I finished the 2.0 draft of Patriots in Retreat (Book 6 of Sons of the Starfarers) yesterday, and it’s turning out a lot better than I expected. The next step is to send it off to my editor, and if all goes well, we should have it up for preorder by November. I’m definitely excited to get it out!
In the meantime, here’s an excerpt. Enjoy!
Ayesha wasn’t sure what to expect as she boarded the Starflight II. For that reason, she activated her pocket AI before she stepped into the airlock.
Calculating threat level, the pocket AI whispered silently in the back of her mind. A stream of data appeared on the edge of her vision, giving her a rundown of the ship she was about to board. She touched her right thumb to her middle finger, and the text disappeared, though the targeting display in the center of her vision did not.
Though she was careful not to show it, her mood always soured at these subtle reminders of her lack of humanity. She was a cyborg, a human with enough cybernetic implants to no longer legally qualify as a person. Most of her implants were hidden from sight; her long black hair hid the neural jacks in the back of her neck, and her eye implants were disguised with cosmetic surgery. Still, they were always with her—as well as the memories of her life before she’d received them.
Prepare for high functioning mode, she ordered as her fingers flew over the airlock control panel. Her energy pistol was holstered and uncharged, but the laser-blade in her boot was ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice.
Time slowed as the door hissed open. Hyper-awareness flooded her senses as stepped onto the ship. A short corridor led to a standard cabin: wall compartments, double bunk built into the bulkheads, retractable table with a holoscreen surface, and a small corner alcove with a food synthesizer and kitchenette. A door on one side led to what she presumed was the bathroom, while a narrow doorway led to the starship’s cockpit.
The place had a peculiar musky smell, like faded sweat in an old shirt that has been recently cleaned. It was not unpleasant. The hum of the ship’s ventilation system was soft enough that she probably wouldn’t have noticed it if she weren’t in high-functioning mode. The air was comfortably warm, and surprisingly fresh for a ship of such small size. Though the wall compartments were all closed and the floor was clutter-free, the bed was unmade, revealing velvet bedsheets that were remarkably smooth.
Sweat began to pool in the back of Ayesha’s neck, so she stood down from high functioning mode and returned her metabolism to normal. It was clear enough that she wasn’t in immediate danger.
She found Samson in the cockpit, making preparations to leave. While he was distracted, she slipped into the copilot seat beside him. If her presence on the ship unsettled him, he made no visible sign of it.
“Is this the way you always greet your guests?” she asked, crossing her slender legs.
“I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit pre-occupied,” he said, his eyes never leaving the ship’s holoscreen displays. “Getting out of this sector is a rather high priority at the moment.”
“Why is that?”
“Cats don’t play well with wolves. Hang on.”
The floor shuddered, and a deep metallic clang told her that they had undocked from the Starfall. Moments later, the bulkheads began to hum, and a growing sense of nausea told her that they were about to make a jump. She closed her eyes and used her cybernetic implants to induce a meditative state that dulled the disorientation of jumpspace. The moment they were through, she opened her eyes and assessed the situation.
No sign of Outworld warships, she observed as she looked out the forward cockpit window. He hasn’t betrayed me—yet.
“You can relax,” he said as he powered down the engine. “I don’t know the location of the Confederate fleet, and even if I did, I wouldn’t turn you in.”
Ayesha bristled a little at how easily he had read her. She sat back in her chair and affected nonchalance.
“An interesting choice of metaphor. Some would say that the Outworlders are the true wolves.”
“Wolves are pack animals by nature, and highly territorial. Outworlders are more like cats: untameable, independent, and free.”
“But ultimately leaderless.”
He glanced at her sideways. “Yes, there is that. Too many housecats and not enough lions.”
“Do you consider yourself a lion?”
“Far from it. All the lions have enlisted by now. I’m more of a stray.”
Though his body language was casual, she detected a subtle yearning in his voice. But there was also something he was careful to keep hidden from her. That didn’t surprise her, considering the circumstances. But if Admiral Orion expected her to hold Samson at gunpoint for the duration of her mission, he had no appreciation of her finesse.
She rose to her feet and stood in the doorway, facing the cabin. “I take it you’re rarely alone on these voyages.”
“Did the second bunk give it away?”
“It looks like you only use it for storage.”
“I generally do.”
She smirked. “This isn’t the first time you’ve been in bed with the enemy, I take it.”
“Why should I think you’re my enemy?”
His question made her turn. If he noticed her reaction, though, he made no sign of it.
“I’ve only seen a lion once,” she said, more to cover for herself than anything else. “It was in a zoo on the capital world, Gaia Nova. Magnificent beasts, but they’re horrendously expensive to maintain.”
Samson grunted. “That’s only because their homeworld no longer exists. On Earth, they lived in the wild.”
“You still believe the myth about a place called Earth?”
She shrugged. “I suppose such a world could have existed. More likely, Gaia Nova was our homeworld, but the ancients turned it to a desert and recolonized it during the Earthseeding.”
“Interesting theory. I haven’t heard that one before.”
“Theories bore me,” she said, running her fingers along the back of his chair. “And lions belong in captivity, not the wild.”
“That’s why I’m more of a stray.”
“I assure you, I’m more than capable of keeping a stray like you under control.”
He glanced at her and smirked. “And what makes you think that?”
She parted her hair and showed him her neural jack. He nodded, duly impressed. Then, to her dismay, his smirk turned to a smile.
“You remind me of a girl I gave passage to the Nova Minitak system. She was a cyborg not unlike yourself, and also just as gorgeous.”
Ayesha scowled. “The thorns on this rose are sharp.”
“Of that, I have no doubt. And it’s not my intention to pick you.”
“Then what are your intentions?”
He rose to his feet and stood just close enough to be uncomfortable. She fingered the laser-blade hidden in her smartskirt.
“You’re not one of them.”
“Of who?” she asked, frowning.
“You know. The Imperials. They haven’t tamed you yet.”
Their eyes locked, neither of them yielding. Samson didn’t realize it, but their little game of words had crossed a line. She rolled up her left sleeve, revealing her tattoo of the double-headed eagle of the Gaian Empire. In its talons, it held two planets: one, the old Earth of legend, the other the dome-covered world of Gaia Nova.
“You are wrong. Long live the Emperor!”
He said nothing, but continued to smile. She rolled her sleeve down and folded her arms.
“You will work with us to defeat this Outworld Confederacy. Then, when the New Pleiades are fully pacified, you will be free to do as you please.”
“As free as you? Branded into a life of Imperial service?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lied.
He leaned forward ever so slightly, as if expecting either a kiss or a slap. Perhaps both.
“Make yourself comfortable, Ayesha Bint Hasan Al-Hasani. You’re my guest, not my enemy.”