A Promotional Opportunity for The Andromeda’s Ghost

This month I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion hosted by Fellowship of Fools, a well-respected website that features all things science fiction. Along with other BHC Press science fiction authors, I answered several interview questions centered around the current divisive political situation and how it could potentially affect speculative fiction. I also submitted a two minute video of myself reading an excerpt from The Andromeda’s Ghost.

It was nerve-wracking, recording myself as I read, realizing that the end result would be posted online for the whole world to see. I was equally anxious as I answered each question, fearing that I would offend someone. But the whole experience was extremely cool. It left me feeling like a pro. Plus, it was an opportunity to promote The Andromeda’s Ghost, for which I was very grateful. If any of you are interested in reading the interviews or watching the excerpt readings, click here to be redirected to the Fellowship of Fools website.

Aside from our interviews and excerpt readings, there are a lot of other cool things on the Fellowship of Fools website that anyone would be interested in. You’ll find interviews with producers and actors, articles concerning popular TV shows, movies, and books, as well as teaser trailers. Check it out!

On a completely different note: am I the only one who really hates the changes that have been done to WordPress recently? It took me three tries to get this post looking the way I wanted it to. There was nothing wrong with the other format! All right, I’m getting off the soapbox now…

Writing Highlights for the Month

The major revisions for Death’s Curses are finished! It was just as challenging as I thought it would be, turning this young adult story into an adult one. My publisher said that simply changing the ages of the main characters wouldn’t be enough. The themes of the story are definitely in the adult category but the situations the main characters are in are still, technically, juvenile. Changing some of the situations while also making sure they worked with the overall plot was the main issue. But I think I managed.

After talking with my sister about some of the changes I made, we brainstormed some finer details that could be altered to make the characters sound more grown up. I’m confident that this book will meet the Adult Fiction parameters once we’re done applying these new changes. My sister is looking over my edits, then I’ll give it one more read through, and we’ll be re-submitting to BHC Press. Fingers crossed that it’ll be accepted this time. If not, my sister and I are considering self-publication. More news on that later.

BHC Press has started this new thing called Staff Picks. Staff members take turns choosing their favorite titles from the books the company has already published. They write short blurbs about them and post them on the company’s blog page. I’m proud to announce that The Andromeda’s Ghost has been highlighted twice!

Chelsea (acquisitions and lead editor) said: “Taren Platinum is the perfect protagonist without being too perfect. He has a good heart, but there’s a layer of grit just beneath the surface that’s activated by those who stand in the way of his happily-ever-after and evil-doers who prey on the innocent. Becca Fox has crafted an endearing, incredibly real-feeling cast of characters, all of which are misfits in their own way. I was taken by the relationships formed throughout The Andromeda’s Ghost, from the natural progression of those relationships to the tenderness shared among the loveable and unlikely band of characters as they work together to escape a dire situation on planet Cartiss. In short, it’s impossible not to root for Taren and company while reading The Andromeda’s Ghost–a truly entertaining start to what’s sure to be a great series. Be prepared for an expert cliffhanger, and then join me in impatiently waiting for the next book in Fox’s series!”

Lana (publishing and editing assistant) said: “This is one of my new favorites! The classic forbidden romance meets outer space and aliens in all the right ways. Even with the twist beginning (yes, it’s at the beginning for a change), I loved the story and how it unfolds. I was reminded of the TV show Firefly by Taren’s growing ragtag family. Becca Fox did an amazing job unfurling the worlds of this unique solar system–the alien species, foods, customs, environments, etc. I’m super excited to find out what happens to Taren and the gang!”

If you’d like to read their blog posts and discover new titles to read, just click on each of their names.

In other news, production on the audio book is wrapping up! According to my latest communication with my publisher, they estimate it’ll be done sometime in November or December. Stay tuned because I’ll be letting you all know the precise release date as soon as I know it!

The Arrival of Princess Lydia

On Thursday, August 13th, I came home from work and told my husband, “I have a good feeling about this weekend. This is the weekend baby Lydia will be born.”

I went to sleep Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night with anticipation. I just knew my water was going to break some time in the night, like it did with my first born. I had my overnight bag ready and Lydia’s bag was packed. The only thing we needed to do was install the car seat (which my husband neglected to do, saying that we still had “plenty of time”). As Sunday came to a close and I was still very pregnant, I was overcome with melancholy.

“What’s wrong?” my husband asked as I heaved a big sigh.

“I just really thought she was going to come this weekend,” I replied.

“The weekend’s not over yet,” he said.

