Phew, a bit late on this one! (That’s the last time I ever plan a vacation around book launch time.) Renegades came out on September 30th, and I’ve spent the time between then and now (after the vacation) racing to finish the third book, Blood Ties, which will come out later in December.
I’m having an absolute blast writing these books.
Anyway, without further adieu, allow me to introduce Renegades:
The Shadows have taken over half of the system, and Karin is the only one who can fight back.
Genetically engineered from birth, Karin Makos’s powers have made her the Alliance’s most wanted person. With her sister still missing, and only a cryptic notebook left behind for clues, the mystery of her past is going to take a lot more time and resources than they have to unravel it.
And there’s a bigger problem looming. Keeping their promise to heal Ethan’s stepfather and the rest of the people on the Ozark puts them right past Caishen station and its Alliance allies—and there might be another force on their tail.
After the crew split apart on a wild chase that puts Karin in the hot seat, it’ll take all of their strength and ingenuity to bring them back together. With enemies gathering in the wings, a desperate, heavy-handed station commander hard on their tail, and the Shadows an ever-present threat, they must race against the odds and scramble to fight their way out.
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Dr. Evangeline Sasha, neurobiology and psychiatry.
Dr. Bryan Ling, pediatrics.
Drs. Elliot and Bernard Corringham, neurobiology and psychiatry.
Dr. Soichiro Takahashi, neurosurgery.
Karin Makos didn’t remember them, but her sister Nomiki had scribbled their names on a sticky-note close to the front of her notebook in a small, square, efficient print that, after three hours of studying, was starting to make her eyes cross.
Trust her sister to be circumspect in her investigation. Karin couldn’t make out any of what she’d found out from this book. From what she could tell, it seemed more like a list of what her sister had found, and she had a feeling the connecting narrative remained confined inside of Nomiki’s head.
Of course, Nomiki hadn’t exactly meant to share the book. Karin had found it hidden away, tucked under her sister’s bed while she’d been snooping through her apartment. If the weapons cases had still been there, she wouldn’t have seen it at all.
But then, if the weapons cases had been there, Nomiki would have been on planet, and Karin wouldn’t have had to go squinting through her tiny-lettered scrawl for clues to her whereabouts.
Less than three weeks ago, a Shadow attack had thrown the entire system into high alert. An estimated half of the population had succumbed, becoming eerie, despondent people whose eyes had turned as black as the darkest parts of space. Due to some quirk of the genetic engineering experiments she’d undergone throughout her entire childhood, Karin possessed the ability to cure them.
That capability had made her into the system’s most-wanted person overnight. Well, one of two, anyway. The Alliance didn’t know whether to look for her or for Soo-jin, who’d been accompanying her at the time.
She leaned her head back, closing her eyes to the blue sky. They’d parked their vessel, the Nemina, less than a hundred klicks south of Bau, Enlil’s largest city, and they had been parked there for more than three days now.
At least the locale agreed with them. Soo-jin, one of their crew, had been adamant about finding something beach-front and, for once, Karin had completely agreed with her. The small clearing she’d found had a loose grouping of palms and banyans, covered just enough room to land the Nemina, and perched on a short cliff that overlooked one of Enlil’s many white-sand beaches.
Here, the sun didn’t beat down quite as intense as it did on the concrete streets of the city, and the breeze brought the smell of hot sand, salt, and seaweed as it rattled through the palms. A mix of cicadas and enma, a kind of local fruit wasp, droned in the trees. Dead leaves and clumps of wild plants and grasses littered the sandy ground, with the occasional flower providing a shock of color in the greens and yellows. Twenty meters away, the angular, flared-wing form of the Nemina sat at an angle on the lot. Sunlight dappled the shade on her nose, but reflected bright and strong off her wings and back.
Even by domestic standards, she was not large. An ex-Fallon scout, Marc had bought her in the empire’s large fleet decommissioning two years ago. Quick and maneuverable, she came with detachable storage containers meant for quick supply drops. Nowadays, they provided space to put the crew’s scrounge findings.
If we ever do another scrounge. The last one seemed like ages ago now, when it had barely been a few weeks ago. Karin blew out a breath, her gaze fixed to a point on the edge of the Nemina’s wing. The system-wide Shadow attack had kind of put a damper on that. And, despite her need to find her sister, answer the questions of their past, and find out how to stop the demons, there was the very real problem of her account’s dwindling supply of credits.
