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
EXCERPT – Dying for Space
The big downside of being early for the banquet was that I had to do the meet and greet, smiling at a bunch of strangers till my face felt fit to fall off.
The General’s arm around my shoulders felt heavy as he hefted me towards him. “Allow me the pleasure of introducing my daughter, Elizabeth. She’s just finished her Officer Training.” His hug tightened.
I struggled not to spill my drink.
“She’s taking to our life here faster than a tachy-probe,” Norman’s baritone boomed around the room.
I continued grimacing at the soft-handed, paunchy man, whose name slid past me, while I was busy trying to relax against Norman’s bulk and mentally blessing Fina’s insistence that I wear flat-soled slippers till I got used to dragging around in these long skirts.
“Delighted to meet you, Elizabeth. So, you’ve served with your father’s troops, have you?” His lips peeled into a smile-shape, but there wasn’t a hint of friendliness in his eyes.
He’s a predator. “That’s right.”
Norman suddenly leaned away from me, as David, looking strained, mumbled in his ear.
“My apologies. It appears that I’m needed elsewhere.” He nodded at the bloke and kissed me on the cheek. “Look after our guests, sweetheart.” And with that, he was gone.
Leaving me stranded with this chap, as cosy as a butterfly in a black hole. I’d better not mess this up. Norman might figure I’m a social liability and shunt me off to some fancy school where they teach stuff like how to host these sorts of banquets and which knife to eat off.
“So.” He eyed me up and down. “You’re Elsbeth’s replacement, eh? And where did the old man dig you up from, then?”
I blinked. Whatever they thought, people usually didn’t speak of Norman in such terms and certainly not when a guest at his table. My wariness of this man spiked into dislike. “I’m what is known in polite circles as a love-child.” I gave him my version of Norman’s lethal grin. “But doubtless, you’d call me a bastard.”
“I was going to enquire whether your daddy had bothered with a full DNA screening, but I now see the family resemblance.” He sniggered. “You going to put as many kinks in his airhose as your dear, departed sister, then?”
What kinks? He only ever talks about her with tears in his eyes. I sipped my drink to cover my confusion. “Fathers and daughters, you know how it is. Have you any children?”
“I’m delighted to say – no.” Distaste crawled across his face.
The words I’d heard a thousand times growing up in an English ship-trading family leapt to my lips. “What a tragedy to be the last of your genetic line.”
His high-pitched bray had others looking round. “And there was me thinking I was going to be sent comatose listening to the babblings of a vac-brained teen.”
Don’t know why – I’m twenty-one.
He tittered once more, before adding, “My, my. Does William know what a sharp-edged piece of work he’s dragged into his orbit, I wonder?”
As he didn’t appear to expect an answer, I took another mouthful of wine.
“Ah, there you are, Harold. Delighted you could make it.”
I spun round to face an immaculately dressed gentleman. Rick Kelbee. I’d only spoken a few times to him as our paths hadn’t crossed while I’d been training. But he was the most important man at Restormel, behind Norman and George and the last time we’d met was at that first, disastrous banquet.
He shook Harold’s hand, before turning to me and kissing me on the cheek. “Hallo, my dear,” Rick managed to sound as if we were lifelong friends. “May I say how beautiful you’re looking this evening? I look forward to catching up on all your exploits over dinner.”
“It will be my pleasure,” I mumbled and slurped another mouthful of wine, wishing I was anywhere else in the galaxy just now.
Rick sighed. “Sadly, I have to scoop Mr Gadenson away. Business, you know how it is. I’ll bring him back as quickly as I can.” He herded Gadenson towards the entrance, his tone impersonally polite, “General Norman has a truly impressive garden here in the grounds. I understand that you’re…” his voice faded into the background chatter.
I looked around, suddenly conscious of my duties as hostess. However, Fina was surrounded by a cluster of admiring men who were rocking with laughter, so she clearly had it all under control. The only two not orbiting her presence were huddled together, busy comparing tabware. Or swapping porn, perhaps. Whatever they were up to, they didn’t appear to need me crashing in on their conversation.
“Evening, Elizabeth. Welcome back.” Turning towards him, I felt a rush of gladness that George had arrived.
Why? Don’t know Norman’s Number Two particularly well. I couldn’t shake the sense that now he’d turned up, everything would be easier, though. “Good evening.”
His smile faded as he tracked Rick Kelbee and Harold disappearing through the French doors into the garden. “I wonder what Rick and Harold Gadenson have to say to each other that couldn’t be discussed in here?”
“Business, apparently,” I said, taking another large swallow of wine. And then woke up. “Harold Gadenson. Are we talking ‘Stay Safe with Gadenson’s Shields’?” I sang the jingle, which tinkled every time their combat suits were unwrapped. Before they were disabled with a laser butt. Or a boot. Or any available hard object. It had to be the most irritating noise in the universe. And now, I couldn’t get the tune out of my head.