At 11PM that night, I was awakened by a slow trickle that I knew wasn’t pee. Despite my excitement, I managed to sound sort of composed as I woke my husband. He leapt out of bed to get me a towel. I proceeded to waddle onto the bathroom tile and make my phone calls while he gathered his things. My grandparents came over to watch our son. My parents in California were alerted; my mom promised to head over first thing in the morning. Then it was off to the hospital.

My experience was much like the first one except that I had to wear a mask the whole time and I felt a lot more pain. The gal who put my IV in dug around for a while, looking for my vein, before she pulled the needle out and tried again. Try as they might (and, boy, did they!) the nurses couldn’t find my cervix or determine which position the baby was in. Thankfully, they were able to find an ultrasound tech who answered that question for us without shoving her whole arm up my woo-ha. Lydia was head down and ready to go but I wasn’t dilated in the slightest. So they put me on that wonderful pitocin to get things started.

The anesthesiologist, as professional and courteous as he was, stabbed the epidural needle into my spine before I was numb. I couldn’t eat anything because the epidural made me nauseous (I had a headache so I washed down some tylenol with a bit of apple juice I couldn’t even keep that down!). After twelve hours of laboring, my epidural seemed to lose its potency. I was given a control that would blink at me when it was okay for me to administer more of the epidural to myself and I was smashing the button at every opportunity. And I still felt every contraction, especially in my lower back. It was pretty miserable. Thank God, it only lasted thirty minutes or so.

Then my OB came in and pronounced me ready to push. That was the best part. All I had to do was give three good pushes and it was over. Kicking and wailing, Lydia Grace Fox made her entrance into the world.

My husband raced out of the hospital to get us some Chipotle as soon as we were left alone. We took turns holding our baby girl while feasting on our long awaited burritos. Eventually, we were moved out of the birthing suite and into a recovery room which was where we stayed for the next three days and two nights.

Feeding was rough. Like her brother before her, Lydia didn’t take to the breast very well. We had to supplement with formula until my milk came in and I could pump enough to satisfy her. (Unlike her brother, Lydia has a healthy appetite.) After countless tests, many doctor and nurse visits, a breast feeding consultation, and a discharge class, we were finally allowed to go home.

My mom stayed for the first week, cooking, cleaning, and helping care for the children so that I or my husband could sleep/eat/shower. My mother-in-law came next, racing to get here from her home in Wisconsin. She’s taken over my mom’s duties these past two weeks. She leaves tomorrow morning. Then the real work will begin. Bennett could always count on one of his grandmas to play with him when Mommy or Daddy were otherwise occupied. I could always count on one of them to run to the grocery store for me or throw in a load of laundry. My husband can help when he’s not working but for those hours when I’m alone…it’s going to be rough.

Thankfully, I do have family and friends in the city who can step in if I need a break. And I know everything will be okay once we develop a routine and once Bennett has gotten more acclimated to having a baby sister. Lydia won’t be up every three hours forever. Life will go back to normal. Until then, we’ll endure. In the midst of the sleep deprivation and constant activity, there are sweet moments. There are times when it still doesn’t feel real. I’m still just a kid myself; how can I be raising kids? It’s scary and wonderful all at the same time.

The Creation of New Sol

To get you all excited about my newest release, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about this new solar system I created.

This being my first attempt at science fiction/fantasy, I started with what I already knew: our solar system. It’s the only one we’ve discovered so far that can sustain organic life. So I created something similar. New Sol consists of a cluster of four stars–Noorah, Fos, Leggero, and Irridiate–with ten planets orbiting around them, eleven if you count the asteroid field where Osmopeth used to be. (Fun fact: I originally added this asteroid field on the off chance I needed a cool chase scene through moving asteroids but I haven’t used it yet. It’s become more of a flavor factor, a mysterious piece of New Sol’s history that I might one day explore.) Six out of the ten planets have their own moons; some have multiple moons just because I thought it would be cool. Playing with vowels and constants, saying gibberish out loud until I’d developed words that sounded “right,” I named these planets and their moons.

The two planets closest to the suns, dubbed Fotia and Huletenya, are uninhabitable. The third planet, Cartiss, is where the bulk of The Andromeda’s Ghost takes place. When I first got the idea to write this book, it was supposed to be a post-apocalyptic type story with a sci-fi twist so Cartiss needed to be “dying” in a sense. I started brainstorming as to different reasons for the planet’s condition and ended up going with terraforming gone wrong. In my novel, humanity is fairly new to this solar system, to surviving in space in general. The concept of terraforming has always sounded extremely complex to me. I imagine there would be lots of room for errors as humanity worked out the kinks. That’s when the “what if”s came into play. I asked myself, “What if tampering with the atmosphere negatively affected the wildlife on Cartiss? What if the human scientists tried to change the animals and plants so that they could survive on their new oxygenated planet? And then what would happen to these genetically modified plants and animals if the terraforming machines malfunctioned or broke down? What would happen to the people who had volunteered to colonize the planet? What would happen to the planet itself?” Answering these questions brought about more questions and I continued down the rabbit hole until the condition of Cartiss was dire enough to suit the story’s needs.