She needed cash.
Movement caught her eye by the Nemina’s door, and she looked up to see Cookie, Marc’s cousin and their new live-in techhead, jump down the ramp and duck under the ship’s chassis with a bundle of tools and wires hugging his abdomen. Soo-jin, the ship’s erstwhile engineer, followed hot on his heels, a mixed expression of disgust and irritation set on her face. Her voice carried over to where Karin sat.
“Effing Sol, you aren’t really going to try that, right?”
Well, at least she was half-censoring herself around Ethan, the child they’d picked up on the way in from a passenger transport that had been overrun during the Shadow attacks. And, looking at the piles of what she hoped were non-essential parts of the ship that he’d stacked up on the sides of the ramp, whatever came out of Soo-jin’s mouth seemed fairly justified. Three and a half days had passed since Karin had healed Cookie out of whatever stasis the Shadows had put him in, and he’d celebrated by a near-sleepless binge of ‘upgrading’ the Nemina’s circuitry.
Normally, his hacker hands wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the ship—not with her decommissioned-but-still-sort-of-there military comms circuits—but the planet-wide warrant for both Karin and Soo-jin’s arrest had gone up forty-eight hours ago, and the entire Alliance military had their capture as top priority. If they wanted to break Enlil’s orbital quarantine, they couldn’t do that flashing the Nemina’s usual ident tags. Cookie had ways around that. Even if they did involve some quasi-legal and other definitely-illegal modifications to the ship’s systems.
So long as he didn’t mess with her nav dashboard, Karin was quite all right with that.
Soo-jin, on the other hand, had some very vocal qualms. Not so much about the legality of things, but more regarding which parts he was modifying in the Nemina’s core circuitry.
A slow breeze rose over her arm, pricking against the sweat on her skin, and she returned her attention to the notebook, toying with the edge of the page with one finger as a frown twisted her lips back from her teeth.
Really, Nomiki? Paper? Would it have killed you to send an e-mail? I could have helped.
But her sister had always withheld. Even as kids, she’d done a lot on her own. And then, with their escape…
Well, Nomiki’s talent for violence had come in a lot handier than Karin’s human flashlight capabilities.
She blew out another breath, a tension curling into her chest. Even after three days of studying the book, she felt no closer to finding out about her own abilities and childhood experimentation than she did to finding Nomiki’s location.
A clunk sounded from under the ship, followed by some less-censored swearing. When she glanced up this time, Ethan had appeared in the doorway. He seemed somewhere between eight and ten years old—Karin had yet to ask him which—and the cartoon shirt and fresh denim jeans made him look even younger. Despite the amount he had consumed in their Mess, which she had been keeping track of, he still gave the appearance of someone who had starved.
Standing on the threshold, he’d pulled his attention downward to where Cookie and Soo-jin still bickered beneath the chassis, but after a few seconds, his head moved up, and he spotted her across the clearing. He gave a small, hesitant smile, his hand lifting a few centimeters as if to wave, then turned his head toward the inside of the ship as if something had caught his attention. He retreated back into the hall.
Marc replaced him a moment later. Although he and Cookie were cousins, the only similarities they seemed to share amounted to a similar brown skin tone—Marc’s had a darker and richer appearance, with Cookie’s lighter and warmer—and a certain roundness to their features. Where Cookie averaged out just under and around one-hundred-eighty centimeters, Marc stretched up to nearly fill the Nemina’s two-meter doorway. Marc also had arms like some of the basketball players Karin had seen on the AllCorp feeds. Long and lanky, with muscles that gleamed under the arena lights.
They currently gleamed under the sun.
After some long moments, she realized she was staring. And that he had caught her.
She lifted her expression, attempting a ‘I totally didn’t notice you there until now’ look as she gave him a small wave, just like Ethan had given her. Fortunately, he either didn’t twig or didn’t care. He returned her wave with one of his own, then descended the ramp and made his way over.
She closed the book as he approached, folding it on her lap.
