This is my stop during the blog tour for Dying for Space by S.J. Higbee. This blog tour is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The blog tour runs from 14 till 31 December. See the tour schedule here.
Cadet Officer Elizabeth Wright just wants to make her father proud, while the mercenary warlord is looking for her to replace his dead family…
I finally get the opportunity to become a serving officer and fulfil my childhood dream, as well as get to know my biological father, General Norman. And when I first clap eyes on Restormel, the HQ of my father’s space mercenary outfit, it’s the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen.
But appearances can be deceptive. There are dark secrets hidden in the twisting corridors and blood-soaked cells beneath the training grounds and banqueting rooms. Secrets that seep out. Secrets that demand fresh victims, because whatever else happens, they can’t be allowed to see the light of day…
You can find Dying for Space on Goodreads
You can buy Dying for Space here on Amazon
Elizabeth Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything…
You can buy Running Out of Space on Amazon
Hearing the hostages’ appeals for help had hardened the mood on Peacebringer. I swear the crew would’ve spacewalked down to Modimo, where we finally cornered the slimers. They were heading for a series of caverns in the foothills surrounding one of the biggest plateaux on the dirtball. Bilge-babble claimed that Morrigan was up for vaporising the moon, but as it orbited the mining planetoid Hosi, that was a complete non-starter.
Our fighting force landed over the horizon from their camp. We spent a long, unlovely journey bouncing around the transporter as it jolted along what passed for a road on this dust-scuffed ball. Then, bruised and aching, we disembarked and crawled for a long light year to surround them, all fully suited as Modimo’s atmosphere was only just breathable if you moved no faster than a dozing snail. We’d just got into position when their proximity alarms started howling.
Sergeant Gently’s face tightened behind his facemask as his voice growled into my eardrop, “Right. This is liable to get flooding messy.” He glared at me as if it were my fault. “You stick with me like we’re Tuf-Taped together. Got that?”
“Yessarge.” My mouth was on auto while the rest of me was struggling to take it in. I was actually seeing real action. Today some bad people were going to die. Maybe some of us would get hurt, too. My guts churned with excitement and fear. Inside battle gauntlets, my hands were damp. The only dank spot was having Sergeant Gently alongside.
Even now, as lasers spat and spyflakes sizzled on max power around me, resentment burned. Was I also rushing to attack alongside the rest of the crew? Nah, I was tethered to Gently’s apron-strings. Gripping my weapon, I cursed under my breath as everyone else surged past us. Fact was, I was so busy fuming about being kept out of the action I missed Sarge’s first hand-sig to move up. His slap across my visor soon had me paying attention, though. After which, I was struggling to keep up with Gently, who must’ve been related to a snake, the speed he belly-wriggled across the ground.
Come to think of it, his Mum being a poisonous reptile would explain much about him.
“Give it up! You’re not gonna get outta this. Throw down your weapons!” Morrigan’s amped voice roared over the opening stutter of weapons’ fire.
“Go prod yourself, bitch! Or better still – wait till I give you one, myself!” came back the reply. “Keep this prod-fodder company, why don’t you?” A girl about my age stumbled as she was shoved out from behind a rock, falling to her knees. Wearing nothing but a few shreds and a breather, she was bloodstained and filthy. And so traumatised, she seemed indifferent to the weapon trained on her head.
They’d chosen their position well. It was a small gully surrounded with boulders and the geo-fiz readouts suggested the area was honeycombed with caves. We all knew if the pirates managed to escape underground, we could spend the next year trying to flush them out. Our air-drone hovering over their camp suddenly exploded in a fireball and sadly, the flaming remains didn’t land on top of them.
Sarge started swearing under his breath as the Captain’s voice came through my eardrop, “Our spyflakes are being fuzzed, but we estimate there are around twenty bandits and between four and ten hostages. So careful who you’re shooting at, people. That said – our instructions are that this scum don’t leave here in one piece. The ship they took is one of our subscribers.”