Jurthaan IV is the fourth planet away from New Sol’s main sources of light and energy. It’s the largest planet in this fictitious solar system that can naturally sustain human life so it quickly became humanity’s new home world. Next in the orbiting line is Palnach, the Mireling home world. Then we have Yuraniuu, Statine, and Zirconscope, which are just as mysterious as the asteroid field of Osmopeth. They each have their own unique type of indigenous aliens, atmospheres, and histories but they aren’t expanded upon in The Andromeda’s Ghost. In the third book of the series, we explore them a bit more as Taren and the crew travel farther into their own solar system. The last two planets are Aleediam I and II, so called because they are the same distance away from the suns, have the same orbit around the suns, and are less than two parsecs away from each other. By all logic, they should crash into each other at some point but they haven’t gotten any closer in the hundreds of years that New Sol has existed. I added this as a tribute to the mysteries of space, all of which I believe will be impossible for us to fully comprehend no matter how long we study them. (Seriously, what is dark matter?)

As for populating these planets, I started off slow. It would only stand to reason that so many planets and moons would host a dizzying number of different alien species, but due to the fact that The Andromeda’s Ghost mostly takes place on two planets, I decided to cut myself some slack and limit the types of aliens I introduced in the story. As a reader, I often find it frustrating to keep track of too many new species; this also played into the decision to stick with three or four main species, at least for the first book in the series. Besides, even with the ability to space jump, I figured most aliens would like to stay on their own planets given the different atmospheres of each planet.

I gave Cartiss three main species: the Tilia’Cun, the Danto’Sal, and the Cerotivis. I’d like to say that I came up with the ideas for these aliens all on my own but that would be a lie. I sifted through tons of concept art online to get inspired. Once I found alien types that I liked, I altered certain things about them to make them more my own. Then I took the two earthen animals I thought they resembled the most and combined the scientific names of those animals to create the alien species’ names. This is also how I created and named the interloping aliens on Cartiss, the rare ones that Taren only runs into once or twice in The Andromeda’s Ghost.

For Jurthaan IV, I stuck with one indigenous species: the Folinar. They have unvarying body types and a simple, almost primitive culture, which is why they needed humanity’s help in order to win the first war against their enemies, the Mirelings. Now, the Mirelings are the only type of alien on the planet of Palnach and they are the polar opposites of the Folinar: no two are alike physically and they strive to be as scientifically advanced as possible to gain the upper hand in any combative situation. From the beginning stages of this story’s creation, I knew these two species would be the cause of the main conflict, which is why I gave them more thought and why I made them so different from each other. 

The creation of this solar system and its inhabitants was a lot of fun. It took time and several sessions of just talking things out with my husband or my sister, fellow writer and fiction lover. In the end, I guess you could say it was a group effort. I hope you enjoy reading about New Sol as much as I enjoyed writing about it!


Interested in an excerpt? Click here.

Check out the book’s page at BHC Press for links to purchase. It’s available at all your favorite retailers!

“…interesting, some good nifty gadgets and some very interesting interplanetary politics.” — Amina Ismail Onia, NetGalley Reviewer

“I am always picking up random sci-fi novels hoping they will be great, and I am almost always disappointed. Not this time, though! I loved it. Interesting characters, just enough world building and descriptions that it didn’t bog down, and more action than I expected. I would recommend this book!” — Erika, LibraryThing Reviewer

“Fox has crafted a competent and engaging novel. If the book interests you, it should prove to be an easy and entertaining read.” — PennAdams, LibraryThing Reviewer

“Wow. Where do I start… The world building in my opinion is exceptional and details were well researched. I love the characters. I love the heart warming moments that appear at just the right time.” — Lavender Knight, Goodreads Reviewer

“…a well written, and interesting book.” — Mary’s Book Corner

“…an exciting book with various twists that I didn’t really see coming…a fun sci-fi read with suspense and action that kept me wanting to know what happened next.”
— Kristy Penner, NetGalley Reviewer

“I enjoyed this book. It has potential for a good series. Good writing, storyline, dialog and action. I recommend checking it out.” — John Piper, Goodreads Reviewer

Last Minute June Announcements

 

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The Andromeda’s Ghost is available for pre-order! Links can be found on BHC Press‘ website, along with the most recent reviews. Like audio books better? Well, you’re in luck! Production for the audio book is underway. BHC Press estimates this project will be complete by the end of the summer, in time for a fall release.

