Eclipse + a snippet

I’m not sure if everyone was wrapped up in the eclipse yesterday, but I live in the path of totality, so I witnessed a pretty nifty thing. It was surreal, beautiful, and probably one of the most amazing things I have witnessed in nature. (Note: the photo was taken by a super-cool friend of mine, Shawn Porter. And yes, that is what totality looked like. Amazing!)

Anyway, I know you are all anxious for news on Pirate Consort. It’s going really well, should be available soon. Still on track for a release by the end of summer.

Here, have a brief snippet:

Mercy stopped outside of the closed doors beside Dem. He waited, as silent and patient as a statue, while she stood and thought about what she was about to do. The small of her back felt hot, and nausea made her swallow. Damn, she didn’t want to walk into that room. If Cannon were here, she’d have felt much better about this.

But then, if Cannon were here, she wouldn’t need to do it at all.

Are any of them empaths? She sent the words to Dem telepathically, not willing to risk speaking them aloud.

No.

Well, she had that going for her, at least.

They may try to penetrate your shields, however. To test you. 

Her brows drew down as a kernel of anger started to burn inside of her. She held onto it, preferring that over the butterflies of uncertainty and dread.

And what will happen if they penetrate my shields?

A spark of cold chilled the depths of Dem’s eyes. They will not. 

Wait. Mercy stared at him. Gingerly, she probed outside of her shields and felt another barrier, a solid wall of Talent. No. You can’t protect me. 

Dem’s eyebrows rose. Mercy—

No, Dem. These are vicious, violent men and women who are just waiting for me to slip up, for an opportunity to prove I’m either not strong enough to be Queen, or not trustworthy enough. I can’t walk into that room with you shielding me from whatever they might throw my way.

Very well. The barrier vanished. Mercy couldn’t be sure, but she thought the corner of his mouth might have twitched before he caught it. Dem’s version of almost smiling.

For fuck’s sake. She rolled her eyes. I don’t need you testing me, too. 

She turned and strode forward, using her telekinesis to throw open the doors.

Pirate Consort Snippet: Prologue Part 3

Here is the final part of the prologue to Pirate Consort, coming soon. I hope you all have enjoyed reading this opening to a book I am very excited to share. Make sure you read part one and part two before reading this one, if you haven’t already.

Pirate Consort, Prologue Part 3

 

Let me speak to him. Boy. This voice was new. Female. He froze, something about it so compelling that it broke through his frantic thoughts, scattering them.

My queen, you should not be here. Kai did not sound happy, and this, too, made the boy pause and think.

There’s more than one of you? The thought was a whisper that escaped his attempts to control it.

Feminine laughter filled his mind. Of course. 

How many?

Why, all of us. The woman didn’t sound mad, or worried, or coaxing. She sounded amused.

Something about her voice drew him. His heart thumped in his chest. He’d never been so scared in his life, and yet something about her calmed him better than the counting exercise. An old ghost of a memory surfaced. A woman’s hand brushing his hair back from his temple. It was soothing in the way this woman was soothing. His fear drained away. He stopped drawing power, but held the drive core poised to be flooded, just in case.

Who are you?

My name is Lilith. 

Lilith. He tested her name out in his thoughts, mesmerized by it.

It is customary to exchange names when meeting someone.

I have none. I am a slave. 

Silence. The boy felt something, like a tremendous pressure. It filled the silence and he sought out the comfort of the ship’s nanites in case the walls should crumple beneath the force of it. But nothing happened.

When her voice came again, Lilith sounded empty of amusement. Instead there was a complete absence of emotion. No.

Confused, the boy wondered if he’d missed a question someone had asked.

No what?

No, you are not a slave. You are not nameless. 

But I am.

Not anymore. Lilith’s voice held more command than any of the masters he had ever served. You are one of us, and we do not tolerate slavery. You are free. 

The chain holding him to his alcove sheared and fell slack. He stared at it, uncomprehending. It wasn’t nanograph, but pure titanium, like the bulkhead it attached to. He couldn’t manipulate it. Yet, something had sliced through it with the ease of a hot razor cutting wax.

A sound made him look up, and he found himself staring up at the most beautiful face he had ever seen. Two people stood before him, though the door to the engine room was still closed and locked. How did they get in? One of them was a man, tall and intimidating. He wore an armored chest piece similar to what Braxton and his mercenaries used, but it had a faint pattern the boy recognized: nanograph, but lighter and more flexible than the ship. The most expensive armor on the market. Nearly impossible to get.

The second person was a woman. Her dark hair fell in a long braid over her shoulder. She wore an armored vest and shirt, not nanograph, but the material fluid as only the most expensive armored clothing could be. Her face held a fierce, striking beauty. The boy met her startling green eyes and was enthralled. She reached a hand out to him, her skin a dusky bronze that made him think of sun-drenched planets.

He stared at her fingers, sitting immobile. His mind held to the drive core with a strange desperation. He wanted badly to take her hand. He wondered what would happen when he did.

These people have used you. Sold you for their own profit, abused your gifts. You don’t belong with them. The woman’s mental voice was soft, yet held more authority than all of Braxton’s shouting. You belong with us.