So far, all that anyone on the Nemina knew was that she and her sister had been raised in a scientific compound that had given her magical powers, and that they’d escaped. She wasn’t ready to share her past. It was her book—her sister’s book—and there were still some secrets she wanted to keep. They didn’t know the extent of the experiments. Nor did they know that the compound had been on Old Earth, on the other side of the now-defunct ERL Gate.
Nor that the ruins they’d all seen, the ones that plagued their dreams whenever the Shadows were about to attack, were a real, existing place.
“Enjoying the break?” Marc asked as he came close, sweeping a hand between her bare feet, the camp chair, and the tiny folding table she’d found in the back of Cargo One.
“You could be, too,” she said. “As I recall, you were. Recently.”
“Yeah. But then my eyes kind of crossed over. They must have a quota on the amount of netlink they can read.”
He’d been a soldier once—a Fallon soldier, which made a difference on Alliance-run Enlil—but he didn’t follow stereotypes. Excepting Ethan, the entire crew of the Nemina had been hard at work on research, digging through every single mention of Shadows and ruins and dreams that they could find across the networks. It made Karin feel a little guilty about not sharing her knowledge of the ruins.
She’d share, eventually. Once they were in space, with nothing better to do than scheme, and when she’d come to terms with her trust issues.
She eyed him, taking what she hoped was a more professional look at his bare arms and the sweat on his tank top. “What are you doing, anyway?”
“Remodeling the Rec room.”
“You might know it more as ‘the room across from Med that is stuffed full of random junk.’”
She blinked. “That’s a Rec room?”
“Yep. Under certain model specifications, the blueprints of which I did find.” He gave her a half-smile and twirled a finger in the air. “Which means that technically, this is a restoration, not a remodel.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Right. And you’re restoring it because…?”
“Because I thought having a Rec room would be nice.” He flashed her a smile. “I’m also bored.”
She returned his smile. “No feeds does make for a boring hide-out.”
They’d cut the Nemina’s communications as soon as they’d left the city, taking her off-grid until Cookie could manage his anonymizing hacks on her system. It had been a kind of sudden move, so none of them had anything pre-downloaded for the duration. They also hadn’t known how long they’d be down. Things like ‘rewire the comms circuits on an old, non-Alliance military vessel’ didn’t get ETAs.
And, by the sheer amount of rewiring he had already done, and the way Soo-jin stalked behind his every move, Karin had a feeling Cookie’s project involved more than just a simple anonymizing.
“I wonder how our ancestors ever survived.” Marc watched the party under the Nemina for a few beats, then turned his sardonic gaze to the notebook on her lap. “You seem to be managing. Is that paper?”
Although a part of her stiffened as his attention turned downward, she feigned a mock-grimace toward the book in her lap. “Yes. I think I can already smell it moldering.”
“That’s pretty old school.”
“Yes… I…” She hesitated. The guilt resurfaced in her chest, dampening her smile, and she frowned down at the book. She’d have to share it, eventually. She owed them that much. And Marc—if she couldn’t trust him…
She took a breath and glanced up. “Actually, I picked it up at my sister’s.”
A brief confusion spread over his face, and he opened his mouth—but his eyebrows knit together as he put two and two together. He hadn’t seen her take it, and, although she hadn’t hidden it on the ship, she hadn’t exactly paraded it around.
“Is it… important?”
“I…” She hesitated again, and her jaw locked shut as she thought of Nomiki. They’d hidden so much together. For so long, it had just been the two of them—and so much in the notebook pulled at her memories, even if she couldn’t put an exact finger on it. “Well, it—”
Seeing her falter, he raised his hands, palm outward. “Hey, if it’s private, no worries. I’m just curious, is all. I’m sure that—”
“It’s private, but there’s stuff in here that is linked to the Shadows,” she said.
He processed that, a mask locking over his face. It was like watching clouds rumble around a sun, unsure if there was going to be rain.
Mugginess pressed against her cheeks, and she rubbed her arm where an insect landed. The drone of the trees rose and fell between them.
“Well,” he said. “I—”
Just then, a shout cracked through the air. Cookie waved as he came out from under the chassis. “Hey, cuz! I’m going to boot her up. You coming?”
Marc half-raised his hand, his wave less enthusiastic. “No. Just don’t break anything.”