Smashwords sale

It’s that time of year again, folks. Tirgearr Publishing is teaming up with Smashwords to make all of their ebooks 50% off for the month of July. Check out my Smashwords profile starting tomorrow for a chance to purchase one of my ebooks for half price.

Death's Curses New (2)

I’m still waiting to hear back from BHC Press concerning the publication of Death’s Curses. They said they’d get back to me four to six weeks after I submitted it so I should be getting an email any day now. Ugh, the waiting kills me! (I made a new graphic for the book in the meantime. Ain’t it pretty? Only took me two hours lol.) There’s a rough draft version available for your perusal on my Inkitt profile page in case anyone is interested in taking a peek.

A Much-Needed Update

I kind of disappeared from the internet and real life during the quarantine. For that I apologize. Here’s pretty much everything noteworthy that happened during the month of April:

I was given an office phone and asked to work from home. It was an interesting time. I got a taste of the stay-at-home mom life and it was pretty great, I’m not going to lie. There were times when I’d get frustrated or depressed about the fact that I couldn’t go anywhere. It’s officially summer in Phoenix which discouraged me from taking very many walks with Bennett. But, for the most part, I really enjoyed spending all that time with my son. I witnessed several firsts that I otherwise might’ve missed if I’d had to keep going into the office everyday.

He colored for the first time. It was a bunch of squiggles with an orange colored pencil but it was beautiful to me. He started pointing at things, as if inquiring after them. Then he’d sit there and listen to me explain what they were. He started handing me books and toys on a regular basis and waiting expectantly for me to do something with them. He started standing on his own. He’s still not confident enough to take any steps, but we’ll get there. He’s growing so fast and learning so much. It’s a treat to witness.


 
 

Staying home also allowed me to rest. (For those of you who don’t know, I’m pregnant again. It’s a little ahead of schedule but we’re still excited and more than ready to meet our little girl!) My baby bump turned into a mountain seemingly overnight, sapping my strength and slowing me down considerably. Our baby girl is healthy and strong, though. There’s much to be thankful for.

Over the weekend, I celebrated a birthday and my very first Mother’s Day, which was an emotional time for me. Businesses are slowly starting to open up here but we didn’t want to brave the crowds of people so my husband and I had quiet celebrations at home. May is a big month for us as far as celebrations go. Bennett’s first birthday is on the 18th and our five year wedding anniversary is on the 29th! Hopefully by then it’ll be safer to venture out into the world.

Permission has been granted for some businesses to start opening again. Churches will be allowed to open later in the summer so the office is preparing. I’ll be returning to work part-time. It’s going to be an adjustment for both me and Bennett, but we’ll endure. Besides, all too soon it’ll be time to go on maternity leave!

The Andromeda’s Ghost is on NetGalley and, according to my publisher, it’s getting a good reception from librarians, retailers, journalists, trade reviewers, and book bloggers. I was told the book would be available for pre-order early in June and is all set to be published on July 16!

BHC Press is already preparing the publication schedule for 2021. I submitted the second book in The Andromeda Chronicles, The Andromeda’s Captain, so they could add it to the line up. It’s crazy to think that another one of my books could be coming out this time next year, but that’s totally a possibility!

In other news, deals have been made and the plan has been set in motion so that the books I publish through BHC Press will be translated into different languages! More news on that later.


My big project during the quarantine was finishing my edits for Death’s Curses and getting all the necessary documents ready to submit to BHC Press. It took a lot longer than I care to admit (escaping from distractions at home proved to be more difficult than I thought!) but at last it’s done. The query letter, book description, synopsis, and first six chapters have been submitted for their consideration. It can take 6-8 weeks for them to get to the documents, review everything, and make a decision what with the enormous amount of submissions they get every day. I’ll be moving onto other projects to keep busy while I wait to hear back from them but, for right now, I’m celebrating.


There’s still the possibility of another wave of the Coronavirus hitting us. Stay safe and brave, you guys.

Cover Reveal for The Andromeda’s Ghost

Super stoked to announce that my new adult science fiction/fantasy book has a cover! I got the manuscript back from BHC Press’s editor earlier this month along with some notes and corrections. After two weeks of combing through it myself, I’ve deemed it to be as perfect as it can be. I’ve sent it back to my publisher for formatting. Then it’ll be sent out to reviewers! And once those reviews get in, it’ll be publication time!