Still, he hesitated. A pirate? His tone was dubious. He didn’t want to do any of the things in the stories. He didn’t want to space people or maroon them, or own his own slaves. He didn’t want to hurt people unless he had to. He knew what it felt like to be hurt.

Her eyes gleamed, and he had the feeling she was amused again. Give us a chance. If you decide you don’t want to stay, I won’t force you. 

He stared into her eyes, wanting so badly to believe her.

I swear to you. If you don’t wish to come with us, we will leave you here. She paused, glancing over her shoulder. The boy realized the man was speaking to her mentally. She gave a nod, then turned back to meet his eyes again. We will even fix your drive core, so you can jump to a waystation. Her expression hardened. And we will remove everyone else from the ship, and give you a cut from our take.

His suspicion deepened. No one helped a slave like him for free. Why would you do that?

You are like us. Talented.

He thought about that. He’d been sold for his abilities. For what he could do. If these people were like him, maybe they didn’t need his Talent. Maybe they really would help him.

You don’t want anything?

Only for you to be free. And safe. 

He studied her. He could usually get a sense of what someone was like when he met them. But she was a contradiction. Hard, yet soft. Distant, but vibrant and warm. He thought about what she said. Even if she did everything she promised, and he made it to the waystation – even if he had credits or hard coin to start a new life – he had no idea where to go or what to do. He’d been a slave for as long as he could remember. And he felt drawn to this woman as he had never felt drawn to anyone before. She felt warm and safe. Like something forgotten, but right on the edge of his consciousness. Something he didn’t know he’d been missing.

Or, you can come with us. Where I promise you, no one will ever hurt you again. She was still holding her hand out to him. Waiting.

What would I have to do?

Her head tilted as she eyed him. Why, learn. Learn your heritage. How to properly shield your mind and use your Talent more efficiently. She paused, a smile widening her lips. Learn who you really are.

The boy swallowed. He wanted to do everything she said. But he was so afraid. He thought about the peace of the void that awaited him. His mind still held the drive core, ready to punch power into it with a thought.

Lilith waited, like she had all of the time in the universe. The man behind her shifted, looking uncomfortable. His stance over the woman was protective. Worried.

She was important. Not someone who should be waiting on a nobody like him. Kai had called her a queen. The boy looked down at his own grimy fingers, his skin pale beneath the layer of dirt and bruises, the nails bitten to the quick. A tightness filled his chest and his breath hitched. For a horrible moment he thought he might cry, and he knew if he did he wouldn’t be able to bear the humiliation.

“Sebastian,” said Lilith.

The boy looked up, his eyes darting to the man, but he wasn’t moving. She wasn’t talking to him.

“What?” he asked out loud. His voice cracked.

She smiled at him, and it was the most glorious thing he’d ever seen. “Your name. It will be Sebastian, if you like.”

The man behind her made a noise. His chin lifted in obvious surprise.

“It was my father’s name.” There was something in Lilith’s voice. An echo of sadness. “A good name for a strong man.”

The tightness in the boy’s chest expanded.

“Sebastian.” It felt strange as his tongue shaped the name. His name. Tears blurred his vision, and he dropped his hold on the drive core, letting it go silent and dead once more. When he moved, it was in a clumsy lunge forward to grasp Lilith’s fingers before she changed her mind. Her touch was warm, firm, but not painful. She took his hand like he was an equal.

“I like that name,” he said, ducking his head so she wouldn’t see his tears.

Lilith pulled him to his feet. She smiled at him as though he was the most important person in the universe.

“Welcome home, Sebastian.”

New Space Opera by S. J. Pajonas: Crash Land on Kurai

Yumi Minamoto has the shortest fuse on the ship. She’s just whipped a bully and been confined to quarters, but she’s not staying there. A disgraced journalist trying to clear her name, her job is to document the mission to the Hikoboshi system, and she’s determined to get it right, despite all the trouble she causes. But when unknown vessels fire on their ship, and Yumi’s life pod crash lands on a dying moon, she’s separated from her family and friends, and her mission falls to pieces. Now she must navigate the unfamiliar and deadly terrain, deal with a society she doesn’t understand, and try to stay alive until rescue comes… if it ever does.

Crash Land on Kurai is the first book in the Hikoboshi Series, an action adventure, space opera series that explores the worlds settled by the Japanese who fled Earth a century ago. Culture, history, technology, and swords clash in a fast-paced future society on the brink of war.


You guys, to say that I am excited about this book would be a massive understatement. I adore S. J. Pajonas and her Daydreamer Detective cozy mystery series. I’ve known about this new space opera for awhile now, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to get my hands on it. If you’ve read my books, you know I love to imagine new cultures and societies in the stars. Here, S. J. is imagining a future in space for the Japanese, a people steeped in culture and history. I can’t wait to see her vision of how that will look! 

Without further ado, here is a snippet. This book is in Kindle Unlimited, for free, or $2.99 to buy.


My tablet slides down my front as the thrust increases. I grunt as I pull up to the outer bridge level next to Kazuo and re-orient myself to up and down.

The bridge is sealed, but he’s frantically pressing the call button anyway.

“They’re not going to open the door,” I say, my “I told you so” voice cranked up to high.

Kazuo leaves his hand on the palm scanner, the read-out blinking “Unauthorized” over and over.

“Unauthorized, my ass,” he grumbles. “Who do you think paid for these damn ships, huh?”

