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

Free Ebook

In August, I got the brilliant idea to write a short story. I’d heard of other indie authors giving away short stories for free in exchange for newsletter signups. With a new book scheduled to be published next year, I thought this short story could be a good promotional tool. I pitched the idea to my new publisher and they loved it. They even offered to help promote the story through their website. So I got to work.

My first story idea turned out to be a dud. Thankfully, my trusty writing buddy and best friend (my big sister), was there to save the day. She gave me an idea and I ran with it, thinking if it stuck, it stuck. If not, I’d go back to the drawing board. Well, it stuck, all right. It stuck a little too well. My “short story” turned into a novelette. During the editing phases, I thought I could shorten it but the plot’s pacing was perfect. To take anything away would cheapen the quality of the overall story. So I left it as is and submitted it to my publisher, hoping the length wouldn’t be an issue.

Unfortunately, the length was an issue. My publisher still thought it was a good idea and encouraged me to promote the story on my end. I was disappointed I wouldn’t get their help after all (I’m not the greatest at book promotion) but I wasn’t about to let my hard work go to waste. I created a cover for my novelette, and formatted its content so that it mimicked one of my professionally published ebooks. Then I found a website that could  convert my PDF file into an EPUB and a MOBI file. Now I have myself a professional-looking ebook.

Now, it’s time to promote. The real hard work begins.

Here’s the blurb:

Elvira Marques has only ever had one goal: to start her own business outside the palace walls. But leaving the servitude of the crown is not something a Marques does. Her family would like her to marry one of the other servants and remain Princess Kylee’s maid forever. Her big brother is constantly reminding Elvira of how good they have it, how great their loud, uncomfortably close family is, how hard it is to make it in the royal city by oneself.

Despite it all, Elvira has remained determined to make her dream a reality. When she falls in love with Ulfric Mistsinger, the gardener’s grandson and another palace lifer, Elvira finds herself having to choose between her heart and her dream. Then Princess Kylee comes to her, asking for a dangerous favor. In exchange, the princess is willing to do something for Elvira. Something that could potentially solve her heart versus dream dilemma.

To get caught while on this secret errand for the princess would mean getting fired. At the least. If the queen finds this offense worthy of banishment, however, Elvira could lose it all. Still, the potential rewards outweigh the risk…right?

This is meant to be a prequel of sorts to The Andromeda’s Ghost, which is a science fiction/fantasy type story. Even if science fiction isn’t your cup of tea, I encourage you to give this novelette a try. It’s really more of a fantasy set on a different planet. If it turns out you like this novelette, you might like The Andromeda Chronicles too, since they’re written similarly.

Whether or not you’re already receiving my newsletter: send me a message through Facebook with your preferred file format (EPUB, MOBI, or PDF) and your email, and I’ll send over your free novelette.

Hope you like it!

The next novel

I’m excited to announce that I’m finished with my first draft of my first ever science fiction novel, The Andromeda’s Ghost. I’ve been working on this manuscript on and off for over a year now. It’s been fun but also challenging.

While I love Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Chronicles of Riddick, I don’t consider myself to be a sci-fi fan. I’ve only ever read a handful of sci-fi books (Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and The Han Solo Trilogy by Ann C. Crispin). Honestly, I struggled through the techie and sciencey parts of those books. What I truly love about all of these stories are the plots, the characters, the world building, and the unique challenges the characters are faced with. I’m confident I nailed those parts of my sci-fi manuscript. What I’m more concerned with is the techie parts I included. And the fact that it’s written exclusively from a male’s perspective.

As you can imagine, I’m pretty good at writing from a girl’s perspective but I’m still learning how to sound like a convincing guy. My husband has helped me with this in the past and now I’m having a male friend read over The Andromeda’s Ghost to give me some feedback on how believable the main character is as a young adult male. We’ll see what he says.

While I wait for his feedback, I’m getting ready to dabble in my other stories.