The Andromeda’s Ghost is scheduled to be published in July 2020. This is the first book in The Andromeda Chronicles, which will be a trilogy. It’ll be available in ebook, paperback, and hardcover! For more details, feel free to visit the book’s page on BHC Press’ website.

 

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A Good Mom

It’s a late night and an early morning.

It’s a sleepy smile, a drool-covered chin, a runny nose.

Time for play?

How about a walk?

Anything for you, baby.

It’s dinner time, bath time, and off to bed with you, mister.

Yes, you are tired. Don’t give me that look.

It’s having to sit perfectly still while baby screams on a monitor screen.

Quietly fuming. Or privately aching.

Sometimes both.

I’ve done everything I can think of.

Why is he still crying?

Does this mean I’m not a good mom?

It’s a house that’s always half dirty.

Laundry mostly done. Clean. Folded. Sitting in baskets all over the living room.

It’s meal planning. All day. Every day.

It’s checking the heater several times before bed, obsessing about baby’s comfort.

It’s cheers and tears after every milestone reached.

I’m so glad he’s growing up at a normal pace…

But why can’t he stay little forever?

“Thank God he can’t stay little forever!” I think moments later.

It’s worrying about his future.

It’s beating myself up after every little failure.

It’s praying, “Oh, God, please help me be a good mom.”

Over and over and over again.

It’s keep to the schedule at all costs. Until baby changes it.

He never sleeps in this late. Is he still alive?

Oh, sorry, baby. Didn’t mean to scare you. Shh. Go back to sleep.

No? Okay. I guess it’s breakfast time now…

It’s panicking when he gets sick.

It’s wiping food off my face. Food that’s not mine.

It’s rocking and crying softly. Overwhelmed by the depth of my love for this baby.

It’s coming this close to cursing at baby. Then actually cursing at baby.

Then feeling extremely guilty for cursing at baby.

It’s falling asleep on the couch with baby, waking every time he moves.

It’s melting whenever I make him giggle.

It’s raging war against the mosquito that dared to bite my baby.

I come home after a long day at work and there he is, crawling toward me at full speed.

Does this mean I’m a good mom?

“You are,” says his grandma.

“You are,” says his aunt.

“You are,” says his father.

On this long, winding road we call motherhood, I struggle to believe sometimes.

It’s looking at a positive pregnancy test.

Happy. Exhausted. Terrified.

Can I do this?

My heart is big enough for both of you, but is my spirit strong enough?

Can I still be a good mom if there’s two?

Only time will tell.

2019 Recap

A lot of people send a Christmas letter to their family members with a summary of their year or a quick update on what they’re currently doing. While I did send out an adorable Christmas picture card of my husband, my baby, and myself, there was no summary attached. So, without further ado, here is my 2019 summary:

  • In February, my mother-in-law flew my husband and I, along with two of her other sons, to Seattle to visit their grandmother. It was my first time flying while pregnant and it went surprisingly well.
  • In April, I signed a contract with a new publisher (BHC Press) for my first science fiction/fantasy novel, The Andromeda’s Ghost. I also self-published my first book, the sequel to my young adult romance novel, titled I Dare You to Stay With Me.
  • In May, I gave birth prematurely to my son, Bennett Mordecai Fox.
  • In September, we said goodbye to my husband’s cat of fifteen years, Cowboy. May he rest in peace.
  • In October, my husband and I flew to Hawaii for his brother’s wedding. It was our first time traveling with a baby. Tears were shed. Lessons were learned. It was a beautiful wedding and I’m glad we were there.
  • In November, I wrote and “produced” my first novelette, A Favor for a Princess, a prequel of sorts for The Andromeda’s Ghost. This book is still available for free, by the way!
  • In December, a good friend of mine who moved to Oregon and now works as the librarian for a high school over there, added I Dare you to Love Me and I Dare You to Stay With Me to her shelves.
  • (I have to include January in this recap because two super exciting things happened this month as well.) BHC Press submitted The Andromeda’s Ghost into Publishers Weekly, along with several other upcoming titles of theirs, in the hopes that they would be featured in PW’s Spring 2020 Announcements page. And The Andromeda’s Ghost was featured under the SF, Fantasy & Horror Listings! Woot woot! Also, the manuscript my sister and I had been working on together for a little over a year, a young adult urban fantasy titled Death’s Curses, was completed this week. It will be sent off to beta readers within the next few days. Once we get their feedback, we’ll be applying necessary changes and then submitting it to BHC Press to be considered for publication. 

