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Interview with Leonidas from Cyborg Legacy and the Fallen Empire series

| Posted in Cut Scenes and Fun Extras |

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If you’ve read any of my Fallen Empire series, you’ve already met the cyborg soldier Leonidas, and you’ll known he wasn’t a point-of-view character in the books. That changes in my new adventure, Cyborg Legacy. It introduces a new hero, another cyborg ex-soldier named Jasim, but it also brings back Leonidas as a secondary character, and we get to spend some time in his head. We also get to see how family life is treating him four years after the events in End Game.

You can check out the novel on Amazon if you want to learn more about that adventure, but for now, I’ve arranged an exclusive interview with Leonidas right here. Thank you to those on Facebook who chimed in with questions!

Note: There are naturally some spoilers for the Fallen Empire series in here. If you haven’t finished reading those books yet, and you care about spoilers, you may want to skip this.

Interview with Leonidas

Cyborg Legacy Cover

Cyborg Legacy Cover

Hello, Leonidas. Thank you for agreeing to sit down with me. Well, you’re not exactly sitting, I see, but standing. Vigorously. Is that some form of exercise? You’re listening, right? 

Leonidas: I have to train when I can now that my family keeps me busy. A man needs to be fit when pirates come knocking on your hatch. Also, he needs to be able to fit into his combat armor. Did you know that Beck is still using me to taste-test his recipes?

That doesn’t sound too bad of a life. We’ll start with a light question first. Kantami asks: if you have any say on what stickers get put on your armor to make you look less fierce, what kind of stickers will you choose?

Leonidas: I have no say. Sometimes I can wrangle the children into choosing smaller stickers over larger ones. I also try to steer them away from stickers that smell or can play music. If I had a choice in the matter, there would be no stickers. Stickers featuring weapons or combat armor wouldn’t be that bad… But the girls never choose such things. I seem destined to wear kittens for the rest of my life.

All right, next question. Michael says: Judging by how much fun you had using a rocket launcher… would you consider taking on some more t-rexs for an upgrade… I could see a shoulder mounted rocket launcher serving you well… even if it had to have FIVE kitten stickers on it.

Leonidas: What kind of question is this? Of course. Does this mean we’re going back to the moon with the genetically engineered dinosaurs soon?

Ah, we’ll see. I don’t think Alisa is a big fan of Cleon Moon, due to the fact that Solstice still lives there. Here are a couple more serious questions. Bob asks: 1) Would you do it again, knowing what you know now? and 2) Is it a path you would allow your son to take?

Leonidas: Would I partake in the adventure with Alisa? Or would I join the imperial army and undergo the cyborg surgery? I don’t have any regrets now about joining Alisa (now that I’ve survived knowing her). As for the surgery, I wouldn’t say I don’t have any regrets, but I would do it again, for the same reasons I did it back then. I would have tried harder not to alienate my little brothers in the process though. The military itself suited me fine. It was a tough and violent time, especially those last five years, but since the war ended and I’ve been retired, in a manner of speaking, I’ve found myself missing the challenges and the action. I like fatherhood and being a husband, but I can’t look back without some nostalgia for the importance of the work we did, the built-in adventure and high stakes, and the bonds I had with my fellow officers.

I don’t know if sons are in the stars, but I wouldn’t object to them joining the military, but it would be hard for me to stomach it if it was the Alliance military. Maybe it’s futile at this point, but there’s still a part of me that hopes something else will come along…

Stacey asks: Why do you love cookies and chocolate so much?

Leonidas: I have a fast metabolism. Sweets break down quickly and give me energy.

So no addiction problems, eh? 

Leonidas: Of course not.

No days where you wake up craving Beck’s brownies? No twitches if you don’t get your fix? All right, sorry I asked. Put down that–what is that? Some kind of dumbbell? It looks heavy. Hey, maybe I’ll see if I can get Beck to bake you something after we complete this interview.

Leonidas: *flat stare* It’s not over yet?

Not quite. Your fans have a few more questions. Maria asks: What were your first thoughts when you first met Alisa/when you first saw her in her combat armor?

Leonidas: When I first met her? I was contemplating shooting her. She was impertinent, mouthy, and wearing that damned Alliance flight jacket. I had to remind myself that the war was over and that there were laws about shooting civilians. At least, there had been before the fall of the empire. I suppose on Dustor, nobody would have cared. But I’ve always tried to do the honorable thing, regardless of local policies.

Of course, by the time I helped her find some combat armor, I’d learned to appreciate her mouthy… mouth more. At the least, I didn’t mind it as much. And she’d used it to come to my defense a few times since we first met. I was quite surprised when she didn’t try to turn me over to the Alliance back when we were escaping Perun. That’s when I started to see her as a friend and an ally, and I wanted her to stay alive, so I was pleased to see her in her armor.

