I always had a storyarc in mind. That is, I had a beginning point, and an ending point. I wrote the last page of book six several years ago, before I sold the last two novels, in fact. I can't believe we're almost to the end of her journey, but I'm also relieved because I've tortured Jax enough for two lifetimes. It's time to give her that happy ending, and I'm ready.
It seems like you’ve got your hand in almost every genre now – science fiction, paranormal, romance and soon YA – which of these is your favorite to write?
I love the one I'm with. *g*
How do you plan to celebrate the release day for Killbox?
Well, I will have just gotten back from Peru the night before, so I'm guessing my celebration will take place in Lima and Cuzco.
KILLBOX came from a line in the first Transformers movie. No, seriously. I'm not kidding. I heard them say:
Who's closer to Killbox One Alpha?And in the dark theater, I nudged my husband, who doesn't like when I talk during movies. "Wouldn't that make an AWESOME Jax title?" He glared at me. Then... "What?" "Killbox." He nodded and shushed me. Thus, I named the fourth Jax novel. True story.
- Send the Hogs, sir.
- Okay, send the Hogs over to Kill Box One Alpha.
It's a danger close... Switch the Hogs to Kill Box One Alpha, 300 feet danger close.
Friendlies in the area.
north of orange smoke!
Received Kill Box One Alpha.
Attack direction west!
You're clear and hot
The first chapter is here. And now I'll offer you an exclusive sneak peak at chapter two.
We’ve been cruising for about four days, heading away from New Terra, when disaster strikes.Whoa. Thank you Ann! Now that's what I call a very long and very satisfying excerpt.
I awaken to the sound of Klaxons. Next to me, March bounds to his feet and starts scrambling into his clothes. His face seems all hard planes in the half-light, softened by the shock of dark hair and his hawk’s eyes. Though this is new to me, I recognize the warning, even without Constance on the comm.
“This is not a drill or a technical malfunction. Your vessel is under attack.” She sounds so polite and unruffled that I cannot help but smile.
My hands feel clumsy as I tug up my black jumpsuit. Mary, it feels good to be back in familiar gear. “What do you want me to do? We can’t jump from here.”
“Check in with Dina at weapons,” he says over his shoulder, already on his way out.
No time for other niceties.
The ship rocks. In a vessel this size, that can’t be good. Even without seeing it, I know we’re taking heavy damage. It doesn’t make sense, though. We’re not a merchantman or a freighter. We’re not hauling contraband, and we’re well off the beaten path.
I take off for the gunnery bay at a dead run. Dina’s already there when I burst in. She’s got lasers, but she can’t work those as well as the particle cannons. We also have old-fashioned projectiles from an ancient rail gun, but those are best directed at personnel attempting to board, not ships.
“I’ll take cannons,” she snaps. “Get your ass in the chair. Besides March and me, you’re the only one with any interstellar live combat experience.”
High praise, indeed.
“Is that why you’re not trying to keep this thing in one piece up in engineering?”
“The only reason,” she mutters. “I hope those clansmen know what they’re doing.”
“How’re we holding up?”
“Better than expected. Our hull’s been reinforced.”
I bring the sighting apparatus down over my head, and suddenly I’m out in space, part of the fight in a way that scares the shit out of me, even though it’s not my first time. I tap the panel, and the system whines, telling me it needs time to power up. This is a hell of a cutter we’re fighting, slim but fast, and outfitted with enough ordnance to destroy a small planet. Whoever these assholes are, they’re serious. To my eyes it looks like a Silverfish adapted for spaceflight, but I don’t know if that’s possible.
Their shots nearly blind me, but they soar wide, striking the Gunnar-Dahlgren vessel far starboard. I don’t know what they were aiming at, but they missed weapons. Maybe our engines?
I can see but not hear Dina’s first volley; she hits the other vessel in a clean blow that takes out the aft shields. This is more advanced than the technology on the Folly, the first ship March ever owned. For a second I can’t breathe because of all the black space around me. There’s no air here.
With sheer will, I choke it back and tell myself this is only a sim. Focus on the other ship. The system cycles, then shows ready. I just have to point and shoot.
“Do we want to disable or disintegrate them?”
Before her next shot, Dina taps the comm. “Use deadly force?”
March’s voice fills the room, giving me courage as if he’s beside me. “Confirmed. We are at war.”
That’s all I needed to know. I spin the sight and target the panel where they’re trying to restore shields. A tap magnifies my target, then I fire until the lasers whine, telling me they’re out of juice for the time being.
It’s oddly pretty.
And there’s no boom.
But a panel flies wide. They have a hull breach. We probably do, too, but we’ve given them something to think about.