But then I got an interesting thought: I could query this manuscript to agents. I Dare You to Love Me, In the Dark, and Asta and the Barbarians are all under contracts. Any sequels I end up producing for them will have to be presented to their respective publishing houses. But this sci-fi and it’s sequels are free from commitments right now. With some published books under my belt, would that better my chances of getting a literary agent for this book?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m so thankful for Tirgearr Publishing and Inkitt. They took a chance on me and published my books when nobody else seemed interested. Working with them has been easy, enjoyable, and educational. But book marketing is turning out to be my weakness in this industry. I’ve tried all the free avenues and have spent as much money as I can to promote my books. I’ve read articles and reached out to reviewers. I’ve seen adequate sales but, considering all the work I’m putting into this, I feel like the number of books sold should be a little higher. I don’t mean to sound like an ingrate. I’m just being honest.

According to the author forums and Facebook pages I’ve visited, hiring a publicist isn’t worth the money. But having a professional to work side by side with me, give me weekly tips, and carry some of the load sounds really good right about now. I’m just so tired of putting in the effort every single day and not seeing satisfactory results. I feel like I’m in an infomercial, giving that desperate look to the camera and saying, “There has to be an easier way!” Will having an agent make that part of being an author a little easier? I don’t know. But I’m so tempted to try putting myself out there again.

A part of me doesn’t want to open myself up to rejection. I mean, I have two publishing houses that would be willing to publish this manuscript for me. It would be so much easier to pick one of them and get it done. But I don’t just want to see this manuscript in print. I want it to be distributed to as many people as possible.

Uuuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhhh!

Calling out to my fellow authors, those with agents and without: What do you guys think I should do?

Another excerpt from “The Andromeda’s Ghost”

Pain came first, bursting into being and spreading across his body like fire. Taren gritted his teeth and opened his eyes. His surroundings were veiled and distorted. Even after blinking multiple times, it was hard to see. The pulse of his brain beating against the inner lining of his cranium might have had something to do with that. Messages from his rattled mind were sent to the rest of his body and his limbs sluggishly began to move. He unclipped his seatbelt and fell against the control panel of his ship with a grunt. The monitors were off, but the lights under several buttons were flickering. There was still some power. Large metal slabs were embedded into the dash. Taren turned away, looking for Kylee.

His copilot was still strapped to her seat, head sagged against her chest, long hair covering her face. She didn’t appear to be breathing. Fear gave him the strength to push off the control panel and get to her.

“Kylee?” He lifted her face and brushed the strands of dark hair away from her eyes. Those glassy, almond-shaped orbs stared back at him. He freed her from the restraints and she fell heavily against him. The back of her white dress was sticky with blood. A sharp piece of metal protruded from the back of her seat, the end of which was stained red. Taren’s breath hissed in through his teeth as he fought to control his panic. He slipped a hand under her bent knees and hoisted her up. Her cold body leaned into him as he began the angled climb out of the cockpit.

 

“If I’d known you’d be this much trouble, I never would’ve gotten involved,” he said as he braced himself against the control panel.

The monitors flashed the “Eminent Collision” message and that danger siren screeched across the cockpit as the planet’s gravitational pull yanked their burning ship out of the sky. And Taren was making jokes.

Kylee just laughed. “Yeah, you would’ve.”

He grinned.

 

Taren blinked rapidly to get rid of the stinging. It didn’t help. His grip around Kylee tightened. He ambled through the metallic hallway, hoping there would be something to help her in sick bay. There was a giant hole at the end of the hall, where the ship’s infirmary should have been. Taren looked over his shoulder. Through the archway, he could see clear into the cockpit. The placement of the metal pieces in the control panel and copilot’s seat suddenly made sense. There was one more piece stuck in the controls above the pilot’s chair. It must’ve missed Taren’s head by inches.

Rage built up around his throat and made his scalp tingle. Why couldn’t I have died with her?

The distant sound of a landing ship caught Taren’s ear. It had to be the men that had chased them to this unknown planet. Taren took a moment to think, drumming his fingers against Kylee’s leg. He made a snap decision and set her down over the inclined floor of the hallway before clamoring up the stairs. The lights flickered in the kitchen but it was enough for Taren to see by. He loped around the table, past the supplies littered across the floor, and to the cabinets aligning the west wall. After punching the code into the screen, the cabinet door slid open. There was an emergency backpack waiting for him. Once the pack was slung over his shoulder, Taren took one more moment to grab an extra canteen of water before he made his way back to Kylee.

His journey down the stairs became much harder with the added weight of his survival pack. He hobbled through the dark lower level of the ship with Kylee in his arms, to the ramp that would lead him outside. He jammed his thumb into the button several times before the airlock opened. The ramp lowered to reveal a flat landscape. Two moons hung in the sky, casting their ghostly glow over the earth. A dry wind swept over Taren as he walked out.

