R J Theodore has a new Science Fantasy Steampunk book out: Flotsam. And there’s a giveaway!
Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.
Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.
Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.
Warnings: genocide plots, bigotry, racism, classism, obsessive ex-lover, violence, gore, grief and loss, religious dogma, law breaking, manipulation, hostage situations, claustrophobia, anxiety, frustration, guilt, lies and deception, betrayal
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About the Series:
On a planet cracked open by ancient magic, outlaws and pirates are the only ones with what it takes to save Peridot from its next apocalyptic threat.
Guest Post – Meet Captain Talis, an Airship Pirate with Good Intentions
Flotsam begins a magical adventure through open skies, as the crew of a not-quite-licensed airship salvages an ancient ring from the trash left in the titular gravity trap at the bottom of Peridot’s open space. The simple freelance task will catapult them into a run for their lives and a chance to do more than their usual hand-to-mouth contract work—they just might save the world, too.
The books in the Peridot Shift are as much about people and relationships as they are about treasure and adventure. The crew of the Wind Sabre is a small collection of outlaws, brigands, and outcasts, at least according to official imperial records. But they don’t let those labels from law enforcement define who they are as people, as coworkers, or as friends.
As captain, Talis carries the weight of her world on her shoulders. Or at least the weight of her ship and her crew—she feels responsible for everything from the cargo manifests to everyone’s health and happiness. Of course, she usually lets them have credit for the good and only claims for herself the miss-steps and mess-ups. She covers her insecurity with a lot of swagger and coats her worry in extra coffee and rum.
She might be able to come off as confident and kept-together to Sophie and Tisker, the younger half of the crew, but she’s known Dug for too long and he knows when her swagger is real and when it’s feigned to hide her anxiety. Plenty of off-shift therapy sessions have taken place between captain and first, best mate. Unfortunately, Talis holds herself most accountable for a bit of history she and Dug share, and generally assigns a huge asterisk to the outcome of those therapy sessions, sleeping all the worse for his counsel, not better.
That history is already detailed in Flotsam, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that Dug can’t go home again, and Talis blames herself for that even though she rescued Dug from the consequences of his actions; she didn’t commit them herself.
Perhaps it’s because, long before, she decided she couldn’t go home again, either.
Talis was raised with solid ground beneath her feet, in the relatively comfortable—if somewhat predictable and simple—life of a glow pumpkin keeper, a civil duty performed by her mother, Euphemia. Glow pumpkins are like the lighthouses of Peridot—the giant, bioluminescent gourds keep darkness at bay in Peridot’s skies and their color shifts from gold to lavender help those flying the open skies keep the time. But glow keeper islands are small and remote, meaning Talis and her brother Tam were each other’s only company growing up, classmates and companions and, as many siblings, rivals for everything. That predictable and simple life was one Talis grew weary of, while bedtime stories and the adventure books that teenage Talis ordered with their supply shipments told her of possibilities for a more exciting life, if she could just be anywhere but where she was. She daydreamed in detail about the adventures that awaited her when she could finally convince a visiting ship to take her away with them.
But her pleas to both the ships and her mother for an escape went unrewarded, and Talis was forced to wait until she was of a reasonable age to set off on her own. She joined the imperial service as soon as they’d have her, but instead of beginning an adventurous life on their patrol ships or war ships, she found herself stuck on another island, restricted to the training campus. It had some advantages the glow island couldn’t offer her—she learned combat skills, and higher maths than her mother could have taught her—but she was again stuck in one place. Add to that, she learned a bit more about the Empire than she cared to know, shocked at how counter it could behave to the values she’d been raised on by Euphemia.
She saw only one option: quit the academy before she was committed to years of service. Proud as she was, it was a hard decision for someone at the top of her class to make and, after, meant she felt like she couldn’t just head home again. She was now out in the world, alone and without a career. Since food and lodgings had their price, she had to find some way to support herself, and fast.