It wasn’t until later, after certain events, that I noticed that women’s combat armor isn’t entirely unflattering, since there are a few curves on the outside to accommodate the, ah, curves within.

Does it take a cyborg soldier to find women’s combat armor sexy? Hm. No, don’t answer that. We have another question from a reader. Joy asks: Does he still really want the Empire back in power now?

Leonidas: I do miss the safety and security that the empire provided for its subjects throughout the system. The Alliance is proving to be rather selective in who gets protection. I can understand them not wanting to overextend themselves, but they seem content to leave the border worlds to fend for themselves. I will admit that the empire was not without flaws, but I still believe it was a superior system. I wish those who felt the need to rebel had worked to change the system from within instead of destroying centuries’ worth of infrastructure and stability.

 

For the next question, Sarah asks: How do you feel about Abelardus’s continued presence on the Nomad?

Leonidas: He and Young-hee have finally moved on. I don’t think I was ever so pleased to see another man get married, though I find it amazing that Young-hee could put up with his many, many character flaws… She seems to be able to keep him in line however. The only perk to having him onboard was that I had a living, breathing sparring partner with whom I rarely had to hold back on my punches. Not holding back was quite pleasant. For many reasons.

Navs asks: 1) Any plans of having kids in the near future? And how many would you want?

Leonidas: As I answer these questions, Alisa and I have been married for more than three years, and we’ve had twin girls. I had originally imagined we might have more children, and a son would have been appealing, but the girls are quite, ah, vigorous. They seem to have a hive mind and know how to work together to reach their goals, however forbidden those goals are. I never realized how difficult it would be to childproof a spaceship.

Yes, I hear old freighters don’t always come with all the perks you’d hope. Okay, next question! Heli asks: 1) Are you going to contact your brothers one day and explain to them why you chose the path you did, or has that ship sailed for good for you? 2) if you could have surgery to go back to a “mainstream” human would you do it, and if you did are there any cyborg features you would like to keep?

Leonidas: I’ve talked to my brothers a couple times since my wedding. One of them even came to the ceremony, the one who joined the Alliance… I think he was pleased that — as he assumed — Alisa was converting me. He seemed a little smug about it. No, I haven’t spoken to them about my decisions when they were younger. It seems like it would be self-serving, or at least serve no purpose now.

I don’t think I’d choose to give up the cyborg implants now. They’ve been a part of me for too long. I like being able to defend my family. Fiercely and imposingly, as Alisa would say.

Chanel asks: Do you now have moments where you regret leaving Prince Thorian, especially since you never got the full story on what happened in that box and even though you found love and a family?

Leonidas: I do regret leaving him. I know he’s in capable hands with Dr. Dominguez, but I also believe Alisa may be right, and that perhaps he should have a family rather than tutors and a mission. At the least, he shouldn’t have just those things. I would have gladly taken him with us to become a part of the family, but I also understand his commitment to his duty. It was his choice in the end. I hope he doesn’t regret it. We’re here if he changes his mind.

Dena asks: Although you wanted children, how does it feel to suddenly be a step-parent?

It was odd in the beginning, and I didn’t know how much authority I should attempt to exude over Jelena, especially since she feared me early on. We’re gradually working things out though, and she’s even been an advisor at times, in regard to her mother and the twins. Not always a reliable advisor, mind you, but an advisor nevertheless.

Nicole asks: What would you have done if you actually weren’t attracted to Alisa after your operation? (I would’ve been devastated, I love their love! 😂)

Leonidas: There wasn’t much chance of that being a problem. I shouldn’t admit this (Alisa won’t be reading this, right?), but I was attracted to everything after that operation. I even had some lurid dreams about–oh, this interview is going to be publicly available? I should leave it at that then.

Heike asks: When will you make this beautiful needlepoint battlefield with flowers? 😉

Leonidas: It’s up in our cabin now! Jelena informed me that chocolate wasn’t a grand enough wedding present (I beg to differ), so I set to work on it in secret as we traveled, and I presented it to Alisa on the day of our wedding. I must confess that the flowers are quite small. Alisa claims they look like blood droplets. It’s just that I couldn’t imagine say purple flowers on a battlefield. Red flowers seemed appropriate.

~

That’s it for the interview! Please check out Cyborg Legacy if you want to learn a little more about what Leonidas has been up to since End Game. Here are the links for the main Amazon stores:

Amazon.com
Amazon UK
Amazon AUS
Amazon CA

For now my science fiction adventures are exclusive with Amazon, but I’ll have more fantasy coming out on all of the sites this year. Thanks for reading!