I lean against the wall, saving my energy. Who paid for the ships? All the Terrans who had to live on that crap planet before they finally picked up and left. Though my dad always talks about Earth and Nishikyō with such fondness, I can’t help but find the idea of living under domes to be repulsive. Confined places make me nervous. This ship is hard enough to bear.

The door to the outer bridge hisses open and my boss, Chieko Mori, stands in the way.

“Can I help you with something, Uchiyama?” Her gravelly voice drawls over Kazuo’s last name. Between years of talking non-stop fourteen hours a day and smoking the local herb we call “cake,” Chieko’s voice sounds like someone dragged it through a stone driveway sopping wet. Her sun-worn skin could easily be used to upholster furniture, and her hair turned white ten years too early. She’s a piece of work. Of course, I love her.

I peek out from behind Kazuo, and her face lights up.

“Perfect.” Her lips curl up into a smile, revealing her newscaster white teeth. “You brought my protégé.” She points her finger at me. “I thought you were confined to quarters?”

“When has that ever stopped me?”

Kazuo sighs as Chieko laughs.

“Never. Okay, you stick by me. Shit’s going down, and it’s about to get fun.”

Yes!

I jerk my head at Kazuo, and he gestures for me to lead the way.

It’s time to get back to business.

~~~
You can check out Crash Land on Kurai on Amazon.
Author Bio
Stephanie (S. J.) is a writer, knitter, amateur astrologer, Capricorn, and Japanophile. She loves foxes, owls, sushi, yoga pants, Evernote, and black tea. When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing or spending time outside, unless it’s winter. She hates winter. Someday she’ll own a house in both hemispheres so she can avoid the season entirely. She’s a mom to two great kids and lives with her husband and family outside NYC. They have no pets. Yet. When it comes to her work, expect the unexpected. She doesn’t write anything typical. Find her online at http://www.spajonas.com

Pirate Consort Snippet: Prologue Part 2

Hey everyone! Hope you all had a fantastic 4th, those of you here in the US. I’ve had a stressful few days, with our dog going in for emergency surgery to remove a piece of broken toy lodged in her small intestine and repair a perforation it caused. But she is on the mend this morning and doing well. To celebrate my relief, I’m posting the second Pirate Consort snippet this morning. Make sure you read Part 1 first, if you haven’t already!

Pirate Consort, Prologue Part 2

 

Braxton and his people waited in the corridor for them.

If they hadn’t suffered the hull breach, the boy could have urged Braxton to back off so he could seal away that part of the ship. He could have vented the air and suffocated the intruders. But he couldn’t sacrifice the air that remained.

Still, he had a few tricks left.

Pull back, he told Braxton as the pirates cut through the inner airlock door.

The mercenary didn’t like taking orders. He hesitated, but he also knew the boy wouldn’t be asking without a reason. He pulled his people back to the nearest cross-corridor. It was almost too late. The pirates were already pouring into the hallway. Plasma weapons fired from both sides. Five of Braxton’s people went down, but the pirates took no damage. Something the boy could neither see nor feel shielded them, absorbing or deflecting the mercenaries’ weapons-fire. Intrigued, the boy focused his mind around that area for a heartbeat. But it told him nothing. They weren’t carrying plasma shields. He could sense nothing touching the walls of the ship.

He didn’t have time to solve the mystery. Braxton and his men were outnumbered. The boy triggered the ship’s fire suppression system in the section of corridor around the pirates. The nanites responded, changing the shape of the nanograph walls to include openings and tiny nozzles. The foam sprayed all around the intruders, treating them like flames that needed to be smothered. It was sticky by nature, beginning in nearly liquid form, but quickly expanding to fill the available space.

So the boy didn’t understand what was happening when the foam being sprayed onto the pirates built into a giant ball in front of them, instead of sticking to their arms and legs and filling the corridor. A second later, the growing ball shot down the corridor straight at Braxton.

Impossible. But the boy felt it happen. Felt it hit and expand to tangle what remained of Braxton and his fighting crew.

“I’m going to kill you, you fucking—” Braxton’s words cut off abruptly when foam filled his mouth. He gagged and spit, fighting to free himself from the sticky mess, still firing useless plasma bursts at the pirates. Most of the shots were wild, skimming off the nanograph walls. The nanites were already working hard at repairing the burns and scorch marks. The boy directed them to change shape yet again, to build a wall across the hallway and prevent the pirates from moving through. Nanograph was infinitely customizable, but it took time to form new shapes. It wouldn’t be fast enough. He knew it in his heart, even as he urged the nanites to move faster.

And who have we here?

The boy froze at the sound of the other voice in his head. It was unfamiliar, deep, and male. Someone like him – someone Talented – was inside his mind. He tried frantically to lock down his thoughts, to freeze like an ant that has just been noticed by a hungry spider.

No need to fear me, boy. We are alike, you and I.

The pirates were already moving past the partially formed wall. He couldn’t think, couldn’t focus to figure out what his next move should be. The voice in his head was such a shock it overshadowed everything else.

The boy couldn’t help his curiosity. He’d never met anyone like himself before. Almost of their own accord, his thoughts reached out to the other mind. Who are you?

Dimly, he was aware that the fight was all but over. Braxton and his crew, snarled in the foam, were easy prey to the pirates. A few more fell, but most were disarmed.

A friend.

The boy doubted that. He didn’t have any friends.

