There are two weeks to go until my new novel, Novis, comes out!
In the meantime, here’s the first chapter of the novel for everyone to read right now, because I’m just so nice. I really hope you enjoy it, and, of course pre-order.
The vodka burned all the way down her throat, probably killing her taste buds as it went. It was the cheapest stuff she could get, and likely to dissolve her insides, but it was effective at getting a person drunk. Which was exactly what she needed right now.
Ros Lamarr and her crew had been on Erebus Station between jobs for six weeks now, and that was about five weeks too long for her liking. She needed to be out there, preferably shooting things, not sat on her ass feeling useless. Hence the cheap vodka.
She gestured to the barmaid for a refill.
The second shot went down easier than the first. Maybe because her tongue had gone numb. A pleasant buzz settled in Ros’s stomach, her limbs feeling loose. She was on her way to being drunk.
She sat back on her shitty barstool and observed her surroundings.
Most of her crew were scattered through the station bar with the same idea she’d had. Gabby Hernandez was off to her left, wearing a dress that was a little too nice for an establishment like this, surrounded by a dozen hangers on of various genders, who were admiring Gabby’s impressive musculature. Ros made a mental note to find her earplugs tonight; Gabby was her best friend but she could get awful loud when she got lucky.
Elsewhere in the bar she could hear Mila fending off her own hangers on as she was trying to enjoy a much better quality vodka than the one her boss was drinking. Ros snickered when she heard Mila loudly exclaim “listen son, there’s only two things that get me going; cleaning my weapons and killing a man. Can you guess which one I’m leaning towards right now?” Woman was sixty if she was a day but damn if she wasn’t still a looker. Too bad for the two guys trying their luck she just wasn’t interested. Mila was their ace sniper in more ways than one.
Ros had known her four years, and that joke was still funny.
“Another drink please,” Ros said, shaking her empty glass at the lady behind the bar. Her current best friend.
“For a few extra credits you can have the rest of the bottle,” she said. “You seem determined to pickle your liver anyhow.”
It sounded like an excellent suggestion and Ros took her up on it. Two more shots took the edge off the crawling feeling under her skin. She wasn’t made for being stuck on station and she hated not having a job. It wasn’t so much the recycled air and artificial gravity that got to her—she was used to that on the Mercenary Star—it was more the feeling of uselessness that crept into her veins and made her itch. The feeling made her reckless, and a reckless merc quickly became a dead merc.
Dissolving her stomach lining was the lesser of two evils in Ros’s professional opinion.
Gabby picked her way through the bar, two of her new friends at her side. Ros felt sorry for anyone still on the Star; things were about to get loud. The alcohol had fuzzed her mind a little and she couldn’t remember which members of her crew were where. She could have sworn the twins had joined the party headed to the bar, but they were nowhere to be seen.
She decided to think about that later and chased the worry with another shot of vodka.
There was still a bit of battery acid left in her bottle when an extremely drunk bloke tripped over his own feet and practically fell on top of the bar next to her. Ros eyed the man, assessing for threats. He was big, well muscled. Most likely a merc like her. And judging from the smell of whiskey that seemed to be seeping out of every pore, he was a bunch more drunk than she was. He wouldn’t pose much of a threat to Ros, but if he harassed the lady behind the bar…
“Oi tits!” he yelled, proving Ros’s suspicions about him entirely correct, “gizza drink.”
Ros closed her eyes. She was glad she’d worn shorts today; her knife would be within easy reach should she need it. She really hoped she wouldn’t.
The barmaid sauntered over to the gentleman, a bored look on her face. “No. You’ve had enough by the looks of you.” Her voice was calm, strong. Anyone with any sense would realise she meant business.
Sadly, her new friend didn’t seem to be a person with very much sense.
“Aw come on toots,” he said, slurring his words and spraying a fine alcoholic mist of spit everywhere. “Just one for the road?”
The lady behind the bar wiped off her face. “No. And if you ask again, I’ll have security escort you out.”
That was when the man made a fatal mistake; he reached out and clamped a hand on the barmaid’s arm. “Gimme a fucking drink you fucking bitch,” he snapped, face turning red.
Ros was on her feet in a flash.