Does that mean the hostages are expendable? I didn’t know. Thinking of that girl and what she’d gone through made me sick to my stomach. Looking up, I spotted another air-drone buzzing in the sky. Laser fire broke out ahead of us and the ground shook as something big exploded off to the left. I couldn’t see a thing, stuck behind the largest rock Gently managed to find. Indeed, it was so big you could’ve fitted at least another two useless newbies behind it. I started shuffling to the edge. Until a hand landed on my shoulder.
Sarge growled in my eardrop, “If I had my way, we’d still be aboard Peacebringer alongside Morrigan – but she wanted me with the troops. Which is why you’re here. But don’t you so much as breathe without my yaysay, girl.”
“No, Sarge.” My voice was flat with the effort of holstering my temper. I was s’posed to be experiencing action – not shielded behind some old rock while everyone around me got to join in!
“Cover my back and then follow when I’m in position. On my mark,” he snapped.
Easing right up behind Sarge, the sharp smell coming off him was a shock. He’s afraid.
“Now!” Gently dived across the gap between our rock and the next smaller boulder. For an older man, he moved fast.
Jabbing my weapon out round the rock, I let off a couple of volleys. Then recalled Morrigan’s words about being careful who we shot at. Cold with horror, I stopped. What if I’ve just taken down one of our own? Or worse still – one of the hostages?
A zipping burst pinged off the rock, pattering stone shards onto the sand. I crawled to the other side and risked a quick look. A bandit had my boulder in his sights and was waiting. I jerked back as dust and hot splinters flared off my suit shielding. Another spatter of laser fire erupted on either side of me. What if they’ve surrounded me? What if I’m cut off? What if I hit Sarge and I’m left here?
Get a grip, for Mother Earth’s sake! Jessica’s nagging was no help.
Gritting my teeth, I loosened the flap on my pulse grenades. The crudsuckers weren’t taking me without a deal of grief. After seeing what they’d done to that poor girl, no way was I gonna end up like that.
“Norman! Move up,” roared Sarge. “Now, flood it!”
Light-headed with terror, I flung myself across the gap to the smaller boulder. The bandit who’d been shooting at me was slumped across the scarlet-splashed outcrop. I only managed a fleeting glimpse as I dived for cover, but the sight brought a savage spike of pleasure. Yeah! Hope it hurt, you hell-bound bilgescum.
Sarge was waiting, eyes glittering behind his facemask. “When I say, ‘Move’ I don’t ʼspect you to take all day over it!”
“No Sarge.” There was nothing else to say, especially as he had a point.
“We gotta lay down some diversionary fire. Trust your suit. It won’t fail. Think you can do it? Cos if you can’t, there’s no shame in it. This sliming mess,” he muttered, jerking his helmet towards the fighting, “isn’t normally how we ease newbies in.”
My face burned with shame. While I’d been cowering behind that rock, I’d left him waving in the wind. I should’ve been the one to take out that pirate, not left it to someone else. “I can do it, Sarge. My word on it.” I hefted my weapon, flinching at the bright green readouts winking back at me. Everyone’s firearms around me were mostly showing orange.
I ducked out from behind the boulder. Two pirates had just set up a phase cannon off to the right, which could potentially pin down several of our positions – including ours. However, it was pointed at one of the smallest rocks where a couple of our people were trapped.
As he started shooting, the shielding flared red around it and Sarge’s voice sounded in my eardrop, “If the scumsac gets a shot off at that rock, Claxton and Thursk will be chewing carbonised sand.” He paused as he squeezed off another round. Soon as he stopped, I aimed and fired, swallowing rancid-tasting fear.
Claxton and Thursk were in a world of trouble. The only thing stopping them being blown off the face of the dirtball was our combined firing. Because to fire the cannon, the zilchers would have to drop their shields and so long as Sarge and me kept up our barrage, they wouldn’t risk it. So we thought.