Streamlining Your Writing, Publishing, and Marketing Process to Become a More Profitable Author

| Posted in Book Marketing, E-publishing |

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2016 was a tough year for a lot of indie authors, with people reporting everything from flawed reporting and not getting credit for page reads in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program to no longer being able to get Bookbub ads to no longer being able to afford Facebook ads due to their increasing popularity with authors. Every year, there’s more competition, with more ebooks than ever for readers to choose from. Where the Kindle Store was once flooded with mediocre covers and blurbs full of typos, we’re now seeing lots of self-published books that look as good as (or better than!) trad published books.

The industry has matured, and a lot of authors are finding it tough to get noticed. More, authors that once sold well are struggling to earn what they did back in 2012 or 2013, even though they have more books out now.

Despite all that, some established authors had banner years in 2016. Further, I know of at least three authors who came out of nowhere, publishing their first books ever in late 2015 or early 2016, and went on to make six figures. Their first year in the biz. And none of them showed up with huge backlists to start out with (Granted, they’ve all been insanely prolific, but I do want to point out that these were science fiction and fantasy people, not authors writing romance or erotica or whatever genre you’ve heard is super popular).

For myself, I had my best year ever in 2016, on the heels of what was my previous best year ever (by a long shot) in 2015. Now I’ve been writing a lot (I launched and completed my entire 8-novel Fallen Empire series in 2016), and I think you’ll find that as a common denominator with a lot of the success stories, but I also don’t think you have to put out a book every month to make it as an indie.

I do think you need to be efficient as a writer, publisher, and marketer though, hence the title of this post. I’m going to offer a few suggestions for making the most of your time and making sure the books you put out sell.

1. Analyze what you’ve been doing with the 80/20 Rule firmly in mind.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the 80/20 Rule or Pareto’s Principle. There are lots of interesting applications, but as authors, let’s keep it simple here and suggest that 20% of the work is responsible for 80% of the results.

Once you’ve got a good-sized backlist, with multiple series out, you’ll probably find in any given year that roughly 20% of your titles are responsible for 80% of your income. This may be as simple as your backlist versus your new releases, but it may also be that one of your series, or one subgenre that you write in, perennially outsells your other stuff. If that’s the case, write more books like that!

I know, I know, as authors we don’t want to be accused of doing the formulaic or repeating ourselves, and we often try the new and different, but if you’re just trying something new because you feel obligated not to repeat yourself, well… maybe instead, you could put a new spin on some things that are, quite frankly, probably favorite types of stories or characters for you. (There’s a reason you wrote them in the first place, right?)

If you don’t have anything that’s selling well yet, then that’s when trying something brand new might be a good idea. Jump down to #3 in this post if you think that’s you.

By the way, this rule also applies to marketing, perhaps even more so than to writing books. If you make a list of all the things you do that fall under the realm of “marketing,” and if you’re good at analyzing where your sales come from through smart links and careful monitoring of campaigns (this is key), you’ll probably realize that a few of the things you’re doing for marketing are resulting in the majority of your sales. You’ll probably also find that a lot of things you’re doing are wasting your time or resulting in so few sales that you would be better served doing something else. Like writing the next book.

I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true: few things sell books better than publishing more books. As they say, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy any tickets. I definitely put my focus on writing, and I always have. I doubt I spend more than 5% of my work time on marketing-related activities, and that’s counting my occasional Facebook and Twitter posts.

Look at everything you’re doing for marketing, and look at the results, and then run the  WIBBOW test — Would I Be Better off Writing?

2. Learn how to write more quickly and efficiently so you can publish more often. 

As much as I’d like to say it’s possible to make a living publishing a book or two a year, you’re going to find that dang hard as an indie author. (Few trad authors with fewer than ten books out are making a killing either — I know a lot of the scifi and fantasy trad authors doing well who started in the last 5-7 years have a lot of books out already).

I don’t think it’s at all surprising that I had big leaps in income in 2015 and 2016 because I’d gone from publishing 3-4 novels a year when I was getting started to closer to 8-10. Last year, including pen name releases, I believe I hit 12.

Yes, this is easier when you’ve already written several novels and you’ve naturally gotten better at doing it more efficiently, and of course it’s easier if you’re able to write full time, but I’ve met people with kids and full-time day jobs who are still writing 6+ novels a year.

I won’t attempt to give tips on how to improve your writing speed, since there are plenty of resources out there that cover it, but I will say that I outline, I turn off the internet if I’m finding myself distracted, and I prioritize my word count over anything else (yes, I’m sorry email friends — that’s why I’m always behind on my inbox) when I’m working on a new project. And that’s often!

For a more helpful resource, check out Rachel Aaron’s inexpensive 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love.