“Apologise to the lady,” she said, her voice little more than a feral growl.
He turned to face her. “Fuck you too you uppity bitch.”
Ros smiled nastily. “I was hoping you’d say something like that.”
Before the man could react Ros had snatched up her almost empty vodka bottle and smashed him round the back of the head with it. It made the most satisfying sound as it shattered into a million tiny cubes, the blow startling him but the safety glass ensuring his skin didn’t end up broken.
Ros was okay with that; head wounds had a tendency to make an unnecessary amount of mess.
While the drunk was still reeling from the bottle to the head, she picked him up by the shirt front, slamming him down on the floor with enough force to wind a rhinoceros. Her foot slammed down on his chest, encouraging him to stay exactly where he was.
“Now you wait there for security,” Ros said with a sickly sweet false smile.
The bastard didn’t have the good sense to do as he was told.
He grabbed her by the ankle and yanked. Ros couldn’t keep her balance properly on her prosthetic leg and went crashing to the ground, narrowly avoiding smashing her head on the bar.
All the breath rushed out of Ros’s lungs and before she could recover, there was a couple of hundred pounds of drunken asshole sat on her chest. He levelled a punch at Ros’s face but she was still fast enough to block him, vodka filled bloodstream or not. Through the roaring in her ears she dimly heard Mila shouting something in Russian and fervently hoped the daft old bat wouldn’t get involved.
She wanted this over and done with as quickly as possible without it turning into a bloodbath. People died when Mila waded into a bar fight.
Ros sent her fist crashing into the man’s face. He let out a guttural grunt and a torrent of blood gushed from his nose. Combined with the alcohol and the head injury from before his reactions were slow enough for Ros to throw him off her and scrabble to her feet.
The fight should have been over then, but the damn fool just didn’t know when to quit.
How he knew about the concealed knife in her fake leg Ros would never know but he lunged for the compartment and had it open before she could stop him. With a flick of his wrist the blade popped open and now he was an armed drunk, angry as all hell.
“You just fucking stay back you bitch!” he yelled, waving her own knife at her erratically.
Out of the corner of her eye Ros could see two security goons approaching but they hung back, keeping the crowd away. It looked like they’d rather leave the knife-wielding shithead to her. Perhaps her reputation had preceded her.
“You really don’t want to do this,” Ros said, narrowing her eyes.
The pleasant buzz of drunkenness had dissipated by now, replaced by the hungry roar of adrenaline. If she couldn’t be working, then this at least was something. She felt more alive than she had in weeks.
She cast her eyes around the near silent bar, looking for allies. Lizzie Park, her engineer and the best scout she’d ever hired, had materialised from somewhere to physically restrain Mila. It was probably the only reason the old lady hadn’t flat out murdered the drunk for assaulting her Captain. None of the rest of her crew were around.
Ros wished Gabby hadn’t slipped off earlier. It would have been good to have her long time friend by her side for a fight like this.
The drunk lunged with the knife and Ros could tell from the way he was holding it he didn’t have much experience with small blades. She blocked the blow easily, but the blade went through her shirt like a hot knife through butter and she felt blood running down her arm.
Experienced or not the bastard could still kill her if he got lucky. That knife was five inches of the finest carbon-steel money could buy and Ros had spent many hours sharpening it to a lethal point. She knew exactly how much damage it could do to her insides if she let it.
She resolved not to let it.
The man attacked again, slashing wildly. Ros caught him by the wrist this time and twisted his arm up behind him, stopping him from using the knife.
“I’d drop it if I were you,” she said in his ear. The knife was trapped between his back in her chest, the arm next to useless.
“Fuck you,” he said, and drove his head backward. The back of his skull clipped her chin and split her lip, gushing blood. Copper exploded on her tongue as she staggered back.
Somehow she kept the bastard in a hold.
“I liked this fucking shirt,” she growled through the blood pouring from her face.
Now pissed beyond belief, she twisted the man’s arm just a little further than it could go, snapping his wrist. She heard the sound of the bone fracturing and it was just as satisfying as the cry of pain the man emitted. The knife dropped uselessly to the floor and Ros felt his knees go; the fight was over.
