Did you notice the wording on the image above? Did you notice the word giveaway? Yes, that’s right. I’m giving away three ebook copies of Surrogate: Hunted to celebrate its upcoming release. You’ll have your choice between mobi, PDF, or epub formats, but if you don’t enter you won’t have any chance at all of winning. What do you have to do to enter? Click the link then drop by my Facebook Author Page. That’s it, that’s all. Easy peasy, and you might just win.
Winners will be notified after the contest ends.
With the upcoming release of Surrogate: Hunted, and in the spirit of self-promotion, I am offering the first few chapters of Surrogate: Hunted for free, one per week, until the official release date of March 1, 2018. Four weeks, four chapters. This will introduce you to the world of Surrogate Series and firmly ground you in Etain Ixtii’s life so you can continue after the release date.
Surrogate: Hunted is the second novel in a series of epic, world-spanning, multi-species Sci-Fi. You don’t need to have read the first novel in the series, Surrogate, to follow along. Indeed, each novel in the series can firmly stand on its own, but for your FYI, Surrogate was released March 1, 2017, exactly one year before Surrogate: Hunted will be released.
Last week I shared Chapter One from Surrogate: Hunted. This week I’m sharing Chapter Two.
“Mom! Have you heard?” Eight-year-old Stephanos charged past the guards and through the apartment’s front door, dragging his younger sister Lyallian behind him.
“Why are you home early?” asked Etain. Lyallian dropped her school tablet to hug her mother’s waist. “What is wrong?” Tears spilled from the six-year-old’s big, brown eyes.
“Pala, Diani, and Analeigh are gonna die!” Lyly buried her face in Etain’s hip. “Archer Bellamy said so!”
Dreads, I didn’t want them to know. “Archer Bellamy is wrong.” Etain peeled Lyly away and knelt to see her face. “Pala, Diani, and Analeigh are fine. I have talked to them, and now I am talking to Quineral Dresh.” She pointed to the vid. “See?”
“I only see technical stuff scrolling across the vid.” Stephanos might not have been Leigheas’ biological child, but with his loose, brown, chin-length waves and green-and-amber flecked eyes, he certainly resembled him.
She paused when she saw the back of his head. “You should put Ana’s mane clips back before she returns.” The word ‘returns’ caught in her throat. They must.
He touched the clips and smiled. “I wanted to try them out before I asked for some.”
“So, what do you think?” She tried to sound encouraging, but— she glanced at the screen.
“Can I have some blue ones?”
Blue. Of course. His favorite color. “How about some green ones too?” Thank Medi, he’s not into court trends yet. “Maybe some other colors for your birthday?” Etain enjoyed the human custom. It let her dote on her children individually, giving them each a day of recognition.
“Really?” His smile broadened. “See, Lyly, I told you she wouldn’t mind.” He kissed his sister’s cheek and pointed to the vid. “Dresh wants you, Mom.”
Dresh was calling to her, impatient, as she sometimes was around Etain’s brood. Dresh was Merch’s spouse inside the palace’s private, royal levels, but in the public eye, she was the retired head of palace security, the guard captain Quineral, Akierli Mercine’s advisor and personal bodyguard.
Etain told her children to get a snack and turned back to the vid. “Yes?”
“Safe Harbor observatory has detected a disruption.” Dresh’s normally calm voice split octaves— a sign of stress in a Takla. “An energy wave.”
“Is Terran Trade opening?” The wormhole that linked the Takla-Human Empire to Etain’s people, the Alyward, had been closed so the bosses could update and realign the power structure.
“It’s not Terran Trade.” Dresh peered above Etain’s block. “Your first crossings aside, the bosses always preschedule opening. We still have another six months before it should reopen.”
“Then, what is it?”
“I’m not certain. This wave’s much stronger than anything Terran Trade creates.” Dresh looked to her right. “Yes, Dearest Akierli, she’s still on.” She leaned in. “Merch’s going to contact you.”
“She already is.” Etain sighed when Merch came into view. Dressed in orange spaceralls, her gray hair pulled back in a low ponytail— Merch, royalty or not, didn’t bother with fashion outside of court. Such a beautiful Human inside and out. “What is happening?”
“Hey, sweetie.” Merch touched her vid and winked. “I’m in the situation tank.” Computer equipment and vids spanned the wall behind her.
“I know.” Safe Harbor Observatory’s readings now scrolled across the top of Etain’s vid.
“You see this?” Merch pointed to the top of her vid. An arc of powerful magnetism hurtled toward Takran. Dangerous, but the Empire had deflected much larger waves before they reached Takran or either of its moons.
“It looks to miss Takran.” But Etain still gasped. It wasn’t going to miss the Prepis’ lifeboats. Six tracking markers formed a line in front of the wave. They have breathers, and the lifeboats have weighted, insulated blankets, so they’ll be fine as long as they keep pressure. “How long until pick up?”
“Forty-five— wait. What’s that?” Dresh pointed to the live feed the tracking markers overlaid. “You see it?”
“Yeah.” Merch called for quiet when the operations tank erupted in a mixture of excited Human and Takla voices. Etain touched the aural modifier behind her ear until the Takla voices became clear. A third wave, a rip, a— a new wormhole?