He collapsed against the side of his smoking ship, taking deep breaths, arms and shoulders burning. Exhausted as he was, he had to keep moving. He had to get away. He cast his eyes across the horizon, ignoring the pain in his head and looking for any sign of life. The red and yellow landing lights of an unfamiliar ship flashed over the hill to the west. If he strained his ears, he could hear the hiss of the cooling systems. There was a river-like coil of lights in the east. There was no way Taren could make it there on foot. There was nothing but darkness to the north, and yet he could pick out darker shadows against the sky that blotted out the stars. Trees perhaps? He pushed off the ship and started walking.

           

Thrusters coughing across the sky sent Taren running for the giant burrow in the ground. From the size of its entryway, it would be big enough to offer him some shelter. It didn’t matter if it was the home of some monstrous creature. He had to hide. Now.

Every muscle quivered in exhaustion. His feet seemed to be palpitating within his boots, screaming for release. Still, he pushed himself to run across the salt flat of a dead lake between decaying vegetation to get to the burrow. He tripped and fell inside with a surprised grunt. He curved his body over Kylee’s as the momentum of his fall rolled him down into the cave. His body fell against the rocks toward the bottom of the decline, cutting off his cry of pain and surprise. The sound echoed off the dew-covered walls. He rose with a groan and shuffled further into the cave, where darkness was beginning to gather. He carefully lowered Kylee onto the ground, shrugged out of his pack, and began to dig through it. His fingers found something that crinkled. He pulled out the thermal blanket and unrolled it quickly. Using it and some of the rocks that had broken his fall, Taren constructed a crude tent. He grabbed Kylee by the armpits and dragged her into the tent. Then he crouched beside her and waited, hoping beyond hope that the dark blanket would blend into the semi darkness around him.

At first, all he could hear was the howl of the dry wind ripping across the land. He strained his ears for further sounds of the enemy ship or a landing crew. There was nothing. Taren relaxed but only just. He retrieved a pack of dehydrated fruit and broke it open. He almost choked on his food when he heard footsteps approaching the entrance of the burrow.

“I’m telling you something popped up on the radar,” a voice said.

“And I’m telling you it was nothing,” a second voice growled. “The wind and the heat are screwing up the readings.”

The beeping of some hand-held machinery traveled down to meet Taren.

“There, see? It’s picking up some form of heat signature,” the first voice said.

“Is it ninety-eight degrees?”

“No, but…”

“Then it’s not human. It’s probably some desert beast. We’re wasting time here.”

“There wasn’t anyone on the ship,” the first voice snapped. “They must be in the desert somewhere. If we don’t check every heat signature thoroughly, they’re going to slip past us and Churab is going to kill us.”

Taren’s brow furrowed. Churab?

“I can understand scouring through a monster-infested burrow for a heat signature that’s close to a human’s average body temperature but…Let me see that,” the second voice grumbled, no doubt swiping the hand-held heat seeker from his partner. “This is a single signature in the eighties. It’s not them.” He threw the machine back at his partner with a thump. “Come on. Let’s get out of here before we wake whatever creepy-crawly lives here.”

They argued for a few minutes more before the first was finally convinced. Then they left. Taren exhaled and leaned back against the rocks. So these mercenaries were being led by someone named Churab, someone who wouldn’t take kindly to failure.

Good for Maju; sucks for me.

Taren yanked his pack open wider and began to look through his supplies. He had enough dried food, canned goods, and food supplement bars to keep him alive for about a week, and that was if he had a source of water nearby to refill his canteens. While walking, he’d kept an eye out for a well or a lake, and had found neither. It seemed everything around these parts had dried up. If he rationed the water he had, he could survive in that burrow for approximately three days, but then he wouldn’t have any water left for the return journey to the crash site.

The mercs should have finished scouring through the marsh in a day or two. It’ll be safe to walk back to the ship then.

Taren’s eyes flickered to the dead bride lying beside him. The gown wasn’t something Kylee would have chosen. It was gaudy and extravagant, with glittery patches of silver, a ridiculously poofy skirt, and a plunging neckline. No doubt it had been selected for her by Queen Miyako.

God, I hate that woman. She never cared about what Kylee wanted.