The pirates rounded up the surviving mercenaries and locked them inside the cargo hold. He could hear Braxton screaming that he was going to kill them all. But those seemed like distant events barely worthy of the boy’s attention. All of his focus was on the mind connected with his. What did it want? Everyone wanted something.

My name is Kai. I’m a pirate. 

The boy shrank away at those words, images filling his thoughts of everything he’d heard about the ruthless pirates who roamed fringe space. If even half of the tales were true, he’d be fortunate if they only spaced him.

Don’t be afraid. 

The boy could feel Kai’s mind moving closer. He realized the man must be walking through the ship, trying to find him. Panicked, he started closing and locking every door, slamming them shut as fast as he could direct the nanites. He locked down the lift. What was he going to do? What could he do? He couldn’t jump away with the drive core cracked. Besides, the pirates were already aboard. Braxton’s people were locked up or dead.

Boy, stop. 

The boy felt them cutting their way through doors. All of the locks in the universe would only hold for so long. He closed his eyes and began to count his breaths. A calming exercise a fellow slave once taught him.

Let me help you.

In his mind, the stranger’s tone was insidious and deceptive. Why would anyone, especially a pirate, help a slave?

Even if by some miracle the pirates took what they wanted and left him here with Braxton, once the captain escaped the hold, he would blame the boy for this. For using the fire suppression system. For losing the ship.

Braxton would surely kill him this time. And the pirates would do worse. They took slaves, sometimes. He’d heard the stories. The mercenaries delighted in telling him every detail of what he could expect if the ship ever fell to pirate hands.

A fine trembling overtook his whole body, his teeth beginning to chatter in his skull.

Maybe he couldn’t stop the pirates from getting to him, but he could stop them from hurting him. He turned his attention to the cracked drive core. It didn’t have the same self-repair systems the walls and hull did. It was too complex. Emergency protocol shut it down when it took damage. But he could force it awake again. And if he did, he could start a feedback cycle that would destroy the ship.

We can help you.

It would kill him too, of course. But there was a certain peace in that.

Damn it, stop. 

The boy coaxed the drive back to life, began syphoning power from other systems.

Audiobook news!

I have an exciting announcement! I have just signed a 3-book contract with Tantor Media to produce the audiobooks for the first three main books in the Telepathic Space Pirates series. This means that Pirate Nemesis and Pirate Consort will both have audiobook versions available in the coming months, as will the as-yet-unannounced third full-length book in the series. This is beyond exciting to me. I love audiobooks, and I know a lot of people prefer them in today’s fast-paced world. I will update with more information as it becomes available.

Tantor, by the way, is a big audiobook publisher. They do audiobooks for authors such as Ilona Andrews. I am very excited to be working with them.

Cover Reveal!

I realize this is the second cover reveal for Pirate Consort. The decision to rebrand my series was an extremely difficult one. It meant delaying the release of this book. It meant a huge chunk of money, after I’d already spent money on covers I loved. It meant a leap of faith that the decision was the right one for the future success of my series. It was so, so hard to make that choice.

But that being said, the relaunch has been highly successful, and I feel strongly now that it was the right choice. So here it is, the brand new cover for Pirate Consort, slated for release in just a few short weeks. I’m going to say “summer” rather than give a specific date, because a lot depends on editing timelines. I would do a preorder, but Amazon has, of late, been canceling preorders without telling authors why, or sending out the wrong file to preorder purchases. I’m not willing to risk that, so this will go live when it publishes. I will of course announce it all over the place.

In the meantime, I give you the blurb to the book, and I plan to post a handful of snippets leading up to release. Since this is the second cover reveal for this book, I will be extra-nice and give you the first snippet today.

Pirate Consort

Outlaw. Telepath. Pirate. Queen.

Mercy is no longer a fugitive running for her life and hiding from the family she left behind. She thought the hardest part of going home was going to be surviving the dangerous, psychically gifted pirates she calls family, but the truth is far more complicated, and her relatives aren’t quite as murderous as she remembers.

Now Mercy is their Queen, a role she never wanted. When a peace summit with the pirates’ greatest enemies ends in disaster, Mercy’s new life spins out of control. The Talented people she is supposed to be uniting are on the verge of a bloody war that will only end when all of them are dead.

Her consort, Reaper, is a psychic Killer, a man much more accustomed to taking lives than to saving them. And Mercy has never been responsible for anyone but herself. Now, she must embrace her role as queen and uncover the truth in a complicated web of psychic Talents and politics. If she doesn’t unravel a hundred years of hostility, everyone she loves will die.


Prologue, Part 1

 

Plasma salvos breached the hull. Nitrogen and oxygen, life giving and finite, vented into space. The ship’s reserves dropped down to less than sixty percent in a matter of seconds. It wasn’t the worst damage Razor’s Deep had taken in battle, but it was close. Even for the latest nanograph – an update Braxton purchased during their last space dock – self-repair had limits. The nanites could only do so much to mend the inner barriers of the ship before the air supply dropped below survivable levels.

The boy with no name sat hunched in his alcove, connected mentally to every aspect of the ship’s systems. Before the nanograph, he’d only been able to connect with the ship’s central computer. Now, it felt as though his mind touched every corner of the vessel. He knew the damage report without having to ask the ship.