3. Be smart about the genres and niches you write in.

No, this isn’t another “write to market” tip, though it’s probably not a bad idea to read Chris Fox’s Write to Market: Deliver a Book That Sells if you haven’t already. If that’s something that could work for you, by all means, go for it. I’ve seen countless authors talking about how they were making pennies and then finally wrote a book “to market” and suddenly jumped up to four figures a month in earnings.

But, for those who are like me, and never like reading (or writing) the popular stuff (like gag me with a spoon if I see one more vampire, man), there’s still hope. I’ve always been someone who, for whatever reason, is never interested in anything that’s mainstream. What can I say? I’m not very mainstream. (That’s code for: I’m kind of a weirdo.) The cool thing about indie publishing is that you don’t need to sell tons of any given title to make good money. The internet is huge. Your people who share your same quirky tastes as you do are out there.

That said, you can still be analytical about the series you choose to start. I’ve often said that even though my stuff is never to market, I do write books that have some commercial appeal. They’re not so quirky that the market is going to be severely limited.

If you have ideas for three or four different stories in a couple of different genres, go out there and do some research. (Chris Fox’s book can be helpful for analyzing the potential of any given subgenre on Amazon.) Which genres are trending upward? Are any underserved by trad publishing right now? Are any subgenres just coming into existence? We recently did a podcast with someone talking about LitRPG. A few months ago, I would have said WTF is LitRPG? Go look on Amazon. Some of the books with the keyword in the subtitle are doing amazing (there’s not even a category for it yet).

A few years ago, Amazon created new subcategories under romance. Science fiction romance and fantasy romance. I’d gone through a phase of reading all of traditionally published SFR out there a few years before that, and there sure wasn’t much of it. Once the category was created, it got easier to find more, more put out by indie authors. Not only did I buy some, but I made a pen name and wrote some (you can read my first and second posts on launching the pen name anonymously a couple of years ago). The stuff I wrote was far future space opera romance and not to market (aliens steal women from Earth for breeding purposes, go!), but it sold well because I published the first few quickly into an underserved genre that was still fairly new. And there was an audience for what I enjoyed audience, even if my pen name books were never going to launch into the Top 100 overall on Amazon.

On the podcast in 2015, we kept interviewing authors who were doing really well with space opera/military SF. A long time Star Wars/Star Trek/Firefly fan, I’d been thinking of writing a space adventure series for a long time. Since many authors were rocking it in what was another genre fairly underserved by trad publishing, I decided to bump a fantasy series I was planning to the side and devote most of 2016 to jumping genres and writing the space series. Again, my stories weren’t to market (it might be the only pilot-mom-goes-looking-for-her-kidnapped-daughter series out there), but they had enough commercial appeal that they found a readership. And as I’ve already shared, 2016 was my best year ever.

So before you commit to writing your next series, take a look at what’s out there now and what’s selling. It’s very possible that one of the handful of ideas that you’re excited about has more potential than the others.

Good luck, and I hope you have an amazing 2017!

Interview with the Dragon Who Thinks He’s a God (Bhrava Saruth)

| Posted in Cut Scenes and Fun Extras |

23

For a holiday treat, I decided to bring back my tradition of posting character interviews (with questions submitted by you).

First up, in celebration of my new Beginnings boxed set (with a new adventure featuring the dragon who thinks he’s a god, Bhrava Saruth), I’ll be interviewing the dragon himself. My thanks to all who submitted questions on Facebook (if you’re not already following me there, you can click here to do so).

Oh, and for those who aren’t familiar with Bhrava Saruth, he appears late (far too late for his tastes) in my Dragon Blood series. The first book, Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, is free everywhere. Also, for those interested in checking out the new Bhrava Saruth adventure when it comes out, I’ve got all the links to the boxed set at the end of the interview. Thanks for reading! 

Interview with Bhrava Saruth

Greetings, good dragon. Thank you for deigning to speak to a lowly human such as myself.

I always have time to speak with my worshippers. You didn’t by chance bring me anything, did you?

Of course. I wouldn’t come to your lair without an appropriate offering. Mango tarts are one of your favorites, aren’t they?

They are most excellent. I enjoy eating them while receiving belly rubs. *pointed look*

Uh, I have ink on my hands. Maybe we can do the belly rubs after the interview? And after you shape-shift into something less… large and scaly?

Do you not find my true form magnificent? *narrowing of eyes*

Yes, yes, very much so. Uhm, here, more tarts?

Indeed.

You’re a very busy dragon, so I’ll get right to the questions.

God.

Pardon?

I am a busy dragon god. Will this interview be published all across Iskandia? So that more humans will learn of my existence and flock to worship me?