The grief, fear, and despair washed over the walls of numbness that had constructed themselves around his mind. Suddenly, he was sobbing. He couldn’t control the sounds of agony forcing their way up his throat or the tears pouring from his eyes. So he hugged his knees to his chest and let it come. Then the numbness returned. With shaking hands, Taren pulled his lover into his arms and pressed his face into her soft hair.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I failed you.”

Using the knife in his pack and his bare hands, he dug a shallow grave deeper in the cave and buried her. Then he curled up in his thermal tent and tried to sleep.

 

“Hey.”

Taren woke with a start to find that he was lying on his side. The shoulder pressed up against the earth was numb and his neck prickled uncomfortably. He slowly sat up and rubbed his shoulder. He locked eyes with Kylee, who sat across the cave, munching on some dried fruit. He skittered back against the rocks with a curse.

Kylee’s eyes widened. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“How are you here? You were dead!”

Kylee cocked her head to the side. “Really.”

Taren looked down at himself. “I know I’m not dead. My heart’s still beating and I still feel like crap. I must’ve hit my head or knocked something loose when we crashed.” He glanced back at Kylee, disappointed. “You’re just a hallucination.”

Kylee shrugged and peered into the bag of dried fruit she was snacking from. “Well, imagine some better-tasting food. This stuff is gross.” She shoved the bag aside before standing. She wore black leather pants, combat boots that ended mid-calf, and a speeder jacket with gold stripes down the arms. Her hair was in a loose ponytail with a few free strands hanging by her ears. This was the girl he’d fallen in love with, the racer born a princess. He had been trained to protect her and had despised her right up until the day he caught her sneaking out of the palace to race speeders with low-life thugs. It was hard to believe she was nothing but a memory now.

Taren swallowed past the dry spot in his throat. “I’m sorry.”

Kylee blew a raspberry and rolled her eyes. “People die all the time, Terry.”

“I should’ve—”

Kylee held up a hand to stop him. “This was their fault, not yours. Let the matter be.”

Taren nodded and cleared his throat. “Yeah. Okay.”

Kylee shoved her hands in her pockets before glancing about the cave. “Maju is going to be pissed when he finds out the mercs killed me. Maybe he’ll have them executed.”

“Nah,” Taren muttered, crawling out from his tent. “Your prince charming will wait until they find me and bring me to him. Then he’ll have the mercs executed.”

Kylee wrinkled her slightly upturned nose at me. “He was never my prince and you know it. What are you going to do now?”

Taren sighed. “I have to get back to the ship. If it’s fixable, it can get me off this miserable rock. If not, I’ll have to get out of here by other means.”

“You never did name the ship,” Kylee said.

Taren gave her an exasperated look. “It already has a name and a captain. I stole it, remember?”

“Yeah, but you’re not giving it back so that makes it yours.” Kylee adopted a thoughtful look as she rocked on the balls of her feet. “How about…The Andromeda?”

Taren wrinkled his nose at her. “The what?”

“Andromeda was one of Earth’s mythological princesses who was put in a life-threatening situation because of her mother’s pride. She ended up being rescued by Perseus, a young Pegasus-riding warrior who swooped in just in time.” She shrugged. “I thought it was fitting.”

Taren grew somber. “You’re right. It’s perfect.” He reached out to touch her face, amazed at his mind’s ability to create such a real apparition.

Kylee smiled, just a slight curling of the lips. “You should get yourself checked. You might have brain damage.”

“Maybe later,” Taren said, letting his hand drop.

A hiss came from the back of the cave, where the darkness was deepest. He dove into his tent and wrenched the knife away from his pack before turning to face whatever creature awaited him. He was about to tell Kylee to find some cover when he realized he was alone. He did a double take, staring at the spot she’d been standing just moments earlier. Then the creature emerged.

It had the same build of a dog but was the size of a bear. Instead of skin or fur, it was covered in silver reptilian scales. Its snout was long; its forked tongue flicked from its open mouth. Its milky white eyes had no pupils. Oh, and it could breathe fire. When it barked, a gust of flames burst from its lips. Taren swore and dove out of the way before he could be incinerated. He rolled onto his feet and brandished his pitiful weapon. The beast charged, whipping out a spiked tail to bash Taren in the face. He leapt back with a curse and swiped his knife across the beast’s tail. The alien monster snarled, but its scaly skin remained unharmed.

