The Stars Within
by Lena Alison Knight
Series: The Gift of the Stars #1
Genre: Space Opera/Military Sci-Fi
Intended Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Self Published
Shown on page:
Frequent, non-graphic violence
War w/ civilian casualties
For Kerelle Evandra, her psionic powers have always meant three things: mandatory service to a multigalactic corporation, a luxurious lifestyle as a prized asset, and an electronic collar that will kill her if she steps out of line. As a powerful telekinetic, she’s spent the last ten years of her life in the corporate military, fighting anyone and anywhere the company demands. While she might resent her gilded cage – and obedience to her corporate masters’ cold directives – everyone knows that escape is impossible. And defiance risks not just her own life, but also the life of the person closest to her: Galhen Ambrel, her lover and fellow bound psionic.
But when Galhen’s service contract is suddenly sold to a distant oligarch, Kerelle learns that obedience was not the guarantee of safety she once thought – and that escape may not be as inconceivable as she was taught to believe. When a mission brings her into contact with an unexpected ally, she must decide how far she can go, and how much she’s willing to risk for freedom.
Solving Problems with Explosions • The Power of Friendship (and Guns) • Love in the Time of Corporate Dystopia
Even from the air, Kalnis was a teeming, derelict mess. Here and there were the shells of grand buildings, indicating that perhaps things had once been better – or at least that someone with investment money had believed they might get better. Judging by the age and condition of those buildings now, any such hopes had long since fled. They dropped down over a sea of rickety walls and broken windows to touch ground at a drab concrete field surrounded by razor wire.
They were met at the landing pad by a shifty man in a worn port authority uniform. Sandrel paid him the requested docking fee, then reached into his jacket to count out another two hundred credits. The port worker pocketed it with a nod and moved on.
Sandrel caught Kerelle’s questioning glance as he returned to the ship.
“First amount is the docking fee we pay to land here. The second one is the ‘security fee,’ which is a nice way of saying the bribe that makes sure the ship is still here when we get back.” He explained this nonchalantly without having to be asked; Kerelle’s performance with the ship’s guns had apparently elevated her in Sandrel’s opinion.
Sandrel turned to regard Kerelle and Nalea both. “Doc, are you sure you want to stay with the ship?”
The scientist gave a small nod. She’d been quiet since they got their first good look at Kalnis, and her second thoughts about the entire venture were written plainly across her face.
“All right then,” he said. “Keep everything locked up, stay out of sight and don’t answer the door. We paid our bribe to keep the ship from being stolen, but it never hurts to be extra careful, especially here. We’ll be back as soon as we have the parts we need.” Nalea only nodded again and drew back further into the ship. Kerelle felt a twist of worry at leaving her, but locked inside the ship was probably far safer than roaming the streets.
Up close, Kalnis was even worse off than it looked in the air. Garbage carpeted the claustrophobic streets, with scattered piles of pungent refuse that spoke to a lack of accessible sanitation. The uneven sidewalks were hemmed in by crumbling concrete block towers, many with plywood shanties built around them like vines beginning to choke a tree – though she hadn’t seen a tree since they broke atmosphere. Most people they passed hurried about their business, carefully not looking at anyone. Those that didn’t were the clusters of rough-looking individuals who leaned against walls here and there, watching the passerby like sharks sizing up a school of fish.
Sandrel walked with brisk purpose and no sign of fear, and Kerelle followed suit. All the same, she brushed those they passed with telepathic encouragement that there was nothing about her and Sandrel worth noticing. As the smuggler had said, it never hurt to be extra careful.
True to his word, Sandrel knew where they were going, and he led them unerringly to a battered storefront in a small cluster of merchants that passed for a shopping center. With reinforced bars over their windows and heavy chains to secure their doors, it seemed more to Kerelle that the shops were huddled for mutual defense.
She waited quietly to the side while Sandrel negotiated for what they needed. She could be of no help fixing the ship, but she didn’t intend to stand idly by. Kerelle kept her senses open for anyone in their vicinity who might be trouble. She’d done a good job on the way in though, or else Sandrel had, because she sensed no one who had taken note of them. So far so good.
Sandrel briskly shook hands with the proprietor and credits changed hands, and soon they were back in those filthy streets with several small boxes stowed in his pack. Kerelle marveled that their survival could be contained in such little things, but it was probably for the best they didn’t have to visibly carry them.
She kept up her mental shield of anonymity as they made their way back to the dock, and to her relief they passed back into the bleak little shipyard without incident. Now all they had to do was install the parts and leave this wretched world behind them. There was just one problem.
The ship was gone.
1. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be.
So there were a lot of things that came together in this story, but the initial spark was work. More specifically, it was a culture of work where your entire identity is centered on your job, with this almost religious devotion. The PsiCorp sort of grew out of that, and my feelings around it.