He ran a tally through his mind in nano-seconds: forward weapons offline, drive core cracked, hull breach across two decks and three bulkheads. His human brain processed the calculations as fast as the most sophisticated AI, aided by the ship’s computers. He hesitated for less than a second before shutting every blast door and vent to the aft section of the ship, isolating the breach across decks 3 and 4.

It saved the ship. And condemned twenty-seven men and women to die.

The nanograph wouldn’t finish repairing in time to save them, but the rest of the ship would remain stable with…twenty percent of the air reserves remaining. It would be enough for them to survive, if the mechanics could fix the jump drive.

Provided the pirates let them, of course. The boy had heard many stories. In most of them, pirates didn’t leave behind survivors.

“What the fuck are you doing, brat?” Braxton’s voice was a harsh and unwelcome intrusion, blaring through the ship’s comm system.

The boy flinched, ducking his head away from the sound. It was a reflex, one he couldn’t help, even though it didn’t actually diminish the volume of Braxton’s voice. The mercenary commander’s accent made fuck sound like feck. But the boy had no trouble understanding him. Braxton was one of those people who shouted everything, whether speaking the words with his mouth or thinking them with his mind.

The boy struggled to move his lips, pulling back from the vastness of the ship to his own small body. It took several seconds to get his jaw to move in response to his wishes. Speaking out loud was difficult while he was connected so deeply with Razor’s Deep. Every square inch of her was built of nanograph now, governed by tiny robots invisible to the human eye, called nanites. The computer that functioned as the ship’s brain and central control system was just one small aspect. The boy was connected to every line of code, every nanite. He felt Razor’s Deep like she was his own skin and bone, injured now, but still vital. Still alive. All he had to do was think a command, and the ship responded. Instantly. Faster than any human could hope to.

His own body felt impossibly sluggish by comparison. But when Braxton used that tone, it was best to answer as quickly as possible. So he made the difficult transition back to his own head and hoped he could answer fast enough.

“We were losing too much air.” He forced his mouth to move, to form physical speech a null like Braxton could understand. Everything would have been easier if he’d been purchased by someone Talented, like him. But Braxton wasn’t Talented. He couldn’t connect his mind to ships or hear thoughts.

That was lucky, though. If Braxton could hear the boy’s thoughts, he’d have spaced him a long time ago.

“I don’t give a fuck. You just killed two dozen of my people!” The mercenary captain sounded angry. Fear clogged the boy’s throat. He was too valuable a slave for Braxton to space, most days. But his owner acted rashly when temper controlled him. Sometimes he deprived the boy of food. Sometimes he beat him. Once, he’d dragged the boy from his alcove and all the way to the airlock, stopping just short of throwing him inside.

The boy considered his next words carefully. It was important not to disagree with Braxton. Even when that was what he was doing.

“Thirty-eight people are still alive.” He made his voice as neutral as possible. “Forward weapons are offline. The first bombardment cracked the drive core. We have just enough air to make one space jump to the nearest waystation. If the drive can be repaired.”

A dangerous silence answered him. He held his breath; losing this battle would surely have put Braxton in one of his foulest moods. He would be looking to vent some of that rage.

On his worst days – in the darkest corners of his mind – the boy hoped it would happen. He looked outside at the stars and the cold black, and he thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be out there. The vast emptiness held a certain appeal. Silence. Peace. No one to hurt him, no thoughts beating at his mind, no masters to be cruel or indifferent. No hunger pains.

He looked down at his small body, the spindly legs and arms. He wore an old cast off shirt from one of the crew, so big it dwarfed him. Even more since Braxton had him on nutritional bars for rations. “No sense wasting good food on a slave.” He got one bar a day, and water to drink. If he did something extra spectacular, like help them win a major space battle, he got a plate from the regular mess as a special reward. He always ate the food slowly when that happened, savoring every bite. But that hadn’t happened in a long time. Right now his skin felt stretched over bone, with little else in between. What little fat reserves he’d had were long gone, vanished as his body tried to grow in height.

The boy wasn’t sure how old he was, exactly, but he thought somewhere around twelve. It seemed as though those dozen years stretched back forever, and sometimes he wasn’t sure he wanted to live for twelve more.

On those days, when his thoughts seemed lost in darkness and despair weighed him down, he liked to put all of his consciousness inside the ship.  Leave his empty body huddled in the tiny alcove in the engine room, a chain around one wrist attached to one of the bulkheads. He would let himself feel the frigid hull like his own skin, immersed in the silence like his head was under water.  Soundless. Sightless. It was the most peaceful thing he’d ever experienced in his young life.

He imagined death was like that. He wanted to stay there forever, but no matter how hard he tried, his mind eventually fell back to his body, tugged by some invisible force he couldn’t see or control.

“We’re about to be boarded.” Braxton’s voice still sounded pissed, but there was grudging acceptance to it as well. A kind of capitulation the boy had never heard before. “Those motherless pirates are taking the ship.”

Even as he spoke, the words faded from the boy’s awareness. His thoughts were focusing back to Razor’s Deep as another vessel connected to the airlock. He felt the bump of the link expanding to fit the conduit, the grind as it sealed into place. The hatch was locked, but that didn’t stop them. Heat sliced the locking mechanism. The outer door opened and he could do nothing to stop it. Unfamiliar boots thumped onto the deck.