“Great,” Taren muttered.

He dodged another jet of fire, feeling the heat kiss his side. He continued to dance just out of the creature’s range until it became angry enough to charge a second time. Taren skidded to the side and jabbed at the monster’s eyes, but it cost him. The creature racked its claws across Taren’s abdomen. He let out a scream of rage and pain before he tackled the beast. They rolled over the damp earth, kicking up clumps of mud and wrestling for the upper hand. Spurts of fire flew past Taren’s face, singeing his ears and his hair. Somehow when they stopped, Taren was on top and his knife was embedded in the creature’s soft underbelly. The dog-bear-reptile thing let out a whine and a puff of smoke before going limp.

Taren released his hold on the knife and fell over onto his side. The front of his shirt and cargo pants was soaked in blood. The smell of burned flesh and hair made his nose twitch. His stomach…Taren groaned and began crawling to his tent. Somehow he made it to his pack and found the med kit. Somehow he found the sealing spray and coated his stomach with it. Somehow he managed to swallow the pain killers and apply the burn ointment to his face. Then he lay on his back in a pool of his own sweat and blood, and caught his breath. He stared up at the ceiling of his little tent, fighting back tears.

Kylee’s head appeared within his line of vision, dark hair swinging. She whistled. “You don’t look so good, Terry.”

“I can’t do this,” he said through his teeth. “I need more than what I’ve got to survive in this hell-hole.”

Her smile was soft. “You’re just saying that because you’re in pain. From where I’m standing, it looks like you’re doing pretty good.”

Taren slammed his fists into the ground beneath him. “How can you say that? Look at me! I’m a freakin’ mess.”

“But you’re alive.”

Guilt stole away his retort. He sat up and twisted around to face her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

Kylee nodded. “I know you didn’t.”

Taren sniffled and wiped his face with the back of his blood-stained hand. His eyes fell on the monster he’d just killed. “There might be more of them. I should look for another place to hide.”

“Or there might not be,” Kylee said. “You’re hurt. You need to rest.”

Taren leaned back against the rocks, too tired to argue with her. “Yes, ma’am.” As his eyelids drooped, he could almost feel her touch on his cheek.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “I’ll watch over you.”

An excerpt

Prologue (The Andromeda’s Ghost) :

 

Kylee stared at her reflection in the compact mirror, trying and failing to suppress her horror. Her dark hair had been braided and twisted into three buns along the back of her head (one behind each ear and one at the nape of her neck) with only one long curl trailing down her shoulder. Makeup had been caked onto her face to supposedly make her look older than her twenty-one years. She looked like an escort drowning in white lace and chiffon. She gave her mother a miserable look.

The queen snatched the compact from her daughter and tossed it at one of the ladies in waiting. “The doors will be opening any minute. Lower your veil now. No one needs to see you pouting like a child.” Her raven black hair was piled on the top of her head to make her look taller. Her makeup was even more exaggerated than Kylee’s, although, if makeup was meant to make one look older Kylee wasn’t sure why her mother had bothered wearing any. The dress the queen wore was made of red satin with pearl embellishments and sported a plunging neckline. If this had been the first time the queen had tried to prove she still looked thirty-years-old, Kylee might have been embarrassed. Sadly, it was not.

Kylee tugged the veil into place as one of the guards opened the door to the large hover craft. He extended a hand to help her climb out, for which she was grateful. Her wedding dress was ridiculously large and heavy.

The venue was just about the only thing Kylee’s mother had gotten right. An enormous cathedral sat on a slightly elevated plateau toward the outskirts of the jungle. It had tall towers, archways, and the traditional stain glass windows of a medieval cathedral from 20th century earth. It was one of the few of its kind in New Sol. Kylee gazed up at the artistically designed structure barely visible through the layers of tulle covering her face, and smiled for the first time in months. She’d wanted to get married here since she was nine years old.

Grief smothered her moment of joy. It’s the wrong man.

The queen fluttered about her daughter, fluffing the already too-fluffy skirt of her gown, swatting away the occasional insect, and muttering, “Stand up straight, my dear. That’s right. You’re so beautiful when you exercise good posture. Hands clasped before you…Perfect. Now, nod ever so graciously at the camera and proceed.”

