaders who could harm his precious Prowess.
All while maintaining a spotless, medal-strewn record as one of the HAG’s top military minds, whose career culminated in the heroic defense of a struggling colony against a pack of ruthless, cold-blooded, and heretofore unheard-of aliens dubbed “the Trembling.”
No big deal.
He laughed into the silence of his room at that, too maniacally for his own taste. Scolan… Get ahold of yourself.
One more twitch of the tie. Pinching the top corners of his shirt together, he hesitated. He couldn’t count on his modest chest hair to turn heads anymore, not when it was that shade of springy grey. But what the hell.
He chose a pair of his favorite indoor slippers. Small rebellions, he thought. Slippers wouldn’t show up in any of the press’s reprographs of the ceremony, but they’d make anyone in the room who gave a shit about decorum a wee bit uncomfortable. Perfect.
Last, he pulled on his well-worn grey field cap.
Pitney Scolan, HAG general, looked back at him in the mirror.
It activated the soldier part of his brain, and he drew in through his senses, locking into his physical body like he would before combat. He sorted through the sensory details of this room, which was just another temporary home on a military base, despite its opulence. There it was: the strange undertone of someone else’s selection in cleaning products. His skin prickled with Makops’s ever-winter cold.
Coming out of the meditation with a shiver, he reached for the nightstand, where hot tea awaited him.
Or rather, where it should have been awaiting him. No hot mug, no cold mug, no mug at all met his hand.
Pitney frowned. It seemed none of the usual staff had been through this morning. On a normal day, he would have noted a crucial detail out of place. A whistling wind blew through Pitney’s mind, bringing with it a chill he interpreted as anticipation.
Then the double closet doors flew open and out spilled the sound of canine nails on ancient, extravagant wooden floors.
Something quite large darted out of his closet towards him, and through force of instinct, Pitney kicked out with his slippers. He landed a blow with one foot, and with a sharp whoomph the air left his unwanted visitor’s lungs, but he came down hard on his other ankle, grimacing as it bent the wrong way.
Pitney pressed his hand to his heart. “Gods,” he panted. Almost seven decades under his belt. He wasn’t a young man anymore. That kind of scare could decommission him faster than he wanted.
He turned the full force of his fear-wrought anger on his unwanted visitor. “HORUS!”
The daugment’s head jerked up, though his bionic eye glittered with contempt. He was a lumpy beagle-basset hound mix the size of a six-year-old child, and a sloppy attempt at enhanced intelligence had left him with the smarts to match.
“I hope you aren’t injured,” Pitney said, feeling a small but genuine twinge of remorse. “All reflex, you understand.”
The four metal segments on the end of Horus’s tail scritched the floor as he sized Pitney up with his real eye. Twitching towards the spot on his side where Pitney’s slipper had connected, he sucked in his breath. “Damn, Pit, wouldn’t’ve thought you the kind of undog what sinks his own claws in the kill.” The words buzzed out of vocalization modules installed in the daugment’s cheeks, so his speech was audible even when he kept his muzzle closed. “Tristan’s going to howl when he hears you kicked me. He’s going to howl.”
Bonus—this bionically-enhanced little shitstain of a lap pet belonged to Pit’s personal and professional rival: General Biaron Tristan, also a HAG man. A beautiful asshole who’d had it in for Pitney since the day they’d first crossed paths.
All of Pitney’s loathing for Tristan manifested in the ass-faced daugment leering at him in his own room. “Get out,” Pitney growled, “or I’ll do more than kick you.”
“Threats!” Horus’s brows shot up. “Comical. Don’t wear so well on undogs what look at least fourteen in dog years.”
“OUT,” Pitney roared in his loudest field commander voice. Smirking, Horus heaved himself to his feet, his long ears dragging on the ground. Without permission, Pitney’s brain ran the calculation on Horus’s sleight: “I do not look NINETY-EIGHT!”
The daugment slunk to the door, which giggled as it slid open, the sound like a claw down Pitney’s spine. He loathed that technology with near the intensity he did the snowbirds or Horus, having encountered the inventor twice. The warning system, which was supposed to make building-goers feel like the doors were their friends, served as a grating reminder of the way the creepy kid had tittered every time he said “calculations.”
Pitney found that he was growling.
On the other side of the door, in solemn contrast to the giggling, stood Pitney’s lieutenant Jason McAver.
Horus darted between the man’s legs and limped out of sight. After today, Pitney would never hear that particular horrid click-clack of nails again.
The lieutenant hadn’t moved or said a word, his cheeks hollow and his brown eyes worried under his broad, creased forehead. Those trenches were probably plowed by the trials of family at home, some obligation of flesh or choice. How unfortunate.
Even among the slim pantheon of human beings Pitney considered in his good graces, Jason McAver stood out: immediate, trustworthy, not given to romanticism or sentimentality. And loyal. At least, Pitney had put his life in the man’s hands many times and been rewarded by safety and service.
Now, hoping to distract his favorite officer from whatever seemed to be worrying him, Pitney vocalized his displeasure. “Did you hear that stupid mutt? I am a respected officer of the Human Authority Government, and I’m about to receive an award for saving my race, and this is how some animal is allowed to treat me? Gods. He is the worst.” Pitney ground his molars together, and Jace put a protective hand on the older man’s forearm.
“Sir, I—I’ll keep the daugment out of your hair. I wouldn’t worry myself too much over him.”
“Not for long, anyway.” His breathing and heart rate were normalizing, though still heightened. “I’ve got to go have a ceremony dedicated to me, you know.”
