CARINA, page 1
Published in 2017 by Pulcheria Press
Copyright © 2017 by Alison Morton
Propriété littéraire d’Alison Morton
The right of Alison Morton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Acts 1988 Sections 77 and 78.
All rights reserved. Tous droits réservés
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the copyright holder, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
* * *
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
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INCEPTIO first chapters
INCEPTIO Chapter I
IINCEPTIO Chapter II
Also by Alison Morton
About the Author
Praise for the Roma Nova series
* * *
Carina Mitela, Lieutenant, Praetorian Guard Special Forces (PGSF)
Conradus Mitelus, Major, PGSF, Carina’s husband
Aurelia Mitela, Carina’s grandmother, head of Mitela family
Helena Mitela, Carina’s cousin
Allegra Mitela, Carina and Conrad’s daughter
Daniel Stern, Lieutenant, PGSF
Flavius, Optio, PGSF, part of Carina’s Active Response Team
Lucius, Adjutant, PGSF
Granius, Cypher clerk, Praetorian Guard
Dubnus, Guard, PGSF
Fausta, IT specialist
Murria, Lieutenant, Interrogation Service
Vara, PGSF legate
Atria, Optio, PGSF, part of Carina’s Active Response Team
Livius, Optio, PGSF, part of Carina’s Active Response Team
Marcia Vibiana, a renegade scientist
Hayden Black, owner, Bornes & Black Advertising Agency
Special Agent O’Keefe, FBI, New York
Inspector Cornelius Lurio, Department of Justice custodes
Prisca Monticola, head of the Roma Nova Silver Guild
‘I should flay you both for this. It’s a bloody good job we’re not back in the Ancients’ times. A good Roman punishment officer would have sorted you both out.’
I winced at the laser-like words.
‘I can see no reason why I shouldn’t throw you both out this instant. You’ve disobeyed standing orders, your reckless behaviour has set an extremely poor example to all ranks and it would be a complete waste of your expensive training if you’d broken your stupid necks.’
It was Daniel’s fault we were standing here getting the biggest bollocking ever. He’d dared me to a hand-climbing race up the inner courtyard wall of the old fortress building. Strictly forbidden because the stonework was loose and flaking after eight hundred years, but I couldn’t resist the challenging sparkle in his eye. Of course, we got an audience; of course, they made book on us, but the shouts of encouragement and even the catcalls spurred us both on.
Halfway up, one piece of stone came away in my hand. I let it fall to the ground which caused more shouting, a few laughs and some cursing. That bastard Dubnus shook his fist at me, egging on his group of buddies with filthy comments.
We’d reached the top, neck and neck, muscles trembling and breath heaving. I had the tiniest margin on Daniel. One last effort and I pulled myself up, my stomach on the edge of the crumbling parapet and swung myself over. I’d hardly flung my arms up in victory when the shouting died at a stroke.
A voice like a shotgun had rung out, ordering us down that instant. Major Mitelus, our commander, was incandescent. Even from five storeys up I could see his hazel eyes were blazing.
‘Oh, shit,’ Daniel said softly, then coughed. His lungs grasped air from the cool November morning.
‘Squared,’ I said. ‘What the hell is he doing here anyway? He wasn’t due in until the afternoon.’
‘Well, you’d know.’
Major Mitelus was also my husband, Conrad. Something which made my life more than difficult.
His eyes were still blazing now thirty minutes later as Daniel and I stood rigid as funeral imagines in front of his desk. My heart was hammering harder than when I’d been at the top of our climb.
‘I will not tolerate such behaviour from my junior officers. It reflects poorly on the unit and the senior staff. Mars knows we don’t need any more more problems at the moment.’ He shot an incinerating look at me. He’d mentioned at home only the night before that he was fending off subtle attempts to stop his pending promotion, move him out of his post and put one of the legate’s cronies in his place. The warmth crept up my neck but I couldn’t think of anything to say.
‘Badges on my desk, and empty your pockets.’
Car keys, pen, notepad, phone, locker key and a few solidi from me; pretty near the same from Daniel.
‘Earpiece, too.’ Hades. Without that part the tooth mic would be useless.
He nodded at the security detail who grasped our arms.
‘Seven days in the cells.’
I pulled against the hand gripping my arm and took half a step forward.
‘Take them down,’ he said and looked away.
The bastard. Not for the punishment. I guess that was due. No, now I would miss our daughter’s fourth birthday.
‘Books,’ the guard grumped and thrust them at me. I caught them in my arms before they fell on the cell floor. ‘She’ll bring more in a couple of days,’ he said over his shoulder as he went out before I could ask who had brought them. The heavy metal door clanged shut.