Which feels odd to say now, because the story actually got away from the PsiCorp fairly quickly – once I sat down to write it, Kerelle escaping that situation was more interesting than living through it. But in a way the PsiCorp concept is what started the whole thing.
2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
I learned I’m a plantser! I have to meticulously plan my books, or else I can’t make any progress at all. If I just sit down and write and try to figure it out as I go, I’ll hit a wall where it’s not clear where to go next, and for me it’s very hard to get over that wall if I’m knee-deep in writing the actual draft. By outlining the whole story before I start, I always know where I’m going (and so we’ll actually get there!).
While working on this series, though, I discovered that I still have some pantser moments. I would hit a point in my outline that didn’t quite feel right on the actual page, or I would have a sudden burst of inspiration for another scene that wasn’t in the outline but would be a great fit for this part of the story. At first I tried to just stick with what I had planned, but I learned that sometimes giving into the pantser impulses could improve the overall flow of the story. Some of my favorite scenes in the series weren’t in the outline.
3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
I was surprised how much the characters took on their own voices and personalities as I went along. There were times when I would reach something I’d put in the outline and realize “no, she would never say that, actually” and have to rethink the scene. I had the broad strokes of them from the outline, but I got to really know them so much better when I was writing the actual draft.
4. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
It’s a bit oblique, but the first book is called The Stars Within because so much of the central conflict is internal. We follow Kerelle through a number of external conflicts, of course, there’s a lot of action in this book. But the really important one is in her head, reconciling what she was raised to believe with a reality that doesn’t match up, and struggling with what she might be able to do about it.
The Stars Within is also the book where Kerelle is most withdrawn from the world around her, which contributed to the name as well. Found family is an important theme in the later books, but for most of The Stars Within she’s on her own.
5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
Not exactly. I actually like to say that all of the characters are me – not literally, of course, but I can recognize certain aspects of myself that went into them.
6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
I wouldn’t say it has a moral, per se. I would say more that it has ideas, particularly around corporate power in society. Kerelle and her friends live in a world where these mega-corps have accumulated enough political and social power that in some places they’re indistinguishable from the government.
When we meet Kerelle, actually, it’s in the midst of SysTech acting like an imperial power, even though they’re a private business entity. The book opens there partially to give the reader a fast and unambiguous introduction to how SysTech operates – including both why Kerelle might want out, and why she has zero doubt they’d make good on their threats to kill her if she tried. But starting on Elekar is also meant to pose one of the big questions that our protagonists need to grapple with throughout the series. How do you rein in a private entity, when society lets them get away with this?
7. What is your favorite part of the book?
I’m going to cheat a bit here. I think of the book as having two phases – a phase when Kerelle believes the PsiCorp is inevitable, and a phase when she doesn’t. I have a favorite for each.
In the first phase, my favorite part is when Galhen first joins her on Elekar. We learn a lot about both of them, and they have some fairly serious discussions, but we also get to see them relax and banter and support each other through some very difficult situations. I feel like in SFF we have a lot of stories about people forming relationships (which I like also, don’t get me wrong!), but we don’t have many stories about people who are in relationships. That’s something I’d like to see more of, because life doesn’t end once you get together, you know? So in some ways, this was me writing the story I wanted to read.
In the second phase I’m going to be a bit more vague, since this is well into spoiler territory. My favorite part here is the moment of truth for Kerelle’s ambitions of leaving the PsiCorp, and its immediate aftermath. It was quite fun to write, and also gives Kerelle the first nudge towards some important realizations about herself.
8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
Kerelle’s friend Mila, actually. She’s not even in the book that much, but she plays an important role both in helping Kerelle’s path move forward and in representing a more typical PsiCorp experience. By the time we meet Kerelle, she’s shaken off some of her childhood indoctrination; Mila has not. In her, we see how PsiCorp are supposed to act – and often do.
At the same time, though, I didn’t want her to be this one-note caricature. Yes, Mila reflects the values of her upbringing, but she really does care about Kerelle’s well-being. She genuinely tries to help Kerelle recover from loss, the only way she knows how. And I didn’t want it to feel like the story was criticizing her for the fact that the only way she was ever taught to provide emotional support is by taking someone shopping.
Most of the other characters actually developed pretty naturally – I had a good sense for who they were and their role in the story, and their voices were relatively clear from the beginning. Mila took me a couple of tries before she felt “right.”
9. What are your immediate future plans?
I’m working on a science fantasy project that’s been a lot of fun so far, that I’m hoping to be able to share more about soon. I’ve also got a longer-term series project going that’s more on the epic side, and I’ve been trying my hand more at short fiction.
About the Author:
Lena Alison Knight grew up reading space opera and high fantasy, and started writing her own as soon as she could hold a crayon steady. She lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when not writing she can be found taking brisk walks, haunting local coffee shops, or sprawled on the couch playing video games. Find her online at lenaalisonknight.com.
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