“Wondered if you’d pick that one up.” George’s approving grin warmed me as he gestured towards the door. “Shall we find out whether Harold is really a rose lover?” With a formal bow, he offered me his arm and escorted me out of the banqueting hall and down the corridor to his study. George swiped the lock and performed an eyeball, palm and spit scan, then ushered me inside as the door hissed open.
I s’pose my expectations had been shaped by the Cap’s stripped functional den. But this… the desk was littered with all sorts of knick-knacks that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Aunty Sosha’s cluttered cabin, while the walls were a montage of parchpics, holos and vids. There didn’t seem to be any order. Formal images of the Corps were alongside off-duty, family scenes, which mingled with Norman and/or George posing alongside presidents and heads of state.
Queasy at the seething mass of movement, I sank into the nearest chair. “This is homely.” How in holed heavens does he work amongst this muddle?
George grinned, clearly pleased at my comment. “I spend large chunks of time in here, so I like it cosy.” He crossed the room, his fingers dancing across the securilock and a screen sprouted out from behind the heaving images.
I watched the two dots coalesce into human figures. Number Two grunted in satisfaction as he toggled with the handheld and Rick’s smooth voice rolled out into the room, “…particularly fine scent, especially on a summer’s evening. Sadly, of course, our somewhat damp climate here doesn’t especially agree with this rose, but if you cut it—”
I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. It was alright. Gadenson is a sour slimer who one day will probably poison himself with that venomous tongue of his but—
“Lose the plant cant, why don’t you?” his drawl cut through Kelbee’s patter like a laser through spongeweed.
Rick’s voice got louder. “Whereas, this…” I nearly missed his muttered undertone, “What d’you think you’re doing?”
“I was invited. How about you?”
“Stale the sappy comments for someone who cares, you clone-head.” Even Kelbee’s abuse was elegant.
“And if I hadn’t turned up? How would that have looked? Or hadn’t you got as far as considering that one?” Gadenson did contempt very well – it certainly got to Rick Kelbee.
“Except you turn up clearly mashed, and start jabbering at her.”
That’s me he’s talking about.
“Whereas he might play the part of a thug-brained space chimp, but he’s sharp.”
And that’s Norman.
“And if we—”
White noise sizzled through the study.
As he killed the sound, George looked across at me, eyebrows raised. “Now, why d’you think they needed to continue that little chat with an activated scrambler?”
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
AUTHOR GUEST POST
The importance of food and dining in the Sunblinded trilogy
by S.J. Higbee
Anyone who has read much science fiction and fantasy will know the importance of worldbuilding and how different authors tackle this. As my writing is very much character-led, I tend to provide only the information that Elizabeth knows, so there are large areas of Restormel, the mercenary HQ, we don’t see or hear about because she doesn’t go there. However, initially she is keen on her food. Elizabeth is slightly underweight and though she doesn’t actually come out and say so, during her upbringing she regularly went to bed hungry so the boys could eat when her mother’s drinking problem was at its worst.
Her table manners are poor – something she becomes all too aware of in the early days of the General’s formal banquets. These meals are crucial, as it is the one time in the day when all the key people, particularly General Norman, his deputy George and Elizabeth are all together in a formal setting. When the General loses his temper over the meal, Elizabeth is essentially trapped. She needs his permission to leave the table, which he certainly isn’t going to give while he is yelling at her. So these meals increasingly become conflict points as their relationship steadily deteriorates.
Food is also part of my worldbuilding. General Norman is fond of real meat and plenty of it – an almost undreamt-of luxury in an age where most food is highly processed and freeze-dried for ease of movement and to ensure maximum nutrition. However, Norman is no fine diner – his taste runs to large slabs of steak swimming in a rich sauce with a speck of real salad to demonstrate he can afford it. He also enjoys traditional English puddings such as treacle sponge, suet pudding and apple pie drenched in clotted cream – which is why despite his enhanced physique, he is on the portly side of well-built.
Norman is very concerned that Elizabeth gains weight, which she does quite rapidly. But this doesn’t stop his constant remarks about how skinny she is and how she still needs feeding up. This unsettles and worries Elizabeth, until it becomes apparent that her dead half-sister had a far fuller figure. As tensions rise throughout the book, Elizabeth’s appetite suffers and she regularly cannot finish her food. However, she has become addicted to fresh-ground coffee – another huge luxury – which she begins drinking in industrial quantities to keep awake while tackling the ever-present backlog of work that constantly stacks up.
Another main character is Rick Kelbee, the Director of Procurement and the third most powerful person at Restormel. He also enjoys farm-raised food, but ensures the meals served down in Procurement are properly balanced with plenty of fresh vegetables. While he has nearly the same resources as Norman, his tastes are more refined and the meals he presides over are better quality and more enjoyable as he is an excellent conversationalist and host.
I think you can learn a great deal about people and their attitude towards food, which I find fascinating. I hope this is a layer of characterisation that readers also find interesting and have also provided an article during this tour of my top five favourite books that feature food as part of the worldbuilding.
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/.