It’s been a fun, exhausting, and productive year. And this year promises to be similar. Things I’m looking forward to so far in 2020:

  • In February, I Dare You to Love Me will be participating in a library marketing campaign by New Shelves Books, a book sales and marketing company. My book, along with several others, will be featured in a catalog that will be sent to libraries across the country who are looking to add new books to their inventory.
  • In May, my husband and I will be celebrating our five year wedding anniversary by going on an Alaskan cruise. We’ll be leaving our son for a whole week! Of course, he’ll be a year old by then and he’ll be well taken care of by his grandmas but…I still have mixed feelings.
  • In July, The Andromeda’s Ghost will be published!

In the meantime, there’s lots of work to be done! On my writing schedule, I have the last book in The Andromeda Chronicles to finish, the last book in The Dare Trilogy to start, and a whole mess of plot issues to fix in the first book of my faerie series, tentatively titled The Sentinel’s Test. Not to mention there’s a novelette series that has been on the back burner since Asta and the Barbarians was published. So, yes, lots to do! I can’t wait to get started!

A Favor For a Princess Excerpt

Hey everyone!

I haven’t gotten any requests for my free ebook so I’m going to try and entice you by offering an excerpt. Here you go!


 

“Oh, my God! Have you heard?” Mariana gushed. She balanced two pillows over an outrageously thick comforter. All that could be seen of her was the bun poised at the top of her head.

“No, and I don’t care,” Elvira muttered, pulling tightly on the edge of the sheet before tucking it into the side of the bed. Dinis would be by within the hour to inspect her work; there would be hell to pay if there was a single wrinkle across Princess Kylee’s bed. Not that the princess herself would’ve noticed. That was just the Marques motto: if it’s in your power to make something look perfect, do it. If not, do it anyway.

Mariana leaned to the side to give her sister a chastising look. “Well, you should care because it’s about the Mirelings. You know, the alien race that threatens our very existence? Maybe you’ve heard of them?”

“Yes, unfortunately, I have.” Elvira plucked one of the pillows from the top of Mariana’s stack. It didn’t need any more fluffing but she fluffed it anyway before placing it on the bed.

“Saleh heard from Anaura, who overheard Respen talking to one of the guards. Our spies confirmed what the Mirelings claim; they have these plasma weapons that are strong enough to—”

“You shouldn’t spread that kind of gossip, Mari. It’ll only give those Mireling bastards more power over us.”

Her face scrunched in anxiety. “But what if—”

“Don’t go freaking yourself out, either.” Elvira relieved her sister of the remaining pillow and then the comforter, arching an eyebrow. “You don’t want to go prematurely bald like Auntie Bia, do you?”

Mariana slapped her hands over her bun as if it could fall off at any moment. Her round face paled. “No.”

“Didn’t think so. Now, help me finish so we can go on break.” Elvira waited for Mariana to scurry around the princess’ bed before opening up the comforter and tossing it over the mattress. It billowed gracefully out before settling down. Mariana got to work flattening the creases she could see while Elvira did the same on her end.

The clichéd nature of her family’s chosen profession was not lost on Elvira.

Her ancestors had hailed from Portugal on the planet Earth, which had been destroyed by an asteroid a hundred and fifty odd years ago. The language was dead, the culture and religion blended thanks to inter-species marriages, but whatever genes that produced the distinguishing golden brown skin, black hair, and thick eyebrows had managed to survive. (Elvira’s siblings, like the rest of their family, had been blessed with these attributes while Elvira had not. Their mother had freckled skin, soft brown eyes, and copper colored hair; of course, one of them would take after her.) Despite the advancement of humanity and artificial intelligence, there were still rich people around who preferred humans to wait on them hand and foot.

So, even though the royal family that ruled over most of humanity was “progressive” enough to let their women be the figureheads, they still had (formerly) Latin American servants. How much had humanity evolved, then? Really? Not much in Elvira’s opinion. Not that anyone had bothered to ask her.

She begrudged her great-grandfather for taking a “temporary” job as the staff manager for the palace. Doeline was the biggest country on Jurthaan IV (humanity’s new home planet). Of all the jobs in all the cities in the entire country…he’d chosen to grow old within the palace walls and bequeath the role of staff manager to his son. This seemingly inconsequential decision had resulted in the life-long employment of almost every Marques that came afterward, including Elvira’s father.

Aurelio had been born in the servants’ quarters of the palace, had grown up with Miyako when she was a princess, had taken his first job as a chauffeur for the late Queen Hua, had married the palace chef. Now, he raised his daughters to be the best damn maids the palace had ever known. His son was training to take over the much-coveted role of staff manager.