Kylee found the camera hovering over the heads of the thousands of guests crowded around the cathedral’s entrance. She obeyed her mother and began the long walk across the lawn. She knew Taren wouldn’t be there but she still looked for him, desperate for a glimpse of black curls or oak brown eyes or a dimpled chin. Her mother and ladies in waiting trailed behind her, smiling and waving. An armored guard stood on either side of her.

Not long ago, Taren stood dutifully at her side during grand, obnoxious events like these. He would murmur lame knock-knock jokes out of the corner of his mouth to keep her smile genuine for the crowds. Sometimes he would cup her elbow and stay a step ahead to shield her from the cameras when she was too upset to face them. The more she thought about him, the sadder she became, but she couldn’t help it. He should be here.

She stumbled. A collective gasp rang through the crowd.

One of her guards took her by the arm. “Are you well, Princess?”

She nodded, perhaps a little too hastily, and continued her walk. But yet again, maybe he shouldn’t be here. Going through with this was painful enough for her. If she had to see the look on Taren’s face when she said, “I do,” she might’ve broken down on national television.

The doors to the cathedral loomed before her, blocked the sun for a moment, and then she was inside. The walls had been modified to mirror the scenery outside. She could still see the tangles of green jungle stretching out below and the grassy floor of the plateau. The only differences between the exterior and the interior were the drop in temperature and the seemingly magical appearance of chairs. Yet more people stood here, smiling and ogling and whispering and sighing and throwing her envious looks. There were quite a few more Mer-people within the cathedral than there were outside. An archway heavy laden with pink hydrangeas and ivy waited for her at the end of the aisle, along with her groom.

Kylee swallowed hard and lifted her chin when she saw her father. He wore his traditional general’s uniform, medals, and ceremonial sword. Even with the inserts in his boots, he was barely taller than she was. He looked deathly pale; his almond-shaped eyes were sad. He mutely held his elbow out to her, still powerless to oppose his wife and the demands of their almost-enemies. Kylee felt the familiar rush of frustration before accepting his arm. What good was there in being the king if he could still be overruled?

A hush fell over the audience and then the music began to play. Ten, twenty, thirty steps later, she stood before her fiancé. He was built like a pampered prince with undeveloped muscle beneath his tuxedo and waxy, green skin. Gills cut across both sides of his neck and scaly frills grew behind each ear. His glassy black eyes stared at her, unblinking. He extended a hand with a slight bow of his head; his fingers were webbed. Kylee couldn’t help but stare. Could he speak English? Was he kind? Was he expecting her to carry his children?

Kylee’s grip on her father tightened as the floor tilted beneath her feet. She’d always wanted to be a mother, but the thought of giving birth to tadpoles made her stomach turn. But she could feel the focus of that flying camera like a light blazing through a magnifying glass and aimed at the back of her head. The whole world was watching, waiting for her to continue the ceremony. She took a deep breath and reached out to him with a trembling hand.

The sound of an explosion made her twist around in alarm. Through the open doors of the cathedral, she watched her mother’s hovercraft erupt in a ball of fire. The floor shook from the blast, causing the cathedral’s walls to flicker in and out of existence. Chaos followed. The guests jumped from their chairs and ran to where they assumed the nearest exits were. They encountered invisible walls instead. The guards masquerading as attendees tried to calm those nearest to them with little success. The armored guards rushed outside to investigate the cause of the explosion, only to be thrown off their feet by a second blast which destroyed yet another hovercraft. Kylee was torn away from her father by the desperate throng. The second earthquake from the blast sent her looking for shelter. She fell back against the wall. Her fiancé, mother, and personal guards wrestled through the people running in every direction, trying to get to their princess.

All she could hear was white static. She blinked at the fire consuming the two hovercrafts in the distance and gaped the herd of frantic people as if in a stupor. What in the world was going on? Someone touched her shoulder. She spun around to see Taren standing beside her. He was dressed in a tux for the occasion. He could have passed for a guest. Her former bodyguard lifted the veil away from her face, cupped her cheek, and pressed his lips against hers.

He flashed her a crazy grin once they parted. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

“You know you just started a war between my father’s kingdom and the Mer-people, right?” Kylee sputtered.

Taren squinted at the burning hunks of machinery in the distance. “I set the bombs under your mother’s hovercrafts. If anything, it appears the Mer-people are waging war against your father.”