Security seemed to sense this as well and broke away from the crowd. “We’ll take it from here ma’am,” one bloke said. He didn’t sound at all apologetic for being willing to her get stabbed rather than wade into the fight himself.
Ros grunted and pushed the drunk at them, bending down to pick her knife up. She wiped the blade on her shirt since it was covered in blood anyway and popped the blade back in.
The drunk howled as he was cuffed with no consideration of his broken wrist. The second security goon eyed her knife from a safe distance of a few feet away. “You got a licence to be carrying weaponry like that?” he asked.
She sighed and dug into her pocket for her mercenary registration, flashing it at the security guys impatiently. “Happy now?”
Their eyebrows climbed up into their hairlines as they read her ID and they nodded. “Everything looks fine,” said goon number one. “Sorry for the trouble Captain Lamarr. You want to press charges against this asshole?”
Ros waved away the concern, and they dragged him off, reading him his rights as they went. She sat back down at the bar, wiping at her cut lip.
The barmaid she’d gotten injured defending popped back up seemingly from nowhere and Ros grunted for another drink.
“Technically I should bar you,” said the bartender, “but since you were saving my ass, I’ll let you off this once. Here, on the house.” She plopped a part bottle of a slightly better quality vodka in front of Ros and slipped off to serve someone else.
She unscrewed the cap and took a deep swig, wincing as the alcohol burned at her cut lip. At least she was sure the wound was clean now. She poured a little on her arm too.
“AJ’s gonna be mad at me,” she muttered to herself as she wiped blood streaked vodka from her chin.
Down the other end of the bar Lizzie was gesturing wildly at Mila, probably trying to persuade her to head back to the ship before she murdered someone. The Russian was as stubborn as they came and it was a pain in the ass to make her do something she didn’t want to. She sat back down at the bar and Ros sent the vodka bottle sliding down to her.
Mila took the cap off, raised the bottle in salute and said “na zdrovye,” before taking a long swig. The bottle came back significantly emptier.
She reached for the bottle but it was snatched from the bar before she could grab it. Ros turned to give whoever thought it was a good idea to pinch her booze a piece of her mind but stopped short when she saw who the culprit was.
Matty Taylor. Her second-in-command.
“You should be more careful. I just decked a guy for less.”
“I thought that was you in the middle of that brawl.”
“Come on boss. Six foot black lady with a shaved head pile driving a guy into the ground? Had to be you.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. Man had a point, but that didn’t mean she had to admit it. “If you were in here that early how come you didn’t help?”
Matty shrugged. “You looked like you were handling it.” He took a swig from her bottle and passed it back. “Besides, I was keeping an eye on Lizzie and Mila. Brave girl trying to stop the old bat from wading into a fight.”
Lizzie wasn’t the youngest on the crew but she was the greenest. Which was probably why Matty thought he could get away with calling her ‘girl’. Ros didn’t bother correcting him; Lizzie would have to deal with him sooner or later and Ros saw putting up with her lieutenant’s bullshit as a rite of passage for everyone in her crew. They’d end up dealing with worse out on a job.
Mind you, if she could deal with Ludmila Yevgeniena after a vodka bender then an officer’s son with a stick up his arse should be no problem. Ros didn’t say that out loud though.
“What do you want Taylor?” she said. “I’m trying to get drunk here.”
“Got something better than booze, boss. I’ve got us a job.”
Ros perked up at that. “What kind of job?”
“See for yourself.” Matty handed her a tablet with the job description pulled up. She scanned the document quickly and then went over it again, just to be sure.
“You’re kidding me.”
“I swear I’m not boss.”
“Novis colony? Fucking Novis colony?”
A frown formed between Matty’s eyebrows. “Yeah. Something wrong with Novis colony boss?”
Ros groaned. How could he not know about Novis? Every good merc in the business knew the story. “You do know the colony is cursed right? Every single merc crew that’s gone out there over the last five years has been slaughtered.”
“The ad said something about the casualty rate. That’s why the hazard pay is so high I assume?”
Ros nodded vigorously.
“I didn’t think an element of danger usually bothered you, boss. I mean, you’re Captain Ros fucking Lamarr. You’re the best mercenary Captain in the entire Commonwealth, your record speaks for itself.”