Jace’s eyes searched Pitney’s face and managed a genuine smile. “Aye. That I do, sir. Come on, I’ll walk you as far as I can.”
Pitney grunted and turned to get his coat. He didn’t usually mind Jace tagging along; as sidekicks went, he was a good kid, eager and a little bullish. But today—Pitney wanted to savor every moment of solitude, from this moment on. Soon all his moments would be solitary.
As soon as he and Jace stepped into the hall, Pitney was glad he’d thought to grab the heavier of his military-issue coats. Someone somewhere had forgotten to close a door against Makops’s violent cold, which whistled down the corridors seeking underdressed victims.
A pair of polished HAG guards, their faces obscured by solid black helmets, nodded to them as they passed. Pitney nodded back, aware of the silence that had followed him out of his room. It clung to the décor, a miasma of desolation. Like this blasted planet.
He certainly wouldn’t miss this hell of an outpost: no measure of eye candy, as even the attractive ones bundled up against the bitter cold; storm winds funneled between buildings, so that every walk to a meeting was equivalent to an upstream swim; views of empty, wintry wastelands out every sad porthole of a window. Sure, out here he was safe from the invaders—on a planet so unknown they had to create their own delivery service to get supplies.
One of those delivery service pilots, dressed head to toe in a bright blue jumpsuit, tipped her fur hand-pouch as she passed them in the entrance to the grand hall. She kept her eyes downcast, though they darted up to the pips on his coat. Pitney steered wide to avoid any apology she might offer for eye contact or for getting too close.
He turned his head slightly, taking advantage of his extra wide peripheral vision to watch the woman stop suddenly and then sprint through a service door. He realized the guards, too, had vanished.
Beside him, Jace slowed to a stop.
“I should probably let you go on alone,” he said stiffly, standing at ease with his hands behind his back. “This is your moment, sir.”
Pitney chuckled, mostly to fill the space that sound had vacated. “You make it sound like someone’s died, McAver,” he said, amused at first but then nervous, when Jace didn’t move to laugh or counter that idea.
Five minutes ago, he wished Jace would leave. Now he was watching the younger man edge away, and dread churned in his guts.
“Good luck, sir,” Jace said, then snapped a perfect salute, whirled on his heel, and stepped smartly through the nearest door. It clanged shut behind him, an eerie echo in the now-deserted hall.
Though Pitney Scolan stood alone in the largest chamber in the Makopsian base, he felt like a thousand pairs of eyes were glued to his feet as he dragged them forward. He wished he’d thought to drink a glass of water; his throat was dry and raspy, and his stomach flip-flopped. Receiving this medal suddenly seemed more daunting than the aliens he’d defeated to earn it.
He turned around a pillar to face a hall that narrowed but lost none of its height, ending in a pair of gilded doors. For a military outfit, Makops had very little that was standard issue. It had been assembled from pieces ripped off ancient relics on colony planets.
Torches fluttered in their sconces, and Pitney narrowed one eye at this cliché throwback to a time when a castle was more than a status symbol. Modern technologies came together to mimic something natural with such precision that they might as well have lit some damn torches.
In keeping with the illusion of age, the floors remained wood and bare. The cold moved up through Pitney’s slippers. But—this sense of grandeur and ceremony was impressive, and Pitney appreciated that the hall was all alight for his benefit.
He cracked his knuckles. Rolled his shoulders and touched the cold pips there. Brushed the medals over his heart. Pressed his hand to his side where a stitch had formed. The air burned in his lungs.
“This is it, Scolan. Your fairy-tale ending,” he said in a whisper, because today required narration. Today was the triumphant pre-credits scene, the final act’s final act.
This was the culmination of his sacrifices. And he would face it with an army-straight face.
He stepped through the doors, heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe.
He crossed the distance between him and the four well-decorated generals of the Human Authority Government, his peers, the only four people in the world who could look him in the eyes and know exactly what it meant to stand under the pressure of his job. They were looking at him with something like—awe? anguish? devotion, perhaps—as he joined them for what would be the last time as a HAG officer in uniform.
He came so close to the man at the front of the group, the handsome fifty-something General Biaron Tristan, that he could smell pungent lunch-soaked breath and a faint trace of dog.
“Sir,” Pitney said, jerking his hand to his forehead. Last salute for you, Tristan. Give me my medal and let me be on my way, you miserable piece of—
“Pitney Scolan,” General Tristan said, his tongue very red in his dark mouth, “you are under arrest.”
“Excuse me,” Pitney said. He rocked backwards with the absurd force of that statement.
“The charges brought against you by this tribunal of generals, ranked as you are or higher, are as follows.” Tristan spoke as much with his thick black eyebrows as with his toothy maw. He began to pace up and down in front of Pitney, walking the edge of the slight dais on which the generals stood. “Deception of a fellow officer, three counts. Inciting anti-government sentiment, twenty-four counts. Embezzling government funds, two counts. Aiding and abetting the enemy, four counts. And abuse of government property, one count.”
Tristan fell silent, as if waiting for Pitney to remember his lines.
Pitney’s tongue knotted up, tangled around the accusations. His limbs were numb. Now he was sure he knew the emotion on the other generals’ faces: disgust.
“Government property?” he managed after what felt like hours of the panel’s stony silence.
“You… kicked… my… dog,” Tristan said through his teeth, dropping each word like a delicate bomb.
A hysterical laugh wrenched out of Pitney. “Yes,” he said, “I’ll plead guilty to that one.”