Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.
Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.
Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.
Warnings: genocide plots, bigotry, racism, classism, obsessive ex-lover, violence, gore, grief and loss, religious dogma, law breaking, manipulation, hostage situations, claustrophobia, anxiety, frustration, guilt, lies and deception, betrayal
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About the Series:
On a planet cracked open by ancient magic, outlaws and pirates are the only ones with what it takes to save Peridot from its next apocalyptic threat.
R J is giving away a $20 gift card to Bookshop.org with this tour:
She might have said the chance to do something reckless like this was half the reason she was in her line of work. But there was no one to bluff except her crew on the other end of the comm—Dug, Tisker, and Sophie—and she owed them more than words. She owed them a job that didn’t end up costing more than it paid. She owed them a ship that wasn’t in constant want of repairs. She owed them a ship worthy of being called a home.
A soft click sounded in the comm of her helmet, and Dug’s voice cut through the quiet sounds of her rapid heartbeat and quick breaths. The voice tube transmission made him sound small and far away. “Progressing well, captain. How much farther do you need?”
Talis unclenched her jaw to answer. “I’d guess I’m just about halfway down. Can’t make out any details yet.”
“Understood. There is plenty of length on the winch.” Her first mate’s voice was low and even, though his syllables were tight as a guitar string. Dug was worried.
The bulky descent suit didn’t make it any easier to see the view below her. It was a one-size-fits-all antique, big enough to wear over her clothes. Big enough that Dug, who towered above her and was thick with muscle—could have worn it, if he was so worried. It was designed to keep her body heat in, and it was most definitely doing that. The musty wool lining felt moist after the short time she’d had it on. Her breath fogged the glass dome that protected her from the thin air, even though she wore a scarf over her mouth. Yet her fingers were still getting stiff with the cold. She could have worn thicker gloves if she was just going down to strap up a large object to tow out. But this time her quarry was smaller than that, and thinner gloves provided better dexterity.
From this distance, the garbage below her looked deceptively beautiful. A lazy flow of icy shapes caught the green light from Nexus, and their reflected light sparkled through the fogging on her helmet. It wasn’t hard to imagine why there were so many stories about treasure down below.
And there was treasure down there. Or, reckless or not, she wouldn’t be dropping into it. The flotsam layer was where the dead went to be forgotten. Dead people. Dead ships. Dead technologies. Gravity trapped it all there. Kept it from dropping out of Peridot’s atmosphere on the bottom side and drifting off into the stars. Silus Cutter created the hoarbeasts centuries ago to prowl the frozen wreckage and clean things up a bit with their vicious, crunching jaws and fang-lined throats. Did her god intend for those beasts to prefer the frozen flesh of bodies to the wrecks? She wouldn’t ask if she got the chance; she was here for the latter and glad to have the chance.
If things went wrong, Talis would be on the menu, too. But the contract for this salvage made it worth the risk. She could make a lot of overdue repairs on Wind Sabre with the payoff. Her crew had been enthusiastic about the operation when she proposed it, knowing what kind of money a salvage might bring in. Better than the transport jobs she’d scrounged up of late. Not one of the trio had volunteered to make the descent, though.
“You’re the reckless one, Cap,” Tisker told her at the time. The cheeky helmsman got away with the comment. He always did. His crooked, infectious grin and sparkling, deceptively innocent eyes transformed every gibe into a morale boost.
Details emerged, just a couple lengths below Talis. Large shapes at first. Broken hulls of ships tangled in their own lift canvasses. A roof, a wagon. An old tree trunk. Anything organic or burnable should have been composted or used for fuel, not pitched over island edge. But those hadn’t always been the rules. Seventy-something generations back to the Cataclysm that fractured Peridot and the Re-Creation that made it what it was now. Seventy-something generations of garbage and waste swirled in the gravity trap. And down here, nothing ever decayed.
Soon she got close enough to see movement: the hoarbeasts pulling themselves across the wrecks, their undersides a chaos of tentacles. Their bodies flashing gray and silver in an imitation of the flotsam. They moved above and below the gravity line, scanning the field of garbage with cavernous eyes and probing the jetsam with sensitive, bobbing whiskers. Always in search of fresh additions to the flotsam layer. In search of food. In search of the dead.
And they would find them.
Mostly Cutter folk. Some Vein. Even a Rakkar or two. The Bone fed their dead to the ravens and kept the bones, but still ended up in flotsam. Usually lost with their ships. No Breakers, of course. Their population was finite and, as far as the ages since Re-Creation had proven out, didn’t die of natural causes.
If they couldn’t find dead flesh, they’d be perfectly happy to accept the living.
Continuing to descend, Talis was far too aware of such things. Her brother had tormented her with stories of the hoarbeasts when she was a child, and she grew up convinced they clung to the bottom of her bed the way they latched onto the hulls of airships that flew too low, too close to flotsam. Convinced that their tentacles and their long, sharp teeth would find her in the dark.
In her forties now, and captain of a smuggling ship that had taken on many a perilous contract, she still didn’t sleep with her feet hanging off her mattress.
Her love of SFF storytelling developed through grabbing for anything-and-everything “unicorn” as a child, but she was subverted by tales of distant solar systems when her brother introduced her to Star Trek: The Next Generation at age seven. A few years later, Sailor Moon taught her stories can have both.
She lives in New England, haunted by her childhood cat. Find more information at rjtheodore.com.