Kylee let out a hysterical laugh before she threw her arms around him. “Thanks for waiting until my mother was out of the car.”

“Oh, it wasn’t easy. Believe me,” he said with a chuckle.

The sight of the Mer-prince sprinting toward them with murderous rage twisting his face made Kylee shove Taren out of the way. She received a punch to the face that was probably meant for the back of Taren’s head. Stumbling back, she slapped a hand over her aching mouth and blinked away tears.

The Mer-prince gaped at her in horror. “I’m sorry!”

Taren tackled him into the archway. “You bastard!” The wood collapsed, sending hydrangea petals and leaves of ivy everywhere. The men wrestled, but it was obvious who had been trained in hand-to-hand combat. Taren quickly gained the upper hand.

“Kylee Wen Dao!” her mother screeched from somewhere behind her.

The princess half turned, hand still over her mouth. Through a sliver of a gap between people, Kylee could see her furious mother marching toward her, hair undone, makeup ruined, dress torn. It was the angriest and most disheveled she’d ever seen her mother look. The rebellious child in her rejoiced. Kylee gripped Taren’s shoulder before he could continue to beat up the Mer-prince.

“If you have an escape plan, now would be the time to share it.”

He nodded somewhat grimly at the prince before rising. Then he took her hand and expertly zigzagged them through the crowd. She didn’t know when he’d taken the time to memorize the locations of the camouflaged exits and she didn’t ask. She knew they were outside when the temperature changed. A cargo cruiser waited in the shade of some trees toward the bottom of the plateau. She grinned at the man leading her by the hand, memory after memory flashing through her mind.

Taren sitting at his usual chair on the terrace, calmly cleaning his blaster gun while explaining his reasons for not telling the queen about her daughter’s alter ego, the Golden Mare, champion racer of the underground.

Taren laughing a full belly laugh when Kylee asked for his opinion on her god-awful painting.

Taren lying in a hospital bed, battered and bruised, after surviving a bomb blast that had been meant for the princess.

Taren wearing a white tux and holding out his hand during her birthday ball, asking for the first dance.

Taren pressing her up against the wall and kissing her with enough passion to make her head spin.

Taren bowing stiffly after the queen had fired him. “Good bye, Princess. It was an honor serving you.”

The dress tore while she ran down the steep decline. Kylee hefted up the heavy skirt with her free hand and picked up the pace. Then her veil ripped away from the clips keeping it attached to her head. Kylee couldn’t have cared less. Once at the bottom of the plateau, she let go of Taren’s hand so that he could press the button that would lower the cargo ramp.

“The Mer-king’s ships will be waiting for us as soon as we leave the atmosphere.” Taren winked over his shoulder at her. “Are you ready for one last race, Golden Mare?”

Kylee laughed and kicked off her shoes. “You better believe it.” She reached for her tiara as she followed him into the space ship, wanting nothing more than to chuck it into the jungle. But she paused when she caught her reflection in the diamonds.

“If you do this, you’ll never be able to come back,” her mother’s voice hissed at the back of her mind.

Kylee took a deep breath, suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. Racing in the underground and falling in love with the youngest bodyguard to graduate from the Guard Institute had been the only acts of rebellion she’d had the courage to do. And those had been committed after twenty years of trying to please her unappeasable mother. But there had been no leniency upon the discovery of these two secrets. The queen had put her daughter on an even shorter leash, organized this marriage, and banished Taren from the palace grounds within a week.

Tears made Kylee’s eyes burn. Was there ever a time when you loved me? You were so focused on turning me into what you believed would be the perfect daughter and princess. Did you ever wonder who I really was? Were you ever the least bit curious?

“Kylee.”

She turned to face him. Taren’s eyes flickered to the tiara in her hands before landing on her face. The wind tousled his hair as a sad smile made his lips curl.

“It’s a part of you whether you leave it behind or not.”

She glanced down at the symbol that had always set her apart from the rest of the world, the metallic piece of headwear her mother never let her leave the palace without. She knelt by the edge of the ramp and gingerly placed the tiara in the grass. Yes, she would always have royal blood running through her veins, but she was done playing the part of the perfect princess.

The diamonds reflected the sun as the cargo cruiser made its ascent. Kylee turned her head skyward and didn’t look back.