He had a point. “True, but we’ve never gone up against anything like Novis colony before.” There was a kernel of excitement growing in her belly though. Novis would be a hell of a challenge, and Ros found she wanted to see if she was up to it. No matter the danger it would be better than drinking Erebus Station dry for another six goddamn weeks.
“It’s your call boss. The pay’s good but if you think the risk is too great–”
“We’ll do it,” Ros said suddenly, unaware she’d actually decided. “We’ve got a good crew and I’m tired of doing milk runs for shitty pay. Get back to the governor and tell them we’ll take it. I’ll let the boys know we’ve got work.”
“Will do boss.” Matty took his tablet back and headed out of the bar.
Ros drained the bottle of vodka—it would have been rude to leave a gift behind and she couldn’t take open bottles out onto the main concourse—and left it on the bar with a thank you. She wobbled as she a made her way down the bar, probably a combination of shitty vodka and the after-effects of the fight.
“Did I hear Taylor say we have job?” Mila asked, not looking up from her glass.
“You heard right.”
“Lots of things to kill?”
“Looks like it.”
Ros couldn’t stop herself from grinning at that. “Make sure Lizzie gets back to the Star okay, would you?”
“Lizzie is grown woman,” Mila said watching her Captain out of the corner of her eye. “She can take care of herself.”
She certainly could if she could wrangle a half cut Russian sniper itching for a fight. And it looked like Lizzie had earned Mila’s respect in the process.
“Don’t stay out too late,” Ros warned. “And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“I wouldn’t do half the things you would do, Captain,” Mila replied, deadpan.
Ros allowed herself a laugh and staggered back to her ship.
The Mercenary Star looked a lot like the standard Commonwealth cargo ship; short, squat and utilitarian. What the Star had that a normal cargo hauler didn’t was several tons of upgraded weaponry peppering her hull. The Erebus Station Irregulars’ logo was painted along the side, underneath her name and registration information. She didn’t look like much, but she was Ros’s baby.
She was home.
The docking bay the Star sat in wasn’t too far from the bar, for which Ros was eternally grateful to the stationmaster. Her legs were a lot more drunk than the rest of her. She stepped through the airlock and was greeted by the sound of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture blasting over the ship wide speakers.
Ears ringing in time with the brass and drums, Ros staggered to the med bay. “You boys better not be blowing stuff up.” She knew what Ewan was like left to his own devices. And when listening to that song.
“Your ship’s fine, Captain,” said AJ, who was sat on a bed with a pile of knitting in his lap. “Ewan promised to behave himself, didn’t you mein Lieber?”
“Aye,” said the large ginger Scotsman in the chair next to him. “AJ wouldn’t even let me take inventory in the armoury while you were on station.” He picked at the sleeve of his sweater—which was bright pink with little hearts on and clashed horribly with his hair—smoothing down the material where it covered the stump of his arm. “Spoilsport,” he finished, shooting a dirty look at his boyfriend.
“What’s with the music then?” Ros asked, just as the final crescendo started.
“Hernandez,” the two men said in unison.
“Ah.” In all the excitement from the fight and the job she’d forgotten that Gabby had brought some friends back for the night.
AJ put his knitting down as the brass died away and looked at Ros. “What happened to you Kapitän? You look like you have been in a fight.” His big bushy eyebrows knitted together, his cybernetic eye focussing on her lip, no doubt assessing the damage.
“That’s cos I was.” She braced herself for the inevitable lecture from her medic.
He just sighed. “What happened?”
“Some drunk was being an asshole, so I knocked him down a peg or two.”
AJ’s gaze shifted to her arm and his eyes narrowed. “Shirt off Kapitän, this needs dealing with.” He spoke in the sort of tone one might use with a truculent toddler and Ros knew there would be no putting him off; she might be the Captain but her medical officer outranked her when it came to the health of the crew.
She pulled her shirt off and sat down on the spare bed. Ewan was still in the room but she didn’t much care; on a ship this small everyone saw everyone else naked sooner or later. It was no big deal.
Doctor Schneider hummed to himself as he cleaned and dressed Ros’s arm and glued her lip up. The damn glue stung more than the vodka had.