Mercenary work appealed to that part of her that was still owed an adventurous life. The morals there were hazy, though, and despite her own intentions and behavior, she knew not all the targets she brought back appreciated her efforts. Here’s about where she started having trouble sleeping, by the way. When some ship captain she encountered mentioned hiring on more crew, she hopped from one career path to another. Being a crew hand didn’t pay nearly as well as the contracts that mercenaries got, but she had saved most of those earnings anyway. Doing honest work on a simple freighter let her sleep again at night, and every spare coin was set aside and eventually paid for her first ship, the Trickster Gale.
And still, she felt like she couldn’t go home again. Dug was part of her crew by now, introduced to her by a mutual friend when Talis was looking for hands to help her manage the Gale‘s many lift balloon lines and moving steam engine parts. But Dug wasn’t close enough to consider her best friend yet when Talis got the letter from Tam that Euphemia was dying. That letter had been rerouted so many times from port to port to find her that a quick inquiry confirmed that, yes, Euphemia had passed away since the letter was written. And Talis hadn’t been there. Now she really, truly couldn’t go home again. There was no home to go to. So she didn’t try. And she didn’t write back to her brother, either.
Even when Dug and Talis had grown much closer, she kept that guilt over failing her mother and brother to herself where it could gnaw at her insides and create room for, as befit her patterns, even more guilt.
So now, Captain Talis of Wind Sabre has a savior complex, certain she can’t ever provide for those whom she feels responsible but refusing to give up on the attempt. Kinda makes her the perfect mark for save-the-world circumstances. Even when she has a crew to support, and a save the world contract never pays well—or, with the right competition following in your tailwinds, doesn’t pay at all.
How will Talis get her crew out of this mess and ensure someone rewards them all with enough silver presscoins—preferably gold presscoins—for this ancient ring?
Find out in Flotsam, Book One of the Peridot Shift, Second Edition, available now in digital and print from your favorite indie bookseller or online retailer.
Flotsam – FLOT·sum
Peridot – PEAR·uh·dote
Talis – TAHL·iss
Euphemia – yoo·FEE·mee·uh
bioluminescent – BI·oh·loom·in·ESS·ent
R J is giving away a $20 gift card to Bookshop.org with this tour:a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Talis descended toward the sparkling layer of trash below her feet. Generations of detritus, coated in frost, shifted slowly and caught the light. She hung in open skies, a tiny dark figure on an impossibly thin thread. Her airship, Wind Sabre, lurked in the shadow of a small island above her like the hoarbeasts that lurked in the garbage below. Around her, the shrapnel of Peridot’s tectonic crust peppered the skies, tiny islands not big enough to park a chair on.
She might have said the chance to do something reckless like this was half the reason she was in her line of work. But there was no one to bluff except her crew on the other end of the comm—Dug, Tisker, and Sophie—and she owed them more than words. She owed them a job that didn’t end up costing more than it paid. She owed them a ship that wasn’t in constant want of repairs. She owed them a ship worthy of being called a home.
A soft click sounded in the comm of her helmet, and Dug’s voice cut through the quiet sounds of her rapid heartbeat and quick breaths. The voice tube transmission made him sound small and far away. “Progressing well, captain. How much farther do you need?”
Talis unclenched her jaw to answer. “I’d guess I’m just about halfway down. Can’t make out any details yet.”
“Understood. There is plenty of length on the winch.” Her first mate’s voice was low and even, though his syllables were tight as a guitar string. Dug was worried.
The bulky descent suit didn’t make it any easier to see the view below her. It was a one-size-fits-all antique, big enough to wear over her clothes. Big enough that Dug, who towered above her and was thick with muscle—could have worn it, if he was so worried. It was designed to keep her body heat in, and it was most definitely doing that. The musty wool lining felt moist after the short time she’d had it on. Her breath fogged the glass dome that protected her from the thin air, even though she wore a scarf over her mouth. Yet her fingers were still getting stiff with the cold. She could have worn thicker gloves if she was just going down to strap up a large object to tow out. But this time her quarry was smaller than that, and thinner gloves provided better dexterity.