The Marqueses were proud of their line of work. They were professional in every way, borderline obsessed with the cleanliness and hospitality of the palace, and passionately loyal to the crown. There were other members of the royal staff who weren’t related to the Marqueses; the Mistsinger family (also lifers) along with a handful of stragglers. But they weren’t nearly as dedicated or distinguished as Elvira’s family. This was just a job to them. It wasn’t their entire life.

Elvira retightened her ponytail for the hundredth time that morning as she led her sister out of Princess Kylee’s bedroom. Mariana tugged on the cuff of her uniform, chewing on her lips. Her thoughts, no doubt, still lingered on the Mirelings’ superior military strength. It wasn’t as if Elvira never thought about it; the impending war between the Mirelings and the citizens of Jurthaan IV was the main topic of conversation on every news program, gossip column, and blog on the planet. She just didn’t obsess about the conflict like other people did.

The alien species humans shared Jurthaan IV with were called the Folinar, a simple people built like tailless primates with gooey pink skin, flat faces, and glowing red eyes. They were friendly enough, just a little weird. They worshiped a cloudy white rock that vibrated (it had other special qualities but Elvira had never bothered to learn what they were). The Mirelings wanted to use that rock to rebuild and expand their underwater cities. Why that rock specifically? It had something to do with those “other special qualities.” The Folinar were unwilling to part with their sacred rocks. This made the Mirelings mad.

Humanity was caught in the middle. On the one hand, they were indebted to the Folinar; the creatures allowed humans to settle peacefully on their planet, asking only for help in the first war against the Mirelings. Humanity wanted to side with the Folinar in this rock issue to preserve that alliance. On the other hand, the Mirelings had learned from their defeat. They’d created weapons of mass destruction, unrivaled by anything Jurthaan IV’s people could produce. They had the upper hand this time. Humanity thought it wise to appease them to keep Jurthaan IV’s population from being conquered or destroyed.

The only rumor Mariana had shared that had sort of interested Elvira was also the only one she’d been able to prove; Queen Miyako was working on a compromise. Elvira had walked past the meeting rooms while the queen had been in video conferences with the Mirelings and the other leaders of Jurthaan IV. For all the queen’s faults, she was doing everything in her power to ensure a peaceful resolution to this conflict. There was hope that war could be avoided. That was enough to keep Elvira from worrying. The same couldn’t be said about her eighteen-year-old sister, however.

“Stop it,” Elvira said, tugging on Mariana’s wrist. “You’ll wear the Ersatz and Grandpa will throw a fit.”

Everything that looked like cloth nowadays was actually Ersatz, the latest synthetic fiber that was softer and more durable than any other textile known to man. It came in all sorts of colors and nostalgic textures like imitation leather, silk, satin, denim, and numerous others. Even the body armor the palace guards wore was made out of a hardened version of Ersatz called imitation ceramic.

Mariana clasped her hands before her. Her fitful energy was transferred to her mouth, which squirmed from one side to the other.

“You’re too young to be worrying about politics. Try thinking about something else,” Elvira said.

“I couldn’t care less about politics!” Mariana gulped and looked around to see if anyone had heard her. “What if there really is a war, Vy? The Mirelings are going to want to eliminate the planet’s leaders. They’ll come here first. It’ll be a massacre!”

“No, it won’t.” Elvira stopped to point out the window. “See those guards? The cameras? The ten-foot-thick wall separating us from the rest of the city? The shield generator by that guard tower? We’re safer here than we could be anywhere else.” She gave her sister a stern look. “If there was a threat, the palace would be evacuated. We’ve run the drills. You know we have a plan to meet up with our great uncle in Statine if the worst should happen. We’d be fine.”

Mariana bobbed her head in nod, smiling faintly. “I know, I know. I just…I can’t shake the feeling that something awful is going to happen.”

Yes, that was Mariana. If there was a creak on the stairs at two in the morning, it was due to an intruder coming to murder them in their sleep. It couldn’t possibly be Dinis, sneaking back into his room after rolling around in the grass with his latest conquest. If one of the other servants was curt to her, it was because Mariana had offended them in some way. It couldn’t possibly be because they were in a hurry or upset about something else or preoccupied by personal matters. If their parents were arguing, it was because they were going to get a divorce. It couldn’t possibly be because their mother was easily offended and their father was often careless with his words after a long day of driving Queen Miyako around.

Elvira grinned affectionately as she looped an arm through her sister’s. “You’re definitely going to go bald.”

“No! Vy, don’t put that evil on me!”