Oh, I’m certain there will be flocking. Okay, here goes. First question! 

Carole asks: Bhrava, I know you love your belly rubs, any Lady Dragon in your future to rub your belly???

Lady dragon? Female dragons do not rub bellies. They are only interested in intimacy during their mating cycles, which are many years apart. And their idea of intimacy involves clawing and biting. I have heard of fellow male dragons losing limbs during the process. At the least, you can be certain there will be much bloodshed and loss of scales. I usually only visit with female dragons when biological urges require it.

For bonding and belly rubs, I do prefer humans. You have such excellent hands (and your fingers are entirely devoid of sharp claws). Of course, I am always willing to offer a godly blessing in exchange for attention from my worshippers. 

Deanna asks: Bhrava, Other than your dragon form, what is your favorite shape?

My dragon form is most impressive, is it not? But humans sometimes fear it. I don’t know why when it is clearly majestic and beautiful. I have found, though, that humans adore and never fear small, furry animals. They also like to stroke them! This is why I often take such forms when I do not wish to alarm my newer worshippers. And also when I wish to have my belly rubbed. When a small, furry creature rolls onto its back, humans seem to instinctively know what to do. There is no need for mental coercion. 

I like cats and puppies, but the ferret form may be my favorite because it’s easy to ride along on a human’s shoulder or squirm down into a satchel or grocery bag if it’s necessary to hide from non-believers. Also, there are sometimes tasty foodstuffs in those bags.

Kantami asks: Bhrava, when you’re not looking for worshipers what do you do for fun or relaxation?

Flying is the most wondrous thing! You must try it if you haven’t already. I like to soar high over mountains and then plunge down into valley lakes or into the sea. Also, it startles the tarts out of the sea life.

Kim asks: I seek the great god Bhrava Saruth’s wisdom on the best flavor of ice cream.

Anchovy, of course. I do wish one could find more meat-flavored ice creams. Lamb is so delicious. How could lamb ice cream not be wonderful?

Jennifer asks: Bhrava Saruth, what is your goal in life? How do you see yourself fitting in with the human race? What do you want to accomplish?

My goal? To be known to all of the world and have many followers, of course. Also a grand temple would be nice. I’m working on Ridgewalker now to build me a temple. It is a great honor for him.

As far as fitting in, why would a god wish to fit in? A god must change the world so that it fits him!

Richard asks: Bhrava when did you come to realize that you were a god?

It was many centuries ago when an early rider pointed out my fine attributes and how unusually magnificent of a dragon I was. I had not realized it! After a great battle, in which I drove away many enemies, this rider’s people also saw my great worth. Some of them began to worship me as a god. I realized I must be a god. I was destined to protect humans and bless them and be worshipped by them. It is strange that I had not realized it earlier. 

Georgette asks: Bhrava Saruth, I am one of your devoted followers. I have excellent hands and would love to attend your needs. Rubbing your belly, of course. May I ask as to why you chose Sardelle to be your High Priestess?

Sardelle is an excellent high priestess! She doesn’t yet know how good she will be, but she is quite diplomatic and rarely offends anyone. This is an excellent value in a representative, especially when one’s size and long fangs can be a touch intimidating to some. Dragons can be so misunderstood! 

Sardelle’s lippy sword is taking some getting used to, but I believe I shall also sway Jaxi to my side one day. After all, everyone knows how useful dragons can be. And we’re quite handsome, as well! Between you and me, Jaxi has been known to fantasize about dragons in a most… libidinous way. 

If you wish to apply for the position of assistant priestess, I would be happy to have more loyal helpers. In fact, that will be crucial once the temple opens. We’ll be flooded with curious and interested humans. Potential worshippers! 

Jo asks: Bhrava, what do you have to say to your worshippers from another dimension who read of your exploits and worship you from afar?

I am most pleased to accept worshippers from all dimensions and all worlds. It is a pity, however, that you cannot come for a proper blessing. Perhaps I will have my biographer write down my wisdom in a text so that it may touch everyone, everywhere. Yes, a god should have a religious text, shouldn’t he? This is a magnificent idea. Thank you. Also, can you send baked goods to my dimension? 

~

If you would like to read the story of how Bhrava Saruth became a god (in his eyes), please check out Dragon Rider in the Beginnings boxed set. It will be 99 cents throughout the pre-order and then pop up to $2.99.

Kobo | Barnes & NobleApple

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AUS

beginnings-2d-web

Fallen Empire Reading Order (and Book 8 is out)

| Posted in My Ebooks |

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I’ve just released End Game, the 8th and final book in my Fallen Empire series. Now that the series has grown to eight novels and several short stories, some folks have been asking about the best reading order, so here’s the list in chronological order. They can be read this way, but with the prequels, you may enjoy them more after you’ve read a couple of books in the series and know the characters.