From this distance, the garbage below her looked deceptively beautiful. A lazy flow of icy shapes caught the green light from Nexus, and their reflected light sparkled through the fogging on her helmet. It wasn’t hard to imagine why there were so many stories about treasure down below.
And there was treasure down there. Or, reckless or not, she wouldn’t be dropping into it. The flotsam layer was where the dead went to be forgotten. Dead people. Dead ships. Dead technologies. Gravity trapped it all there. Kept it from dropping out of Peridot’s atmosphere on the bottom side and drifting off into the stars. Silus Cutter created the hoarbeasts centuries ago to prowl the frozen wreckage and clean things up a bit with their vicious, crunching jaws and fang-lined throats. Did her god intend for those beasts to prefer the frozen flesh of bodies to the wrecks? She wouldn’t ask if she got the chance; she was here for the latter and glad to have the chance.
If things went wrong, Talis would be on the menu, too. But the contract for this salvage made it worth the risk. She could make a lot of overdue repairs on Wind Sabre with the payoff. Her crew had been enthusiastic about the operation when she proposed it, knowing what kind of money a salvage might bring in. Better than the transport jobs she’d scrounged up of late. Not one of the trio had volunteered to make the descent, though.
“You’re the reckless one, Cap,” Tisker told her at the time. The cheeky helmsman got away with the comment. He always did. His crooked, infectious grin and sparkling, deceptively innocent eyes transformed every gibe into a morale boost.
Details emerged, just a couple lengths below Talis. Large shapes at first. Broken hulls of ships tangled in their own lift canvasses. A roof, a wagon. An old tree trunk. Anything organic or burnable should have been composted or used for fuel, not pitched over island edge. But those hadn’t always been the rules. Seventy-something generations back to the Cataclysm that fractured Peridot and the Re-Creation that made it what it was now. Seventy-something generations of garbage and waste swirled in the gravity trap. And down here, nothing ever decayed.
Soon she got close enough to see movement: the hoarbeasts pulling themselves across the wrecks, their undersides a chaos of tentacles. Their bodies flashing gray and silver in an imitation of the flotsam. They moved above and below the gravity line, scanning the field of garbage with cavernous eyes and probing the jetsam with sensitive, bobbing whiskers. Always in search of fresh additions to the flotsam layer. In search of food. In search of the dead.
And they would find them.
Mostly Cutter folk. Some Vein. Even a Rakkar or two. The Bone fed their dead to the ravens and kept the bones, but still ended up in flotsam. Usually lost with their ships. No Breakers, of course. Their population was finite and, as far as the ages since Re-Creation had proven out, didn’t die of natural causes.
If they couldn’t find dead flesh, they’d be perfectly happy to accept the living.
Continuing to descend, Talis was far too aware of such things. Her brother had tormented her with stories of the hoarbeasts when she was a child, and she grew up convinced they clung to the bottom of her bed the way they latched onto the hulls of airships that flew too low, too close to flotsam. Convinced that their tentacles and their long, sharp teeth would find her in the dark.
In her forties now, and captain of a smuggling ship that had taken on many a perilous contract, she still didn’t sleep with her feet hanging off her mattress.
R J Theodore is an author, graphic designer, podcaster, and all-around collector of creative endeavors and hobbies. She enjoys writing about magic-infused technologies, first contact events, and bioluminescing landscapes.
Her love of SFF storytelling developed through grabbing for anything-and-everything “unicorn” as a child, but she was subverted by tales of distant solar systems when her brother introduced her to Star Trek: The Next Generation at age seven. A few years later, Sailor Moon taught her stories can have both.
She lives in New England, haunted by her childhood cat. Find more information at rjtheodore.com.
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