One of the bastards ducked down and bobbed back up, holding up a small boy in front of him and the cannon. They were going to use him as a human shield while they blasted away at Claxton and Thursk. About the same age as Luke, the child was crying as the slimesac jabbed a laser pistol at his head.
“Mine!” Sarge knelt up, steadied his weapon and aimed.
I held my breath, waiting alongside him. As soon as the tell-tale shimmer outlining the cannon and its crew disappeared, I heard Sarge hiss.
OhMotherEarthabove, he’s not going to— But he did. That headshot was the sweetest piece of targeting I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a whole lot since then. The scuzzer slumped forward, knocking the boy clear of the pirate’s outcrop. The child curled in a ball, screaming for his Mummy.
I was on my feet, zigzagging towards him before I thought about it.
How General William Norman was born…
General William Norman, mercenary warlord and most powerful person in Sector Two, first appears in Running Out of Space and while I already knew exactly who he was and what his feelings towards Elizabeth were and why – I hadn’t expected him to take over in quite the manner he did. My initial idea was for him to turn up, cause a fair amount of chaos, which he does, and then leave to run his mercenary warband before popping up again to cause more complications in Elizabeth’s life when she doesn’t need it.
Those of you who have read Running Out of Space know that his intervention at the end of the book brings about a major life-changing decision by Elizabeth, which I didn’t foresee until I’d written the first two scenes in which he features. At that stage, I knew I didn’t want him to be a bit-player in this series. He is too big, too charismatic and overwhelming to consign to a walk-on part.
I also liked the idea of writing a book where the antagonist and his agenda is the engine that drives the plot forward. There is also the irony that when Elizabeth chooses to go and live with him, she believes she is moving towards greater freedom and independence. While he is away, she continue
s to believe this illusion – but once he returns, she gradually realises that his interest in her includes every aspect of her life. Having been brought up in a household where she was more or less left to her own devices, so long as she helped raise her brothers, it simply doesn’t occur to her that the General would concern himself with what she wears, how she spends time and who she spends it with. Therefore, it takes her a while to grasp just how controlling he is – and in the meantime she finds her own career options are being whittled away, again.
I also wanted to avoid portraying a pantomime villain who is simply nasty for the sake of it. While we see him at his very worst – his anger, his spitefulness, his deceit, his
overwhelming need to control the people in his life he cares about – I’d also like to think that readers will appreciate that his love for Elizabeth is very real. And that the tragic loss of his family, who died in a shuttle accident, essentially broke him. As for Elizabeth’s feeling for him – they are complicated. She instinctively responds to his fierce outpouring of love, after having been brought up in a family where there simply wasn’t enough of it to go around. But she loathes his angry outbursts and finds his need to control her increasingly unbearable and as he senses her withdrawal, he feels hurt and furious.
I know that I found writing the final scenes in Dying for Space very emotional – but when someone suggested that there should be another outcome, I simply couldn’t envisage one that felt honest to the characters. Is he a monster? Oh yes – but I hope he also comes across as being all too human, as well.
About the Author
Born the same year as the Russians launched Sputnik, I confidently expected that by the time I reached adulthood, the human race would have a pioneer colony on the Moon and be heading off towards Mars. So I was at a loss to know what to do once I realised the Final Frontier wasn’t an option and rather lost my head – I tried a lot of jobs I didn’t like and married a totally unsuitable man.
Now I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’ll never leave Earth, I have a lovely time writing science fiction and fantasy novels while teaching Creative Writing at Northbrook College in Worthing. I’ve had a number of short stories, articles and poems published – the most recent being my story ‘Miranda’s Tempest’ which appeared last year in Fox Spirit’s anthology Eve of War. I recently signed a publishing contract with Grimbold Publishing for my science fiction novel Netted, which is due to be released in 2019.
I live in Littlehampton on the English south coast with a wonderful husband and a ridiculous number of books. I can be found online chatting about books at my book review blog https://sjhigbee.wordpress.com/ and you’re very welcome to pop onto my website http://www.sjhigbee.com and my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sjhigbeeauthor/.