Fallen Empire Series in Chronological Order:

Remnants — A short story that takes place 2-3 years before Star Nomad. It’s the adventure where Alisa and Mica first meet, and it’s currently only available in the You Are Here SF/F anthology.

Last Command — A novella that takes place 6 months before Star Nomad. It’s from Leonidas’s point of view and shows him carrying out his last mission before the fall of the empire. It’s currently available as a free bonus to those who sign up for the Fallen Empire newsletter.

Star Nomad — The first book I wrote and where the main adventure begins! The ebook version of the series is currently exclusive with Amazon (but if you’re reading this after Spring of 2017, it should be out everywhere), but the paperbacks can be purchased at Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. Also, the audiobooks are being produced by Podium Publishing and are available through Amazon, Apple, and Audible.

Saranth Three — A short story that takes place between Star Nomad and Book 2, Honor’s Flight. It’s currently a bonus for newsletter subscribers.

Honor’s Flight — Book 2 in the series

Starfall Station — A short story from Leonidas’s point of view. It takes place between Book 2 and Book 3. It’s currently available through the free Star Rebels anthology. (This is available on Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Noble, as well as Amazon.)

Starseers — Book 3

Relic of Sorrows — Book 4

Cleon Moon — Book 5

Arkadian Skies — Book 6

Perilous Hunt — Book 7

End Game — Book 8

 

 

New Fallen Empire Story in the You Are Here Anthology

| Posted in Ebook News |

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For those of you following along with my Fallen Empire series, you probably already know I’ve done a few extra short stories with the characters.

“Starfall Station” is available in the free Star Rebels anthology (available on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble).

“Saranth Three” is available to newsletter subscribers.

And now a new story, “Remnants” is available in the You Are Here science fiction and fantasy anthology. (Amazon link, Kobo link, Smashwords link). This jumps back in time a couple years before Star Nomad and shows the adventure where Alisa and Mica first met. They got along great, right from the start! (That may be a lie.)

Here’s a preview of the short story:

Remnants

The cockpit smelled of urine.

Lieutenant Mica Coppervein wrinkled her nose and turned a suspicious squint on the ground-crew sergeant standing on the hangar deck beside the ladder. The middle-aged veteran gazed up at her, a challenging expression on his face. Was this a joke? Some attempt to foist an unpleasant task off on a green officer who didn’t know better?

“There’s a short circuit somewhere,” the sergeant said.

“Because the pilot wet himself?”

“It was the gunner. Tense battle, I heard. And a crazy pilot. As if there’s any other kind.”

Three suns, was that vomit down on the floor under the gunner’s seat? This task was getting more unpleasant by the minute.

“Look, Sergeant,” Mica said. “I’m an engineer, not an electrician. I—”

“Electrician said he didn’t know what the problem was and to get an engineer.”

More likely, the electrician took a sniff and decided it would be fun to foist this unpleasant repair duty off on an officer. The new officer who had only been here a week and kept wondering what insanity had prompted her to join the Alliance army. Just because she wanted to see the empire sucked into a black hole didn’t mean that anything she did could make that happen.

The sergeant waved at the scorched hull of the fleet runner, a converted imperial fighter that had been old long before the war started. “My crew can handle the rest of the repairs, but we don’t know what’s going on inside the cockpit.”

“Besides unauthorized excretions?” Mica eyed what might have been a puddle on the gunner’s seat. It was hard to tell in the poor lighting of the hangar. With the entire base hidden in an asteroid and operating on minimal power, the lighting was poor everywhere. Maybe it was for the best. This wasn’t the first suspicious stain she had come across since being transferred from her hastily completed officer’s training course. It was, however, the first one that was so… fresh.

Sparks and a surprised shout came from a craft near the big doors at the other end of the hangar. Mica sighed wistfully. The rest of her team was examining a mystery ship that had been salvaged earlier in the day. Made from a strange crystal-like material, the two-seater craft had been found floating near the asteroid and pulled into the hangar. She’d heard speculation that it was a centuries-old Starseer ship, but there had been an imperial pilot in it, a freshly dead imperial pilot. Mica would much rather be investigating it with the other engineers.

“You too good to get your hands dirty, Lieutenant?” the sergeant asked, still frowning at her.

Mica lifted her chin. “I grew up on XR-318, one of the ugliest and grimiest mining asteroids in the system. We started digging out tunnels when we were six, as soon as we were old enough to toddle out of the crèche and be of some use. I’ve had dirt wedged so far up under my fingernails for so long that it bought throw rugs and set up furniture.” She had, however, avoided sticking her hands in pee puddles.