Fox Hunt – Snippet

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Hi everyone!

I have a short story out in the Telepathic Space Pirates universe! If you haven’t yet read Teegan’s story, you can do so in The Expanding Universe, Vol 2. I’m featured in it alongside a bevy of awesome SF authors. 🙂

A version of this story appeared in the no longer available anthology Pets in Space, under the title Escape Run, but it is now titled Fox Hunt as it will be part of a series of stories that feature Hunters in the universe, and I wanted a uniformity to all of the titles.

All right, let’s get down to the real business of this post, the snippet:


 

 

Chapter 1

It was the wrong season.

A thin layer of snow blanketed the ground, covering the sway of silver grasses and sticking to the pealing redbark trees lining Teegan’s property. The colorful slab of dorite flecked with flashes of bright gold and deep blue that normally formed the centerpiece to her garden was hidden beneath a frost of white. More flakes fell from a winter-gray sky, slowly gathering in the peculiar silence that blanketed the world at first snowfall.

Except this was summer.

Teegan stared at the snow, brow furrowed. A flash of silver and copper caught her eye as something streaked across the ground. The figure vanished a moment later, but paw prints formed a trail moving toward her. Teegan relaxed and stepped off her back porch, sandaled feet crunching through the thin crust of ice.

It wasn’t cold. That was her first thought. Wearing only a thin silk robe and an old pair of sandals, she should have been freezing. But looking down at her bare toes, her smooth black skin stark against the white, she felt perfectly comfortable. No fog of breath misted the air in front of her face, and no goose bumps shivered across her body.

Soft fur brushed beneath her hand. A moment later the air shimmered, and Ember appeared beside her, sitting demurely with her elegant, thick tail wrapped around her feet. She resembled pictures Teegan had seen of ancient animals called foxes, but Ember was kith-vos, a species native to this world, Tarsiss Prime. And Ember was no simple animal. The kith were every bit as intelligent as their human bond-mates. Perhaps more so. They held mysteries, Teegan was sure, that remained unknown to the humans who colonized their world three centuries ago.

And they shared the psychic abilities of the Talented.

It’s snowing, Ember said. Her mental voice was clear and melodic. She tilted her head in an expression of confusion that looked almost human.

“I know.”

Ember looked up at Teegan with a glint in her blue eyes. Her fur rippled in the wind. She was almost entirely a silver color that disappeared against the brightness of snow, but tufts of red circled her eyes like a mask, and tipped the end of her tail and each paw, as though they’d been dipped in the color. It is high summer. It does not snow in high summer, Teegan. There was a distinct tone of disapproval to the kith’s mental voice. As if she couldn’t abide the sky spitting snow in the wrong season.

But she was right. Teegan cast her gaze back over her garden. Flowers that should have been blooming – that had been, only the day before – lay dormant. The redbark trees stood like silent sentries, stark limbs stretched toward the sky with none of the brilliant green leaves that should have been waving in the breeze.

During high summer, Tarssis Prime’s orbit carried the planet along its closest pass around the system’s star as it made its oblong journey. Temperatures soared, and there was no possibility of snow, even on the coldest day.

Teegan turned abruptly and walked back into her house. Silently, Ember followed her, ears flicked back as she picked up on her bond-mate’s mood.

Wrong season. No chill in the air. There was only one explanation that was plausible: this wasn’t real. She was in a psychic landscape, one she hadn’t created. In reality, she was probably still asleep in her bed, Ember a warm presence curled up beside her.

Only the most powerful telepaths could pull off something like this. Teegan could count the number she knew personally on one hand. She lived on a planet of Hunters, a people with the primary Talent of tracking and finding anyone, anywhere. Many of them also possessed telepathy, but it rarely manifested as more than a basic Talent among her people.

Getting past her shields would take someone she trusted.

If you want to read more about Teegan’s story, you can find it on Amazon in The Expanding Universe, Vol 2.

PSA: Pirate Nemesis

PirateNemesis-Final-SmallGuys I just received a message from a reader asking for clarification because she had heard that the newly rebranded version of Pirate Nemesis was revised or had new content. IT IS NOT. Other than a couple of typos and one clarification on pirate history that felt confusing to me, not a single word was changed or added – there is essentially NO NEW CONTENT other than the pretty new cover. Now, if you WANT to rebuy so your copy has the new cover, by all means, don’t let me dissuade you. (Hint: it is $0.99 right now and for the next two days ONLY so it would be a good time to buy IF that is what you are going to do.)

But PLEASE do NOT rebuy expecting new content, because there isn’t any! It is the same book existing readers already have, if you already own it.

Announcements + a cover reveal!

I have a lot of news. It’s been awhile since I’ve updated, bad author. Honestly, I went to Disneyland with my family at the end of March and came back with the flu. (Disney was fun, it was after we got back that sucked…a LOT.) I spent all of April so sick I couldn’t work. It was a seriously bad flu, and then right as I was getting over it, I developed a sinus infection. I’ve spent May so far scrambling to catch up. So, let me catch you up with the State of Things:

  1. I am in a science fiction anthology that releases June 15th. If you read my short story Escape Run in the Pets in Space anthology, this is the same story, so no need to buy. However, if you didn’t read it, The Expanding Universe Volume 2 is the only place that story will be found for the next few months. (I have changed the title, however, to Fox Hunt – this is to align it with future titles for novellas focused on Hunters from my space pirates universe.) And good news for those who like to collect in paperback: this anthology WILL be available in paperback format as well, so you can pick that up after the release date if that’s your thing.