Muffled through my headgear, I hear Constance on the comm. “I have identified the vessel. According to the registration on the hull, this is the Blue Danube out of Gehenna. Data on the ship is scarce, but I found reference to an unpaid tariff on trade goods.”
“Speak plainly,” I mutter.
“In its hold, the crew had concealed four human females, two Rodeisians, and three male humanoids of unknown origin, possibly from some class-P world.”
Slavers. Well, shit.
It makes sense they’d be getting bolder along with everyone else, and Gehenna does a brisk business in the flesh trade. I just didn’t realize they do it literally. I thought it was more of a rental than a purchase. But what the hell are they doing here in the middle of nowhere?
“Did they have slaves on Tarnus?” I ask.
“Yes.” Dina is too distracted to care I’m prying. “Aren’t those lasers ready to go yet?” She lets fly another burst from the particle cannon, focusing on the weak spot. More bits of metal break off in slow, graceful chunks.
Our ship spins, and I wonder how much damage have we taken. I can tell it’s March or Hit in the pilot seat because we’re taking evasive action that has us rolling and twirling. If nothing else, our fliers outclass theirs.
“Almost. Any critical systems where we’re aiming?”
I can hear the evil grin in her voice. “Only little things like power and life support.”
“No wonder we’re shooting that way.”
Slavers. Random evil. They’re not part of any grand conspiracy. They just want to buy and sell us like livestock.
I’m ready for round two. Red beams burst forth, slicing the dark between the pearly gleam of our hulls. Luck or Dina’s calculations—either way, I hit a stress point, and the back half of the ship cracks wide, the stern going dark, adrift in space. At that point, the Blue Danube starts trying to pull away from the fight. Their engines are crippled, which is a good thing; otherwise, they’d leave us sniffing their trail.
There could be slaves on that ship.
I wonder if March has thought of that. It reminds me unpleasantly of Hon’s Station, where he tried to save people who were beyond hope of rescue. In doing so, he proved himself a hero, but he also endangered all of us. Back then, it never would’ve even occurred to me to look. But now, here I sit, worried that we might be blowing innocent people to cosmic dust.
My breath skitters. I shouldn’t say anything. I absolutely should not.
Even as I think it, there’s a warm tingle at the back of my neck. He’s there. The gun bay must be just below the cockpit, or he wouldn’t be able to do this. His gift has a limited range.
What’s wrong, Jax? You’re worrying me.
No turning back now. There could be innocents on that ship.
His surprise crackles through me like footsteps on fresh snow. I know what I’ve done. Seconds later, I hear his voice on the comm. “Dina, belay the order for deadly force. We have to board.”
“Are you out of your mind?” she snarls.
“No,” he answers. “Take out engines and weapons array if you can. I’ll get the tow cables on them to hold ’em still.”
“You heard the man,” she says, yanking the headgear off me. “He wants precision, and for that I need lasers. I guess you’re done here.”
“I’ll go prepare the boarding party.”
“You’ll need me,” Dina calls. “Don’t leave without me.”
I’m already thinking about who else we should take. Hit, March, and Vel for their hand-to-hand skill, Doc in case anyone is wounded. Dina and I round out the group. Of them all, I’m the most expendable. That’s an interesting sensation.
Once I’d have protested the stupidity of this. We should’ve just blown them to atoms and gone on to Emry Station. For good or ill, I don’t think that way anymore.
It doesn’t take me long to assemble my gear: shockstick, torch-tube, a few packets of paste. You never know when that will come in handy. If we manage to save anyone over there, they might be starving. Slavers aren’t known for their kindness.
Once prepared, I head over to the hatch to wait. With the tow cables in place, we’ll launch the boarding apparatus and connect to their hatch doors. Vel has the expertise to get us in, even from the outside. I pull on the full-compression suit but leave the helmet off. It gets sweaty in there fast, and I don’t want to wear it longer than I have to.
I’m slightly queasy over the idea of entering the boarding array. It’s no more than a few thin centimeters of an alloy allegedly perfected for use in space. Seeing how Farwan “perfected” other technology, it leaves some room for concern.
One by one, I notify everybody who’ll be going with us. I don’t need to check with March on that. I know he’ll agree with my call. Too many, and we’ll hinder each other in the close confines of the smaller ship. Too few, and we won’t have the skills we need to make this work. It’s a delicate balance.
Maybe that’s the mistake we made on Hon’s Kingdom. We tried to do it on our own. I just hope history’s not repeating itself because it was my idea this time.
Now that you all are pumped up for Killbox, Ann was kind enough to offer up one SIGNED copy of Killbox to one lucky commenter. Just fill in the form below and let me know what your favorite science fiction series is. This giveaway is for US residents only and will end Monday, September 13th.
Looking for more chances to win? Ann's got many, many other great prizes up for grabs - head on over to her blog for all the contest details.