“Then this shouldn’t be a problem.” The sergeant waved at the cockpit and turned his back on her.

He grabbed his toolbox and yelled for two privates to come help him with the hull repairs. The younger men nudged each other, glanced at Mica, and snickered as they headed toward the tail of the craft. Once again, she suspected she had been set up.

Grumbling, Mica went off to search for a cleaning robot, though, given the Alliance’s limited resources, she would be lucky to find a mop and bucket. It occurred to her to order a private to wipe down—and thoroughly disinfect—the cockpit for her, but everyone in the hangar was busy working on the other battered ships. “Tense battle” was an understatement. From what those who’d fought to defend the asteroid had said, their armada had been decimated before driving off the imperial attack. Further, the empire now knew where the Alliance base was. An evacuation order would likely come within a day or two.

“How’re the repairs going, L.T.?” one of the privates asked a few minutes later as Mica crouched in the two-seater, finishing cleaning. He could barely hold in his snickers.

“There are bodily fluids everywhere except the pilot’s seat,” Mica said. “How do you think they’re going?”

“Stinkily?”

Stinkily? It was amazing these kids could read. Maybe they couldn’t. She didn’t recall that the Alliance recruiting fliers had listed a lot of requirements.

“Here, Private. Find a laundry basket for this.” Mica tossed a damp towel at him, resulting in a disgusted grunt as the kid reflexively caught it.

He dropped the towel and fled. With luck, he wouldn’t bother her again.

Finally ready to start work—that supposed short circuit had better be real—Mica leaned out of the cockpit to grab her toolbox off the top of the ladder. She paused. A woman was jogging in her direction. She wore a flight suit and a blue-and-gray jacket with a patch that identified her as a combat pilot. Mica curled her lip, wondering if this was the “crazy” person responsible for the damaged craft—and the mess.

Also wearing lieutenant’s tabs, the woman was not deterred by the lip curl. She kept coming and even grinned and waved to Mica.

“Amazing how often I get such looks from the ground crew,” she said, climbing the ladder.

“I’m an engineer.”

“Oh, I get even dirtier looks from them.” The grin grew broader.

Her name tag read MARCHENKO. An attractive woman of about thirty, she wore her reddish-brown hair pulled back in a braided bun and had a curvy figure that plenty of men would like to get their hands on. Some women, too, surely. Not that Mica wanted anything to do with a pilot who couldn’t be bothered to clean out her own cockpit. Besides, she preferred her women—and her men—on the fine-boned and elegant side.

“Don’t mind me,” Marchenko said, leaning into the cockpit. “I lost something.”

“Your bladder control?” Mica didn’t bother to scoot out of the way. The sooner she finished with this, the sooner she could join her team in examining the strange derelict.

“No, that was Sergeant Heathrow.” Marchenko frowned at the control panel, then lowered her head to look under the seat.

“He the one who puked too?”

“Yes,” Marchenko said, her voice muffled. “He promised me he had an iron stomach. Such a lie. He’s the third gunner I’ve gone through in two weeks. It’s amazing how many big, burly men get airsick at the least provocation.”

“I bet.”

“I would have cleaned up, or had him do it, but we got called for a debriefing right away and—oomph, is that it?”

Before Mica could ask what Marchenko was looking for, someone called, “Officer on deck,” from the back of the hangar. The cavernous space fell impressively silent.

Everyone was supposed to stop what they were doing and come to a perfect attention stance, but Marchenko kept rooting around under the seat.

Admiral Banerjee, the base commander, strode into view with his aide. He headed to the front of the hangar, toward the team inspecting the mystery ship. Mica thought about returning to work, but Banerjee only exchanged a few words with the engineering team leader, Captain Brandt, before moving on. Reminiscent of a tank, the stocky, barrel-chested admiral rolled past the shuttles and larger troop transports toward Mica’s corner of the hangar. Wonderful.

While Marchenko muttered to herself, her head still stuffed under the pilot’s seat, Mica climbed out the other side of the cockpit, ignoring the lack of a ladder. She landed and hustled around to the front of the battered craft where the sergeant and privates already stood at attention.

Mica thought about warning Marchenko, but hadn’t decided if she wanted to interact further with the person responsible for her odious duty. Also, Banerjee would likely hear any whispered asides. Nobody else was talking, and all work had stopped.

The admiral’s gaze raked across the ground crew, lingered on Mica, then lingered even longer as it drifted upward to where Marchenko was draped over the side of the cockpit with her butt in the air.

“That looks like a volunteer,” Banerjee said, his deep voice resonating in the quiet hangar.