I stared at the smooth grey surface only broken by the observation panel, handle and lock. It was the barrier to seeing Allegra, my daughter, walk towards the family altar, be guided up the step by my cousin Helena instead of me. Allegra’s little fingers would drop the incense on the altar as a sacrifice to her genius, the tutelary spirit that would guide and protect her for the next year. She’d flinch as the flames flared and then probably wipe her fingers on her white dress. Helena would give her a quick hug, help her down, take her hand and find her a drink. My grandmother, Aurelia, would kiss her great-grandchild and they’d all devour cake. Perhaps Allegra would ask where Mama was. I kicked the door in frustration, cursing the plastic sandals I now wore that gave my toes no protection.
I looked at the books. A mix of light adventure and historical romances. A slight bulge in the pages of one revealed a note. Shit luck you caught this for Allegra’s birthday. Hope these help pass the time. H. Helena, my cousin and friend. Thank you, I breathed.
The very worst was the boredom. Then the lack of exercise. I stomped up and down my cell every day for an hour morning and evening, inventing new curses for Conrad. He was my commanding officer. I knew he was correct, but I still thought it was
Daniel grinned at me as he stood in the corridor waiting for me after he’d been let out of his cell.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
‘Fabulous,’ I replied.
‘Yes. And let’s get smashed.’
* * *
After being released from the custody suite at 7 a.m., where the duty sergeant gave me a smirk along with a sealed plastic bag containing my uniform, crowned eagle badge and other stuff, I checked my duty note, relieved to find I wasn’t rostered until the afternoon. Ignoring the sly grins from some in the unit, I smiled back at those who smiled at me or gave me a comradely pat on the back or arm.
At home, I tried to sneak in through the service entrance, but had the humiliation of waiting like a peddler until one of the house security team let me in. After seven days out, my password sync with the house system was completely invalid. I crept up the backstairs and after a shower and change of clothes, I headed for the nursery and folded Allegra into my arms.
‘Lo, Mama.’ She gave me a wet kiss and pushed herself against my body. Tears welled in my eyes. I sat down, still clutching her to me.
‘Mama is very sorry she wasn’t here for your birthday.’
‘Allegra loves Mama,’ she said, copper-brown lights overcoming the green in her hazel eyes, the twins of her father’s. I gripped her, her face warm against the skin of my neck. Even if I had another ten children – the gods forbid – she would always be the child of my heart.
‘Well, we toasted absent friends,’ came a clipped voice. I stood, still holding Allegra, and saw Helena. Perfect as always, even in a sweater and jeans. Her smooth skin, immaculately made up, and hair caught up in elaborate braids at the back of her head and not one hair out of place made her look like a model. She had the same Mitela blue eyes as many women in my family did, and I could see her resemblance, but softer, to my grandmother. But she had poise, that indefinable body confidence I’d never achieve.
‘Thank you for looking after Allegra on her birthday,’ I said.
‘Yes, that was crap timing.’
‘Well, it wasn’t intentional,’ I fired back. Allegra gripped my neck harder.
‘That wasn’t what Conrad said. He was as cross as Jupiter on a bad day. He kept it in for Allegra’s sake, but afterwards, he threw almost a full tumbler of whisky down his throat and told us exactly what had happened.’ She frowned at me. ‘How could you do something so stupid?’
I didn’t answer. I stared at her. Helena would never understand that spark that pushed us on in the military, why we felt the challenge and the need to answer it. And being in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces doubled, even trebled it. She’d never been in uniform; they’d abolished national service back in the nineties. Allegra squirmed in my arms, so I set her down among the cushions.
‘Aurelia said she wanted to see you as soon as you’d finished here.’ Helena looked at me with a steady gaze. ‘You’d better put a fireproof suit on first.’
My grandmother was sitting at her desk in the tablinum, her formal office just off the atrium. Her head bowed over a file and pen hovered a centimetre or two above it. I shut the door behind me and went to speak.
‘One moment,’ she said without looking up.
I stood there, somehow feeling I shouldn’t sit down before I was invited. That was ridiculous. This was my beloved Nonna who had welcomed me when I’d fled to Roma Nova, who had given me a home and supported me from average girl to the Praetorian officer I was now. But in her formal work suit, her gold-rimmed spectacles perched on her nose, her attention one hundred per cent on her file – one of a pile on her desk – she looked every bit the formidable senator and imperial councillor she was.
She looked up at last and leant back in her carved chair.