  2. I also have a brand new novella to a brand new series coming out in a boxed set in June. Magic After Dark will feature a novella I am co-writing with bestselling author Rebecca Hamilton. The new series is Urban Fantasy, and features a lot of badass stuff like portals to other worlds, dragons, and magical metalsmithing.
  3. Yes, book 2 in Telepathic Space Pirates is still coming. Obviously, being sick for a whole month did not do great things for my writing schedule, and since I had already committed to co-authoring the new series, I’ve had to focus on that to meet deadline. However, the book will release this summer and the whole series is getting a facelift. I want to say I adore my original covers. For now, I am keeping them for the paperbacks. But the ebook versions are getting rebranded and rereleasing at the end of this month in preparation for Book 2. (And I plan to get Book 3 done and out by the end of the year. So please keep faith! Life happens, even to authors.) So, here on the blog you can have an exclusive look at the new cover for Pirate Nemesis, which will go live by the end of the month. Before you ask, there is NO new material, just new covers. So please don’t rebuy these. PirateNemesis-Final-Small
  4. And that’s pretty much it. I’m writing as quickly as I can to get back on track, and hoping I am done with illness for the year. I feel I’ve had more than my share. As always, thank you so much for reading. It means so much to me.

Mass Effect Andromeda: Reaction to the first 5 hours

Ryder

My version of Sara Ryder.

It should come as no surprise that someone who writes science fiction with romance would enjoy the Mass Effect universe created by Bioware. Yes, I played the trilogy. Despite its flaws, I still consider it one of the greatest RPGs of all time: it did something no other RPG series had done. It created a trilogy, with unique choices from each game carrying over into the subsequent games. You can argue about how the ending of ME3 made those choices superfluous, but that is for a different day. That third game had a weight that few roleplay games have matched. I still remember tearing up during Liara’s conversation with my lady Shepard about the time capsule. I cried when Mordin died. That game hit so many emotional beats there were times when I had to walk away because I needed a break to process what had happened.

So to say that I am excited about Mass Effect Andromeda’s release would be a huge, massive understatement. Sure, I have my reservations; as stated, ME3 wasn’t without flaws, and I’ve been burned by Bioware before (Dragon Age: 2 was pretty terrible). But that being said, I enjoyed the heck out of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I’ve been excited to see how Andromeda turned out ever since.

I played the first five hours last night, once EA Access opened up their ten hour trial early. But before it did, I’d already seen some early “first impressions” posts go live. The scathing one at Rock, Paper, Shotgun by John Walker being the one that got the most play, largely, I think, because the internet loves nothing so much as a good roasting. What struck me about it, however, was the absolute delight he seemed to take in writing the most negative “review” possible…while then admitting in the comments that he never even played Dragon Age Inquisition. Since his post went live, some other “mixed” reviews came out. And one thing is very clear: there are people absolutely loving the game, who love how it feels like Mass Effect, and people who are ripping it apart for following the same basic formula Bioware always has, and because it…feels…like…Mass Effect.

No lie. A camp of people, including the most scathing review above, seem inclined to hate the game because it “retreads familiar territory”. They also aren’t getting too attached to the characters yet, some going so far as to call the writing or voice acting clunky, or worse. Others really dislike the “chosen one” format, where your character becomes the chosen one hero who can lead everyone to salvation within the first hour of the game. After my play experience last night, I would like to address these from my perspective, and I suspect it is a perspective that will match many other player experiences – I mean, I can’t be the only one enjoying the game!

  1. The “retread complaint”. Well, speaking as a writer, I would like to point out that Andromeda is a new entry point into the series. They actually have to retread some ground to introduce new players to the universe. I suppose they could have handled some of that exposition better, more smoothly. A lot is accomplished through conversational options with the NPCs…and if you are a veteran ME player and don’t care to hear what the genophage is again, or how it affects the krogan in Andromeda, you don’t have to ask. So…rather like the fetch quests that some say bogged down DAI – you can just skip a lot of it.
  2. The characters – your squadmates. Okay, just how iconic were Garrus, Kaidan, Wrex or Liara in ME1? I challenge you to think about that game, in particular the first few hours. I think you only really met Kaidan, Ashley and Garrus in that time, and certainly they seemed a bit generic, even forgettable at that early point. Time was needed to really get to know them. To experience major story beats alongside them, to feel that Garrus became your best bro, or that your character was falling for anyone. Time is irreplaceable. No one is going to feel totally involved in Cora or Liam, Vetra or PeeBee in the opening hours of the game. Give it a chance! Give Bioware a chance. Their characters are something they’re known for, especially in this universe.