“Got it,” Alisa said, her own voice barely audible. She pulled out of the cockpit and jumped from the ladder, clenching a ring dangling from a chain necklace. She blinked in surprise when she found herself staring the admiral in the eye. “Oh. Hullo, sir.” She whipped her hand up for a salute, nearly taking the man’s eye out with the chain.

Mica rolled her eyes, starting to feel surprised that the fleet runner had made it back at all.

Definitely a volunteer,” the admiral growled, his eyes narrowing.

“For what, sir?” Marchenko asked brightly, seemingly oblivious to the man’s irritation.

“You see that mystery ship that got brought in last night?”

“Just heard about it, sir.” Marchenko peered toward the front of the hangar. The engineers peered back.

Mica tried to catch her captain’s eye, wondering what was going on, but like most people in the hangar, he was looking at Marchenko and Admiral Banerjee. Waiting to see if she got a dressing down?

“The engineers are making sure it’s fully functional. We need someone to take it out for a test flight.”

“It’s a Starseer ship, isn’t it, sir?” Marchenko asked. “An old one.”

“I wouldn’t care if pink monkeys brought it from Earth a thousand years ago. If it can fly, I’ll paint it with Alliance colors and add it to one of our squadrons. The Blessed Suns Trinity knows we’re short on spacecraft. We need every extra piece of equipment we can find.”

“Er,” Mica said, not realizing she had spoken until the admiral looked over at her.

“You have a problem—” his gaze dipped to her name tag, “—Coppervein?”

Mica had been introduced to the admiral when she and a handful of other graduates from the abbreviated officer “academy” had arrived, but she apparently hadn’t made enough of an impression for him to have remembered her name. Maybe that anonymity was a good thing, something she should strive to maintain.

She could imagine all sorts of problems resulting from adding a centuries-old ship to their squadrons, but all she said was, “No, sir.” One wasn’t supposed to er at admirals, after all. Nobody else had.

“Good,” Banerjee said. “Marchenko?”

“I can fly anything, sir. Does it have weapons? If you give me a new gunner, we can clean up any leftover imperials loitering around outside our asteroid base.”

Mica had no idea how long Marchenko had been here, but she seemed undaunted by the admiral’s rank—or the fact that he hadn’t stopped glowering at her.

“You’ll take an engineer,” Banerjee said. “Captain Brandt said his team found some quirks.”

Quirks? Mica didn’t like the sound of that.

Marchenko looked toward the cockpit of the fleet runner, then lifted her eyebrows in Mica’s direction. “I believe she’s an engineer, sir.”

Mica’s mouth dropped open. She had wanted to examine the ship, not fly somewhere in it. Especially not if it had quirks. What did that mean? That it would blow up as soon as it hit the vacuum of space?

“Take her then,” Banerjee said before Mica could come up with a convincing excuse as to why she couldn’t go. As if going out in a quirky ship wasn’t bad enough, Mica did not want to fly with someone who took it as a challenge to make her colleagues puke. “And be quick about it,” the admiral added. “We’re mustering out of here at 0800 hours in the morning.”

Banerjee walked away before Mica could come up with a tactful way to protest an admiral’s orders. She should have opted for an untactful way and consequences be damned.

Marchenko slapped her arm. “You’re welcome.”

“What?” Mica stared at her.

“I saw you ogling that ship. And cleaning this mess couldn’t be any fun.” Marchenko waved at the fleet runner, but turned the gesture into a head scratch. “I wonder why he picked me. Does he expect trouble out there? Did he deliberately choose one of his more talented pilots, just in case?”

“I think you were deliberately chosen because your ass volunteered you, Lieutenant Talent,” Mica grumbled.

“It is a fine one, isn’t it?” Marchenko patted her backside. “You can call me Alisa, by the way. I don’t insist on Marchenko. Or Lieutenant Talent.”

“This is going to be a long trip, isn’t it?” Mica asked, not offering her own first name.

“It better not be longer than—” Marchenko tapped the blue-beaded earstar draped over her helix, “—eighteen hours. Or we’ll find out if an old Starseer two-seater can fly to the nearest planet.”

Mica eyed the dilapidated mystery ship. “We’ll be lucky if it can clear the hangar.”

“Good thing I’m taking an engineer along, isn’t it?”

Mica grumbled again, not bothering to utter anything articulate this time.

“Don’t worry. It’ll be fun. An adventure.”

“You’ll probably get us killed.”

“Are you always this pessimistic?” Alisa asked. “Most people don’t say such things until after they’ve flown with me.”

Mica eyed the dirty towel slumped on the deck near the ladder, the one she had thrown at the private. “I find that hard to believe.”

~

Get the rest in the anthology (and check out lots of other authors’ stories too!), We Are Here.

 

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