“There, good as new,” said AJ when he was done. He reached into a foot locker and tossed her a plain black t-shirt. “Try not to get into any more fights, hmmm?”
“Should be okay on that front doc, we’re shipping out soon.”
“We got a job?” asked Ewan, his face bright and the excitement in his voice unmistakable.
“We got a job,” she confirmed. “Taylor’s finishing up the formalities now. I want to get going as soon as we’re resupplied and the stationmaster’s given us clearance.”
“Where are we going?” asked Ewan, looking very boyish with his sweater and the huge grin on his face.
The two men shared a look Ros couldn’t read.
“I think I must have misheard you, Kapitän, I thought you said we’d taken a job at Novis colony.”
AJ swore in German, while Ewan just looked at her with a strange expression on his face, as though he couldn’t work out if she’d gone up or down in his estimation. “You’re having a crack at breaking the curse?” he said quietly.
“We are yeah. Besides, I’m going stir-crazy sitting on station all day. It’s about time we had a challenge.”
“I’ll put in an order for extra medical supplies,” AJ said mildly. Ros was mostly just glad she’d escaped a lecture. For now.
Ewan rubbed his hand through his beard. “Novis colony’s a couple o’ weeks out,” he said. “And there’s some rough territory between here and there.”
“You’ll need plenty of ammo for your toys, I know. Send me a wish list ASAP, both of you, and I’ll see what we can get on station.” She looked Ewan right in the eye and poked him in the chest for emphasis. “Nothing too expensive you hear? And I don’t care what we’re going up against you don’t need an EMP mine the size of my bathroom.”
Ros thought she heard him mutter “you spoil all my fun,” but gave him the benefit of the doubt.
“Do you know where Tariq and Noora went?” she asked AJ. “I haven’t seen them since I headed out and I need to talk to them about navigation as soon as I can.”
“I thought the twins were with you?” said AJ, his eyebrows knitting together. “Ah, they’ll turn up sooner or later. You know how those two are.”
She did. They were the best pilot/navigator combo she’d ever had but they could be incredibly insular when they wanted to be. They were protective of each other and where one went so did the other. AJ was right though; they’d turn up at some point. And then they’d work out a route to Novis that was ten times better than anything Ros could come up with.
Ros sighed to herself. She loved her crew. They were family. She hoped she was doing the right thing, taking them on a run like this. They were mercenaries, and they knew the risks; any job they took could get them killed. That’s why the pay was so good. But this one felt different somehow. Normally Ros hated taking jobs on colonies where the word “curse” had been thrown around, but she needed to do something. If she stayed on Erebus station much longer she’d only get into more fights and eventually station security would have to arrest her. Spending time in a concrete cube six feet in every direction wasn’t her idea of fun.
No, she’d get them all off station, get them whipped back into shape and get them shooting at something. It would be good for the whole crew.
“You reckon it’ll be safe to head back to my quarters now?” Ros asked.
Ewan snorted. “Probably, though with Gabby you never know.”
“Give the girl a break,” said AJ, slapping Ewan on the back with his massive hand. “You unwind by blowing things up, Sergeant Hernandez unwinds by–”
“–Blowing other things,” Ewan interrupted with a cackle.
“I’ll tell her you said that, Burns,” Ros warned and Ewan paled. Which was impressive given his skin was the colour of skimmed milk normally. AJ just laughed.
“Let Gabriela have her fun,” he said. “Then you and I can have our fun too, ja?” He waggled his eyebrows at Ewan, causing a blush to creep out from the top of his beard.
Ros knew when she wasn’t wanted and said her goodbyes.
The boys shut the music off before she got back to her cabin and the ship settled into a reassuring quiet. Lying back in her bunk with her cut lips burning and Gabby’s snores drifting through the bulkhead, Ros wondered at how calm she was.
This was a big job, no doubt about it, but Matty hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d called her the best merc Captain in the Commonwealth. And she’d put together a hell of a crew. They could do this, she knew in deep down in her bones. This would be the ultimate test, of her abilities, of her crew. It felt a little bit like destiny.
She was ready for Novis Colony. Was Novis Colony ready for her?
Ebook and paperback coming January 19th 2018