  3. The writing. Yes, in some places the writing is clunky. A couple lines of dialogue are just “meh” (I cringe every time I see the opening sequence where Cora says “It seems centuries since we spoke.”) But the story is just getting started. I think if you review any game, there will be moments of clunkiness in the writing, easily ignored. I mean, Gears? Gears 4 had some clunky writing, y’all. And in DAI, it didn’t click in and really feel like Dragon Age to me until the first confrontation with Corypheus. I remember the moment clearly. My character uses the trebuchet to blow up a mountain and bury the village, and then must struggle through a storm to escape, and wakes to a camp full of arguing companions and advisors, and then a song breaks out. That whole sequence put me back in the emotional place of playing DA:O. When you are playing games as massive as these, give it time to settle in before you make a judgement. I’ve already felt a glimmer of that ME magic, in a significant if short cut-scene between Sara and her Dad that I can’t be more specific about without major spoilers. (Not to mention all of the little nods – anyone else notice the dialogue happening during the tram transport from your ship to the Nexus? Remind you of, oh, any elevator rides at The Citadel?) I also love that Ryder’s Dad is an N7. That is a great tie back to the trilogy. To me, this already feels like a Mass Effect game, and that is a huge win at five hours in.
  4. The voice acting. I really don’t see an issue at all with this so far. Like, what are these complainers even talking about? The voice acting, as with most Bioware games, is superb. (I know there were some complaints about male Shepard’s monotone, but I played as lady Shep, so…no comment, I guess.)
  5. “The Chosen One”. Dude. Seriously? One, you are playing an RPG – your character is the hero. They are supposed to be special and awesome! Two, you are playing a Bioware RPG! This is the format! The one they’ve been using for…forever! If you want something different, play some other RPG and hope it doesn’t use the same trope, I guess. After how many games of “The Warden”, “The Champion”, “Spectre”, “The Inquisitor” – if you are upset that Bioware is using a “chosen one” story, I have news – you probably shouldn’t be playing their games. As to it happening in the first hour of the game, well. Yes, it might have been nice to get a little prologue with some interaction between Dad Ryder, Bro Ryder and Sara, maybe back in the Milky Way before the Initiative began. If I were writing this as a book, it’s what I would have done. Joseph Campbell calls it establishing the Ordinary World before you sink your hero into his or her new, heroic world. I call it establishing an emotional link to the characters and who they are before events start to change them. It’s one of the reasons that Pirate Nemesis has a prologue, introducing Mercy as a thirteen-year-old. But, it’s not like we have a long history of getting that ordinary world piece in Bioware games…or any RPG. As I’m thinking of The Witcher 3, one of the best RPGs of all time, it, too, starts Geralt off right in the middle of things, chasing Ciri and Yen.

And I think that is my biggest takeaway. How many companies are making big, character driven RPGs like this? Personally, I can only think of two – Bioware and CD Projekt Red. Maybe there are more I don’t know about, but the Japanese RPGs I have played don’t really seem to allow you the same choices or be as character driven (to me), and Bethesda’s games, while entertaining, are what I call “beer and pizza” RPGs. Beautiful, sprawling open worlds. Very little actual characterization. I don’t really care about anyone. It’s a dungeon crawl with a big story I almost never really care about or finish. I have never cried at a Bethesda game. In fact, as excellent as Dragon Age: Origins and DAI were, I have only ever cried in two game worlds: Mass Effect and The Witcher. (Although, if I had romanced Alistair in DA:O and he died at the end, I probably would have cried. As it was, it was the first time I ever sat and just let all of the credits play at the end of a game, because I felt so emotionally invested I didn’t want it to end. The Witcher 3 was the same.)

I get that ME:A has some graphics problems, particularly with the faces. I was stunned to find my customization options limited to a few alterations to a handful of presets. DA:I you could take the preset and literally change everything about it. ME:A, not so much. I get there are flaws. I understand that, and I hope there are some patches that come out addressing some of them. I hope the next game improves on the character animations. (But didn’t we all say that about ME1, 2 and 3 as well? Who can forget the horror of no eyelashes on your character during cut scenes? Or the “giraffe neck” problem of lady Shepard?) I view these as minor annoyances, not game-breaking issues.

So everyone out there posting these scathing first impression reviews, I guess I just want to know: what is it you want from Bioware? What game out there emulates the perfection you are seeking? And before you answer, yes, there are certain things CD Projekt Red does better. Just like there are certain things Bioware does better. For me, both of these companies do a great job, and yes, I did like The Witcher 3 slightly more than DA:I, but it also feels a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Both are excellent roleplay games, with very different feels, systems, strengths and flaws. I think Andromeda is going to be an amazing game. I can’t wait to be 20 or 30 hours in and totally immersed.

Oh, and one more thing: I haven’t played multiplayer yet, but from everything I hear it is an updated version of ME3 multiplayer, and that is perfect for me. To those complaining it isn’t “like Gears 4 Horde”, why would you want it to be? G4H is an awesome bullet-sponge horde and I really enjoy it. ME was never like that. It’s about different classes and powers and killing the bad guys in whatever way best suits your mood or style of play. Gears is building fortifications and a base and shooting until they’re dead. It’s okay that each game is different, and I’m super excited to be able to play both.

If anyone from Bioware happens to read this, kudos to you for producing a game I think I’ll be enjoying for many, many hours to come. Don’t let the haters get you down! Always remember that the negative is the most vocal online, and the positive are too busy actually playing the game.