“Are the Alyward experimenting?” Merch glanced at Etain through soft, concerned eyes. She held a special place in Etain’s circle— her imma, her first love on Takran, and her best friend.
“They always notify…” Etain hesitated. “No, the bosses’ openings aren’t anything like The wormhole had opened too fast, and it waivered with instability. She sat at her desk to better see the vid. No, this isn’t Alyward work.
“Could it be natural?” Dresh furrowed her brows as she stared at her vid.
“I don’t think so.” Merch leaned out of the vid’s range to talk to someone. “The new astrophysicist— what’s your name again, please? Thanks. Doctor Kumar says no.”
“It must be the bosses,” said Dresh. A black void appeared on the observatory’s feed. “It’s open.”
This wasn’t a small, controlled wormhole like the bosses maintained. No, this wormhole’s edges were jagged and its rotation— Medi’s tears! It more pulses than turns.
A single red dot appeared on the overlay. “What’s that?” Etain spread her hand across the vid to measure the distance between the dots. Not nearly enough. “Something large crossed.” Large wormholes, ones strong enough to allow ships or other sizable objects through, were still beyond Alyward technology.
“Damn right it’s big.” Merch sucked in through her teeth. “What the hell is that?”
“Ship, vessel, or— I think. Honored Akierli, we honestly don’t know yet.”
Doctor Kumar? Etain didn’t have time to think on it more.
The unidentified craft reached the Tidal with remarkable speed, covering the Tidal’s tracking marker then moving on, leaving no sign of the smaller vessel in its wake. “What the—” Merch’s voice caught in her throat. “Ah…ah, hell.”
“It is gone.” Etain focused on the Prepis and its lifeboats. They’d soon be in range of the unidentified craft. She gripped her desk. You’re our leader, Mercine, our Dearest Akierli. Do something. Please! But Etain knew she, Merch, and everyone watching were helpless to prevent what was happening.
The unidentified craft slowed for a second then took off again, advancing on the Prepis. It disappeared as quickly as the Tidal and seconds later the end of the lifeboat string, the last to leave the Prepis, disappeared.
“There’s nothing close enough to—” Dresh stopped talking.
The second green lifeboat marker disappeared.
“Damn,” whispered Merch.
“No.” Etain placed her fingers over the four remaining markers. You will not go. You will not disappear.
“Four’s gone,” said someone from Merch’s end.
You will not disappear. You will not go. You must come back to me.
“Three.” The voice was Takla.
No! Leigheas! He promised!
“Oh, fuck no!” Merch pounded the table with her fists.
No. No. No. Medi, please. Please! Please! Bring them back to me!
It didn’t help much. Four of six lifeboats were gone. Etain wouldn’t allow herself to calculate the odds.
So, we’ll make some more cubs— no problem there. She-Beast’s voice held the mildest dismay. Quit getting so worked up. Etain had always pictured her beast as a sunken-faced, selfish, dismissive, wanton woman only concerned about her current needs, but recently—
Shut up! I don’t need you here. Etain thought hard about She-Beast running away, but her breed form only stepped back a few paces.
Yeah, whatever. Do your mommy thing. I’ll be back when you’re done. She-Beast faded from Etain’s consciousness.
“Mom?” Stephanos slid his hand into hers. Lyly, her face smeared with peanut butter and bread crumbs, stood on her other side. “All’s well, Mom.” Stephanos laid his head against her shoulder. “Don’t cry.”
I’m crying? Etain touched her face as she looked from her cubs to the screen, watching the red dot retreat toward the wormhole.
“What’s that?” Lyly pointed to the vid.
“Nothing.” Etain muted the sound, but she couldn’t tear herself away. Two dots. Two crafts. Twenty-four people, only one-third of the Prepis’ occupants— unbearable odds for someone with three lives in the balance. “Go clean your faces, please, then go play in the garden. You need the sun.”
Lyly skipped toward the apartment’s large, glassed-in solarium, but Stephanos remained. “No, Mom. You need someone to sit with you.”
She turned the vid so he couldn’t see but kept watching as the mysterious craft crept back to its hole. It left as quickly as it’d arrived, closing the wormhole behind it, leaving the two lifeboats behind.
“Mom?” Stephanos patted her hand.
Such an empathetic cub. She blinked back her tears to see him.
“Lyly’s too little to understand, but I do.”
“You do?” She cleared her eyes with the back of her hand.
“I heard Aunt Merch all the way in the eat-in.”
“You know those words are—”
“Don’t worry. I covered Lyly’s ears.” He peered at her with a seriousness far beyond his eight years. “Pala, Diani, and Analeigh will be home soon. Wait and see.” He climbed into her lap and wrapped his arms around her. “Archer Bellamy’s nothing but a bully.”
“That he is.” She hugged him and peered over his shoulder at the vid. Two dots. The wormhole had closed. Merch and Dresh both peered at her with sad eyes. It’d be a good half-hour before they knew anything.
Merch raised her hand in her love-you sign while Dresh put her finger under her chin and lifted it.
She held fast to Stephanos as she rocked in time with his song.
“Rise Medi, rise. Wake your Boma please.
Pala needs you.
Diani, Ana too.
“Rise Medi, rise. Wake your Boma too.
Can you help her?
She’s your cubbling too.”
Etain stared at the living room clock. It might as well be thirty years.