“Then stop stressing,” Elvira said, bumping Mariana with her hip. “We have twenty minutes before we have to load the laundry into the washing-drying-pressing machine. What do you want to do?”

Mariana exhaled, lips flapping. “Oh, I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Elvira pretended to think about it as they walked down the grand staircase and into the main hall. The marble floors had been waxed recently; they reflected the artwork of the domed ceilings above. Decorative columns lined the walls on either side, broken up by scenic paintings, artistically framed mirrors, or tall windows with thick crimson curtains. The tassels fluttered as the air conditioning kicked on. Sleek, modern furniture had been placed in the alcoves littered along the hall, uncomfortable-looking chairs and oddly-shaped end tables that had never been used nor would they ever be. The plants in their exotic pots were all real, cultivated from the royal gardens and immaculately cared for by the Mistsinger family.

That’s what Elvira always wanted to do during her early morning break: visit the gardens. Right now, the light from the sleepy sun would make the dew on the petals shimmer. The air would be crisp with the smells of wet grass, fresh mud, and different floral combinations. The birds would be twittering. The fountains and man-made ponds would be gurgling. The statues of various angels and deities would shine among the multicolored sea. And Ulfric Mistsinger would be doing his daily pruning rounds. It didn’t matter if they had machines that could do the job faster than he could. Ric was determined to do this himself.

Elvira loved nothing more than to watch him wander among his flowers, stopping frequently to whip out his shears and rid his precious garden of even the slightest imperfection. Because of his irrational hatred of tan-lines, he usually did this while wearing only a pair of cut off shorts, much to the delight of all the female servants working the palace grounds.

But Elvira couldn’t suggest a walk in the gardens. Not again. She already shared her room with Mariana, her meals with the extended family, her days off with Dinis (they went into the city together to attend the community center for higher education), and her dream of eventually leaving the palace with the few cousins who hadn’t been brainwashed into believing this was the only life for them. Her feelings for Ric were hers alone.

“How about…?” She was saved from having to answer by the princess’ sudden appearance.

One moment, they were walking toward the front doors and the next, Princess Kylee was standing outside the main dining room, wiping under her eyes. She looked up and gasped as if the maids were the ones who had suddenly materialized before her.

Elvira and Mariana dipped into low curtsies and stayed there, knees bent, hands holding the edges of their skirts, eyes on the floor. Good servants were never seen or heard. The only evidence that they existed at all was the fresh laundry and lavender floor cleaner smells they left in every pristine room they walked out of. Consequently, Elvira had only ever seen the princess from afar.

“Please, rise,” Kylee said. She had the loveliest voice; clear, kind, delicate. It made someone want to lean in and pay attention (useful, given her title).

The maids obeyed, but even while standing straight they didn’t meet the princess’ eyes. It was forbidden. Not by the royal family but by Grandpa Tiago. (He was the patriarch of the Marques family. He also trained everyone who worked within the palace walls.) But Elvira couldn’t help glancing at Kylee’s face.

This nineteen-year-old girl with oriental ancestors had been pampered her entire life. Her hair was so straight and soft; it looked like fresh black paint on a canvas. Her skin was as smooth and radiant as a newborn’s. She oozed grace even while standing still. Her dresses were always extravagant, and gorgeous, tailored to accentuate her petite frame. She smelled like honey and vanilla, subtle but striking. She was basically a walking, talking porcelain doll.

Mariana adored her.

Elvira pitied her. Because while everyone saw the princess’ radiant smile, swam in her cute almond-shaped eyes, hung on her every benevolent word, and envied her privileged life, Elvira saw different things. Like the tightness of her smile, the sadness behind her eyes, the restraint behind her voice, the suffocating routine she kept to like a windup toy that couldn’t do anything else. And now, the frustrated tears she was trying to hold back.

“Are you well, Highness?” Elvira asked.

Mariana stiffened. They were supposed to stand there quietly, staring at the princess’ chin until dismissed. Their grandfather would be so upset; spit would be flying as he screamed at them about protocol. But Elvira couldn’t help it. Princess Kylee wasn’t just an icon. She was a person. Surely, she’d appreciate being treated like one…?

Kylee smiled, inclining her head slightly. “Quite. Thank you.” She started running her hands down the bodice of her dress but stopped. It was a nervous tick of her mother’s. With a grimace, the princess walked away.

Mariana exhaled as soon as Kylee was out of earshot. Turning to Elvira with bulging eyes, she hissed, “What were you thinking? Grandpa will kill you!”

“Not unless you tell him,” Elvira hissed right back. She took her sister by the arm and dragged her out the front doors. “Come on! Let’s visit the horse hybrids.”


 

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