“I never break anything I can’t fix! Ow—“ He twirled as Soo-jin hit him, quickly amending himself. “Er, I mean, nothing Soo can’t fix.” She gave him another whack, and he jumped up the ramp, half-turning as he hopped over the threshold. “Hey!”
Marc tsk-ed. “Moron.”
Karin nodded, watching them go. Then she turned her gaze back to him, studying him in the shade of the tree.
They’d known each other for nearly two months—and that had been two months in very close quarters on the Nemina. Despite herself, and despite all the promises she’d made to herself about sticking it alone and remaining aloof, keeping away as an isolate, the attack two weeks ago had changed that. She’d read somewhere that adversity brought people together, that the simple act of helping each other survive formed close bonds.
At some point, Soo-jin had become a friend. And Marc had become more than just her boss.
“This entire book is about the organization that raised me and the people that were involved in it,” she said, her tone low and quiet. “But it’s hard to read. Nomiki was older—she remembers more than I do—and she’s always had a better eye for things.”
Marc’s gaze flicked to her, holding hers for a few seconds, then went down to the book. “There aren’t many pages in that.”
“There’s more than I expected there to be,” she said. “These things aren’t even supposed to exist here.”
His eyes narrowed, brow furrowing as his mind worked. “What—oh, you said you were from the other side of the gate, right?”
A low thrum came over the area. They both turned their attention to the Nemina as her auxiliary systems booted up and checked themselves. They’d used a cold-turkey approach when they’d taken her offline, and several of the life-support systems would need to cycle through before they could travel. The open door and light breeze would help with that, at least.
Marc was frowning. “Earth, then? But I thought—”
“It was somewhere near the Mediterranean. I don’t know more than that. We’d have to ask Nomiki.”
“Makos is a Greek name, isn’t it?”
“So is Karin, with this spelling. Nomiki, too.” She shook her head. “I don’t know much about the planet. You’re right. Once I got off, I heard all about the wars. I honestly don’t know anything about that. We never heard anything about it while we were there.”
According to this system’s history, most of Old Earth had been gutted by battle and the rest scorched by the planet’s warming—but she hadn’t heard anything about that when she’d been there. The place where she’d grown up had looked dry, sure, but nothing more than it was supposed to be, even in summer. It had looked exactly how it had been described in the history books and novels she’d read.
But maybe she’d been projecting too much into them, skewing their words to fit her world-view.
She’d spent a lot of nights trying to remember.
“Look,” she said. “So far as I knew, we’d left everything behind. So Nomiki either hid these when we escaped or somehow got them later. I don’t know. But—well, here. There’s something you need to see.” She flipped the book open, ignoring the sudden surge of adrenaline as she fingered through to the right page. “You know those ruins? The ones we dream about?”
Marc’s jaw worked, uneasy. “Yes?”
“Do the ones you see look anything like these?”
She found the page and folded it open, turning it for him to see.
But, even before he’d bent to take a closer look, she could tell that he recognized them. His face closed up like an engine hood, covering up and containing his inner workings.
“Yes. They’re exactly like those.”
A muscle in his neck tightened. He stared at the image hard, processing. She resisted the urge to glance down, instead watching his face. Her stomach turned in a tense knot.
After a few long seconds, his gaze flicked up to her. “You knew about them?”
They stared at each other across the short distance, and she could see him process more inside. She thought she saw a shift of emotion pass across his face, but it vanished before she could be sure.
“Look, Marc, I—”
“No. You don’t have to explain.” He straightened, hands crossing over his chest—and it felt like he’d just shut a door in her face. “I understand. I—”
Footsteps rang on the Nemina’s metal floor. A second later, Cookie’s voice cut across the clearing.
“Yo, cuz, you guys got a message. It’s for her.”
She perked up. Nomiki? Had her sister finally called in?
“Who’s it from?” she called.
“Some guy named Senton. Says he wants his debt repaid.”
Instantly, she felt her face shut down. Marc’s changed little, though the ghost of a grimace rippled across his upper lip.
He gave a longing glance toward the clearing, the beach, and the bright blue sea beyond, then let out a slow, drawn-out breath. “And so the dream ends.”
“Yes.” Karin pushed herself off the chair. “Let’s go see what he wants.”
Get it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2zmSNk8