‘I expect Conrad has barked at you and Helena will no doubt have made you feel guilty.’ Her voice was flat. ‘I’m not going to add to that, but I would like you to consider what impact you may have had on the reputation of the family.’ She pushed a newspaper across the desk. My face and large headlines.
Stupid or brave?
Young Mitela heir nearly kills herself for a bet.
Is this what we expect from the senior of the Twelve Families?
‘How did they find out?’ I said, appalled at the tabloid.
‘Don’t be naive, Carina,’ she snapped. ‘The journalists are always sniffing around. Some loose tongue mentioned it in a bar and it flared round at the speed of light.’ She sighed. ‘None of us has a perfect record. When I was framed for murder in Prussia forty years ago, the news got out, but the foreign ministry managed to damp it down. These days, if you sneeze, digital cameras and the Internet will have you dying of flu within minutes.’
I swallowed hard.
‘This piece is five days old now. Luckily, your time in the cells will have let the whole thing quieten down. I suggest you don’t go to any events in the city for a few days. Do your duty shifts, then come straight home. You need to get back into your routine.’ She looked at her watch. ‘Now I must get on.’ She bent her head back to her work.
I was dismissed, but so flooded with embarrassment I couldn’t move. Underneath I resented being treated like a rebellious teenager. I was a grown woman of twenty-nine, for the gods’ sake. She was the head of the family, but how could she close me out like this? She had to listen to my side of it.
‘I’m sorry, Nonna, if my conduct has reflected badly on you, but—’
‘Apology accepted,’ she interrupted and looked up. ‘But it’s not on me. A few snide remarks before the Senate session are nothing.’ She fixed me with her eyes. ‘It’s the family. I try to keep them in line, stop them doing stupid things, rescuing them when they do. I can’t keep my eye on several hundred cousins all the time, though. However, I do expect the closest members of my household to behave and especially my heir.’
‘No, not another word, Carina. Just go and get on and try to live this down.’
She went back to her work and, still smarting, I made for the door.
* * *
There was no way I was going to the canteen at the barracks for lunch, so I grabbed a sandwich from the machine and made myself a cup of coffee in the tiny kitchen off our corridor. Ignoring the twenty or so other juniors in the open general office, I negotiated my way to my shabby desk. After fielding the mountain of messages on my screen and the sticky notes curling at the edge on my desk, most irrelevant now, I sighed at my in tray. I’d missed giving a weapons training exercise, but I saw a pinned note on the file that a colleague had covered it for me.
Crap, Lucius, the adjutant. His hand rested on the door and he was frowning at me. He jerked his head at me then turned and left. I hurried across the general office to the door, weaving in between the desks. Out in the corridor, I saw him disappear into his room, but leaving the door open.
‘Well, you covered yourself in glory this time, didn’t you?’
I said nothing as I stood in front of his desk.
‘Oh, sit down and stop looking like an offended pigeon.’
I perched on the edge of the plastic padded chair and waited for more scathing words.
‘I expect you’ve had enough bollocking, so I won’t add to it.’ He grinned. ‘I’ll have your hide if you tell Conradus, but I made fifty solidi on the book.’
I gave him a weak smile.
‘I suggested sending you and Daniel Stern on the northern endurance refresher course. That would have taken the wind out of you. Well, for a few days.’
Gods, that ‘optional’ course was still a gap on my training record; on
‘He’s on his way there, but not you. Something’s come up – an overseas mission – and you’re a perfect fit for it. And it’ll keep you out of our hair for a bit.’
‘Cut along and see Conradus for the details, but let me warn you, don’t get smart. Be grateful this mission came up.’
He tapped on his keyboard, printed out an admin allocation request, and handed it to me. Then he returned to his files.
Outside Conrad’s door I dithered, summoning up the courage to knock on the polished dark wood. I took a good breath and did it.
He looked up and stared at me for a full minute. The natural daylight was sinking fast and the low sunlight reflected in his hazel eyes, making them look like agates. I didn’t have a clue what he was thinking.
‘Sit down,’ he said in a terse voice. He picked the file on the top of his in tray and flipped it open. He looked up at me. ‘Has the adjutant given you any details?’
‘No, he just mentioned it was overseas.’
He touched his screen, swivelled it round so I could read it. His hand brushed mine. We both looked down, but the moment passed too quickly.
‘Conrad, I’m so sorry,’ I said in a low voice. ‘Not for the climb,’ I added in a firmer tone. ‘But I didn’t think there would be any effect on the unit.’
‘No, you didn’t think.’
‘I can only repeat that I’m sorry.’
by Alison Morton / Thriller / Historical Fiction / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes