It''s 2208 and the universe is on the brink of war. Only a few brave outlaws stand between our world and annihilation - and frankly they''ve been in better shape . . .
Dax and Jinn may be together again in body, but Jinn fears that the distance between them will never be bridged. Her love for Dax remains strong, but their experiences on Sittan cannot easily be forgotten, and the tension between them threatens everything she holds dear. Luckily, there''s no time to dwell on her failings - for they are running out of time . . .
The Sittan are rampaging through neutral space, coming ever closer to Earth, and the government does nothing, frozen by bureaucracy, ignorance and fear. Ferona may be down, but she''s far from out - and she is as ruthless and determined as ever. Meanwhile, the deadly Shi Fai wait for a chance, any chance, to claim more of their shared universe.
With enemies on all sides, Jinn is driven to embrace the extraordinary power she''s been holding at bay. The mysterious living metal Virena may well hold the secret to ending the war and saving her species . . . but in letting herself go, will Jinn lose her own humanity?
Join other readers in discovering the thrill of the Second Species:
''I read it within a day because each chapter left me desperate to find out what happened next. It''s sexy, action packed and it was easy to get sucked into the world created'' Amazon reviewer
''A really fun, fast-paced read in an interesting universe'' Cat Rambo, author of Beasts of Tabat
''A lot of fun . . . lives and breathes through its characters - burdened as they are with loves and hatreds, guilt, fears . . . Sets things up for an explosive finale'' Blue Book Balloon
''I was addicted from the first page! An intriguing story line with interesting characters and a different view of the future and of space travel'' Amazon reviewer
''This is one fabulous Sci-Fi story with a brilliantly well realised futuristic world'' Reading Revelations
''A thrilling adult sci-fi adventure set in 2187 with a backdrop of a dying earth, space travel, aliens, technology and fabulous space pirates. The cast of characters are an eclectic mix of personalities with questionable morals, hang-ups and conflicts that are brought to life with vibrant description, thrilling action and humour'' Amazon reviewer
*Perfect for fans of Jessie Mihalik and Tricia O''Malley*
Release date: July 16, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Print pages: 352
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Colony Seven, Earth-controlled Space
A year ago, Jinnifer Blue would have said that gatecrashing a meeting of government ministers on Colony Seven was ridiculous. She’d already made more than enough reckless decisions in her life. Running away from home at eighteen and signing up for genetic modification followed by pilot prosthetics. Taking a job on a crappy freighter for minimal pay and no holidays and sticking with it even though she’d been hated by everyone else on board because she was Dome-raised. Then taking a job with the Security Service where she was hated by everyone she worked with because she had genetic modifications and prosthetics. Returning to Earth thinking she could persuade her mother, Ferona, to put an end to the Second Species programme and stop selling human slaves to their alien neighbours.
She had learned since then that fate had a wicked sense of humour. It seemed that her life was destined to travel down a path that was neither safe nor easy. It didn’t matter how hard she tried to avoid trouble. It didn’t help that when the difficult choices presented themselves, she invariably went for the most difficult option, but given that other people seemed to drift easily through life without ever encountering pirates or murderous aliens, it couldn’t be entirely her fault.
‘I don’t like this colony,’ said the man lying to next to her. They were on the roof of a three-storey building, the wind howling over them. They’d been in position for an hour and Jinn’s feet were starting to go numb. ‘Too flashy.’
‘Ah,’ Jinn said. She settled herself a little deeper into the crevice between the edge of the building and the ventilation stack. ‘I see.’ She lifted her binoculars to her eyes and zoomed in on the building opposite, a squat, low-slung block with a flat roof and an awful lot of cameras.
‘Remind me why we’re here again?’ he continued.
Jinn lowered her binoculars, turned her head, and looked at him. He was wedged in so close to her that she could feel the heat from his body seeping through his clothing and into hers. Caspian Dax, part human, part alien, all pirate, once her lover and now something she didn’t have a name for, had always been prone to asking challenging questions. ‘We’re here to gatecrash the ministerial meeting due to take place in that building in approximately thirty minutes.’
‘Hmm,’ he said. ‘And why are we doing that?’
‘We’re doing it because Sittan deathships are burning their way through neutral space and we can’t stop them. We’ve tried. We need help and we’ve come here to ask for it.’
‘You don’t think we should do it?’
‘Oh, I definitely think we should. I just hoped the plan was better than I remembered.’
Grief had brought them here, an awful mix of death and desperation. Humans and the Sittan had been at war for six months. She and Dax had spent that time in neutral space, jumping from station to station, trading post to trading post, trying to avoid the Sittan ships, seeing all too often the devastation that those ships left behind.
Breathing got difficult for a moment. Jinn rubbed the back of her hand against her eyes and reminded herself that that was why she was here; for all the people who had died and who would continue to die if the government didn’t do something. They couldn’t fix this problem by ignoring it. Eventually, the Sittan would run out of humans to kill in neutral space, and there was only one place they would go after that.
The street below was surprisingly busy. Droids rushed around, sweeping the pavement, polishing the windows. Two large troughs of deep purple flowers were wheeled into position next to the doors. Armed Security Service agents, immediately recognisable due to their familiar grey uniforms and pale hair, stood chatting, oblivious to the scurrying of the droids.
‘There’s a roller approaching,’ Dax said quietly.
Jinn followed the direction of his gaze and found it. It was a long, twelve-wheeled vehicle that seemed to ooze rather than roll, shiny sides reflecting a mirror image of its surroundings. It eased to a halt right in front of the building. The agents snapped into position. They looked like they were prepared for trouble.
But Jinn and Dax were prepared for them. Dax’s coat was woven from a heat-shielding fabric that would mask the thermal signature from their hot Type One bodies. And the small black cube that Dax had positioned on the rooftop just in front of them would block any camera drones. They had no blasters, no weapons that would give off a signal that could be easily detected. They were pirates. Not amateurs.
Jinn had been to this Colony before. Her mother had an apartment here, and Jinn had been sent to it for a holiday twice a year, with her nanny droids in tow. It had made an exciting change from Earth when she’d been six. She’d liked all of it. The flight. The tall, glossy buildings, the shops, the museums, the play centres. It had all seemed so otherworldly and glamorous. She’d had dreams of coming to live here as an adult, imagined herself taking a job with one of the banks or the investment firms that had their offices here, living in a beautiful hundredth-floor apartment. It was what Ferona wanted for her, and as a naïve six-year-old, pleasing her mother had been the most important thing in her life.
Things were different now. She was different. Seeing the colony through adult eyes made her notice all the little things that weren’t quite right with it. It was all too clean, too perfect. Everyone was tall and thin and pale-haired and dressed in the same expensive way. Every building was the same. These people weren’t free. They were trapped inside this world of their own making, doing jobs that had no real meaning, not daring to put a foot wrong in case they were thrown out of the exclusive club that was Colony life.
The main city was to their left. The buildings were just like the people, all purposefully tall and thin, with gardens growing in rings around the outside. Even from a distance it was obvious that the trees were beautifully healthy, but then they would be. Sickness and death weren’t allowed here. At the far edge of the city, trucks and building equipment were zooming around, erecting more of those tall buildings. Without their greenery they looked stark and industrial. Their skeletal insides reminded Jinn of the workings of a freighter, one she’d seen broken apart and burning in space a long time ago.
‘Why are they building here? It doesn’t make any sense,’ she said to Dax.
‘Nothing rich people do makes any sense.’
Jinn said nothing. Too many of their recent conversations had come to this. Rich against poor. Dome versus Underworld. She’d thought they had moved past those differences. She’d been wrong. Sometimes she was glad of it, because she was very afraid that without those reminders, she would ask him a question she did not want the answer to, such as Do you still love me? Are you really glad that I came for you? Should I have left you there?
The roller pulled away, and another one slid in to take its place. More dark-suited men got out and hurried inside. The agents surrounded the car and the doorway. ‘I can’t tell if they’re there to stop people from getting in or to stop the ministers from getting out,’ she said.
‘Does it make any difference?’
‘I guess not.’
Dax lifted his own optics to his eyes. ‘The drones are circling the perimeter in a pattern. There’s a gap.’
‘How long will we have?’
He counted. ‘Twenty-two seconds to make it to the roof.’
‘Is that long enough?’
‘It’ll be tricky, but I think we’ll manage.’ He folded up his optics and slipped them into his jacket pocket.
Jinn pushed hers up onto the top of her head. She risked one last look down at the street below. She blew out a long breath.
‘Ready?’ Dax asked.
He moved to a crouch and gestured to the building. ‘After you.’
‘Thanks,’ she said, not meaning it in the slightest.
She got to her feet. She kept her knees bent, trying to keep her body low and out of sight. She’d survive the jump, there was no doubt about that. But knowing it and persuading her body to do it weren’t the same thing. She took a deep breath, held it. And jumped.
The fall was both incredibly slow and incredibly fast. The air rushed past her and so did a camera drone. She smacked it out of the air. It flew away to the left, spinning madly, disappearing out of sight right as the roof of the building rushed up to meet her. The drone had distracted her and she’d forgotten to kick her skyboots on.
It didn’t matter. The Virena flew from her hands in a gentle cloud, slowing her speed. It was like sinking into thick air. She hadn’t asked it to, hadn’t willed it to move, had only a split-second thought that she was going to go straight through the roof and make a far grander entrance than she had intended, and it had responded.
It caught her off guard and she stumbled a little on landing, the impact singing up through her legs as she willed the Virena back into her hands before Dax could see it. He was only seconds behind. He hadn’t forgotten to fire his boots, and they settled him gently, silently down.
‘Messed up your landing,’ he pointed out.
He smiled just a little and gestured to the vent at the centre of the roof. They moved silently towards it. Heat rippled up through it, distorting the air just above. Dax tucked his fingertips under the edge and carefully pulled it free. It was a metre across, a huge, heavy thing, and yet he handled it as if it weighed nothing.
Jinn looked down into the shaft and sighed. ‘There better not be anything living in this.’
‘Only one way to find out.’
She peered down into the shaft. It was too dark to see much, but the scans that Dax had done of the building had indicated that this was their best way in. ‘I think you should go first.’
‘Need your blades, I’m afraid. In case there’s something living in it.’
Jinn said a few choice words inside her head. She held out her hand. Dax took it. He lowered her down, fingers gripping hers, until she was able to jam her boots against the sides of the vent and hold her weight. Then she eased her way down to the bottom.
Below her, she could see the central meeting room, the huge round table in the middle, and she could hear the low babble of male voices. She carefully stretched out a hand. Dax thought she still had her Tellurium. He didn’t know that it was gone, entirely replaced by Virena, the strange living metal she’d brought with her from Sittan. Jinn intended to keep it that way.
She willed out a blade. Another low rumble of voices drifted up through the mesh. They sounded terribly calm. But that wouldn’t last. She was about to throw a great big Type One-shaped spanner in the works. She counted down. Three. Two. One. Then she cut the mesh away with a quick swipe of her hand, jerking her ankles together in the same instant so that she fell straight down into the room below.
She didn’t mess up her landing this time. Stunned, pale faces stared up at her. ‘Good afternoon, Ministers. Sorry to interrupt. But I wasn’t sure how else to get your attention.’
A stride to the edge of the table, kicking an info cube and a glass of water out of her way as she did so. A short hop down to the floor. It was the work of a moment to throw some Virena at the doors and lock them. The men gathered around the table finally rediscovered their voices and began to wave their arms and shout. Someone yelled for security. But unfortunately for them, both agents and droids were on the other side of the locked door.
And then Dax dropped down into the room. The table cracked as he hit it. The gathered ministers rushed back as the two halves of the heavy table went their separate ways, throwing workpads and comm. units at the walls before thumping down against the floor. Spilled drinks formed dark puddles on the carpet. The temperature in the room seemed to rise ten degrees.
‘Please don’t hurt us!’ someone shouted, their voice high-pitched with panic.
‘Trust me,’ Dax said. ‘I’m not the one you need to worry about. She is.’ He gestured to Jinn. ‘Everyone, please calm down. We don’t want to hurt you. We just want to talk.’
‘We’ve got nothing to say to you, underworld scum.’
‘Sit down,’ Jinn told them. A couple of them did as she said, but not all. So she said it again, more loudly this time. ‘Sit down!’
It took them long enough, but they finally seemed to get the message. She could tell by their faces that most were shocked. Some were angry, and they showed it in bulging veins and white-knuckled fists. Jinn suspected that had she been there on her own, at least one of them would have tried to take her on. But all of them were intimidated enough by the sight of a huge, Underworld-raised space pirate to keep quiet.
Jinn had practised this, had prepared for it, but now that she was here, she found that the words she’d intended to say were no longer the right ones. They were too polite, too measured. They didn’t convey the enormity of what she felt now that she stood in a room with these self-interested cowards.
She pulled a holosphere from her pocket and flipped it into the air. It spun, then settled in a steady hover and switched itself on. A map of neutral space burst from it. She could see space stations now, fuelling stations, trading posts. And the red lines crossing out all those that had already been hit.
‘This is neutral space,’ she said. ‘These are all human-occupied places in neutral space. And these are all the ones that the Sittan have already taken. Look at them.’
A few heads turned.
‘Look at them!’ she yelled. ‘People died on these stations! You left them alone and unprotected, and the Sittan slaughtered them. Why aren’t you helping them? Why aren’t there Security Service ships in neutral space? At the very least, you should be transporting people home to buy time until you sort this out.’
One of the men got to his feet. The others remained silent. ‘Jinnifer Blue,’ he said. ‘And Caspian Dax. That is who you are, isn’t it?’ His voice was steady, his tone completely reasonable. It knocked Jinn off balance. She’d been expecting a denial, an argument.
‘It is. Who are you?’
The murmur that rippled around the room combined with the flush of colour that hit his cheeks told her that wasn’t the question she was supposed to ask.
‘I’m President Bautista,’ he said. There was a definite edge to his voice now. The flush was still there, just under his skin, but he was more in control of himself than anyone else in the room. This was a dangerous man. ‘I don’t know how you got past the security outside,’ he continued. ‘Quite frankly at this point it doesn’t really matter. You won’t be leaving. But I have to say, I find myself a little disappointed.’ He looked her over. ‘I thought you’d be a little more … intelligent.’
‘We did not start the war,’ the man said, as if that absolved him of all responsibility. ‘And what happens outside of Earth-controlled space is not our concern. Earth’s government has one job, and one job only, and that is to manage things on our side of the border. It is up to the senate to deal with neutral space.’
‘The senate is not doing anything either!’
‘Then there is nothing to be done.’
‘People are dying,’ Dax said. His tone was chilling. And for a moment, Jinn saw a flicker of fear in Bautista’s eyes. ‘And you are letting it happen.’
‘Our focus has to be on protecting Earth-controlled space. Protecting our border. I am sorry for those beyond it, but we cannot help them.’
‘You are choosing not to.’
‘What would you have me do?’ Bautista asked. ‘I have a dying planet to contend with. You talk about the people in neutral space as if they are the only ones who matter. There are people dying on Earth right now. What about them?’
‘You could at least send ships to bring people back to Earth-controlled space.’
‘And who will pay for that? Who will pay for their food rations and medications? Their housing? I must also point out, Ms Blue, that many of those living in neutral space have warrants out for their arrest. Who will pay for the additional prison space that will be needed for them when they reach Earth-controlled space?’
‘You could just cancel the warrants.’
‘And have Bugs and criminals running free? I don’t think so.’
Jinn had known, when they came here, that it was unlikely that she would be able to persuade any of these men to help. But she had wanted to stand in a room with them and make her case. She had wanted to hear for herself that they had no intention of helping the people in neutral space.
‘It doesn’t matter what people have done,’ she told him. ‘Not any more. We have to stop dividing ourselves into them and us. We have to stop thinking that Dome is better, that rich is better, that the people who have genetic modifications so they can work in the mines are inferior to people who have genetic modifications to get rid of the family nose. The Sittan are coming, President Bautista. Soon, they’ll be done with neutral space. I know. I’ve been tracking them. And then they’ll come here. What will you do when the Sittan cross the border? Because they will. What will you do?’
She could feel fury burning within her, and didn’t know how much longer she would be able to control it. She wanted to tear this place apart. She could feel the Virena responding to the rush of emotion, encouraging her to act on those feelings, but she pushed it back, refusing to let it distract her.
‘The Sittan will not cross the border.’
‘Of course they will!’
Bautista shook his head, laughing a little. ‘No alien ships have ever crossed our border, and they’re not about to start doing so. We have control of the jump gates and every part of the border is being patrolled.’
‘What makes you think you can stop the Sittan from crossing the border when you couldn’t stop me? I flew my ship straight past your patrols. It wasn’t even searched. You’re not safe. You’re an easy target.’
‘They didn’t stop you because you’re not a threat.’
‘Not a threat?’ Jinn asked in disbelief. ‘Do you not understand what I am?’
‘You’re a mistake,’ he said.
‘No,’ she corrected him. ‘I am the only thing standing between you and annihilation.’
‘You?’ he laughed. ‘A fugitive who aligned herself with pirates and criminals? No. I don’t think so. This war, if you can even call it that, will burn itself out in neutral space. It is not our concern.’ There was a little white dot of spit on his bottom lip. Jinn couldn’t stop looking at it.
She knew that there was nothing she could say that would change his mind. He wasn’t nearly frightened enough for that. Not yet. And if she killed him, which she could, easily, someone just the same would step up and take his place.
But she wanted him to remember this meeting, this moment. She wanted him to look back in the months to come and know that he’d had the chance to form an alliance, a chance to act, and had chosen not to.
She walked right up to him, wondering if he had the spine to hold his ground, and he surprised her by proving that he did. He was a tall man. They were eye to eye. He didn’t like that, she could tell, as he jerked his chin up, his Adam’s apple travelling down and back up again as he tried to make it seem like he had to look down at her. ‘They’re coming,’ she said softly. ‘And when they do, I’ll make sure everyone knows you could have stopped them.’
His face turned purple. ‘You’ll regret this!’ he choked out.
‘Probably,’ she told him.
She and Dax left through the front door.
No-one tried to stop them.
3rd Day of the Seventh Turn
The Palace, Fire City, Sittan
It was dark in the palace. Many of the slaves had ceased to carry out their duties, leaving the fires unlit, and with no-one tending to the sconces, they hung lifeless against the polished stone of the wall. Sand gathered in the unswept corners of the throne room.
Talta sat on her throne, motionless, staring unseeing into the shadows. She ignored the platters of rotting food spread out on the low tables in front of her and the rattle of her beloved Vreen in its cage above her head. Her mind was elsewhere. In all her many turns as empress, she had never been defeated. She had ruled for longer than any other. No-one could match her for cruelty, for determination, for beauty. She had been the best of all of them.
Now, she was …
At the first glimmer of suns on the horizon, she left the palace and went out into the courtyard. She took a moment to stroke her beautiful pets, to admire the dark gleam of their scales. She watched the ascent of the three burning suns that warmed her planet. The heat sank into her bones. She was so tired. Her entire body felt heavy, as if her flesh had become stone, even though when she looked at herself, it remained just as blue and just as alive as it had always been.
She made her way to the huge burnished cauldron at the very centre of the courtyard and sank to her knees before it. In the very bottom, only a handspan deep, shimmered the last of her Virena. There was so little left now. She had scarcely more than a guard would carry.
But it was enough. And it still listened to her.
‘Where is she?’ she asked it.
The question had been the same for the last nineteen turns.
So had the answer.
Inside the cauldron, what remained of the Virena swirled and shifted. It resisted when she pushed against it, but eventually it let her in. Her hands disappeared up to her wrists. Talta remembered the days when it would have covered her entire body with barely a push, leaving not a trace of blue. Now it took everything she had just to touch it.
But when she did, it transported her immediately. It took her to all the other places where it existed in the galaxy, to the soldiers she had sent in pursuit of Jinnifer Blue. It brought her death. It brought her the last cries of more humans than she could count, and she savoured every single one of them. She raked through its memories, pulling out everything it had seen and done, everywhere it had been. The females that carried it barely felt her presence. She kept her touch light, or so she told herself, because she didn’t want to distract them.
They were winning the fight, and it was easy. The humans were no match for her warriors. Their ships were pathetic and weak in comparison to the might of a Sittan deathship. Their bodies were soft and useless, and they seemed to have no idea how to defend themselves. Any creature so completely unable to fight for its place in the galaxy deserved to die.
But there was only one human that Talta truly wanted to kill. Jinnifer Blue. The human female had invaded her planet, had fought in the arena and won, and had awakened the Mountain. It burned still. Talta could see it in the distance, the bright fire at the very peak, that steady flame lighting the city below.
Jinnifer Blue had called to the Virena and it had answered. It had denied Talta for so many turns that she had thought it gone, and yet it had answered to Jinnifer Blue.
She searched through the web of Virena, not just on this planet, but beyond, searching the minds of all her females until she found the one she wanted. Grenla’s thoughts shone like a beacon in the darkness. As an empress’ guard, she had greater than usual control over the Virena, and Talta took advantage of it.
How goes the war?
It goes well. The humans fall before us. They bleed so easily. Most of them do not even try to fight. They are soft creatures. Their bodies and their souls are feeble. They beg for mercy. We do not grant it.
Talta’s fingers curled inside the bowl, the Virena hardening as she put pressure on it, its resistance to her increasing. She wanted to feel pleasure at Grenla’s words. There was none. The bargain she had struck with Ferona Blue had been a terrible mistake. She could see that now. Talta had needed males with Sittan blood in their veins, and there had not been enough of them left on Sittan. When Ferona Blue had said that her scientists could splice Sittan and human together and give Talta more disposable males than she would ever need, it had seemed like the perfect solution.
She had been so sure that it would bring the Virena back, that it would awaken the Mountain, sending rivers of that dark, precious substance flowing through the cities once more. But it had failed. Talta didn’t understand it. She had given the Virena blood. So much blood. So why hadn’t it answered? What had Jinnifer Blue done that she hadn’t?
Talta drew in air. She controlled her anger. It wouldn’t help her now.
All Ferona had wanted in return for the males was safe passage for human ships through Sittan-controlled space. Talta had been desperate enough to agree.
But Ferona Blue had deceived her. She had allowed that precious Sittan flesh to be spliced into a female. She had made herself a daughter in possession of immense power, and Talta could not help but believe that it had been deliberate.
The arrival of Jinnifer Blue on Sittan had changed everything. The Mountain had erupted. The Virena had flowed, and it had swollen the rivers. It had repaired the buildings, so long broken, and the palace had been filled with light. The weakening shield that had protected their planet for so long had been recharged. Talta had experienced a reawakening of public support. The females had come to the arena in their thousands. Their support for Talta had been overwhelming.
She had not seen the danger at first. She had thought that she could control the human female, just as easily as she’d been able to manipulate the males. But she had been wrong. In some ways, Talta respected Jinn for what she’d done. Perhaps it could even be said that she admired the human female’s strength, her ability to handle pain, her willingness to kill. She’d even killed Dax.
Only then, when it was too late, had Talta understood what was happening and tried to stop it. But rather than fight her to the end, Jinnifer Blue had left Sittan and taken the Virena and the broken, useless body of Caspian Dax with her.
There had been no choice but to go to war.
Grenla’s voice interrupted that thought.
We are almost at the border. Do you want us to cross it?
And enter Earth-controlled space?
Talta thought about this for a moment. It was certainly tempting.
When you have found her.
We’ve searched everywhere. We do not know where she is.
Then you are not looking hard enough.
Talta had to pull her hands from the pot for a moment so she could breathe, so strong was her reaction. Her rage was almost overwhelming. She controlled it, just, and plunged them back into the dark liquid which bubbled around her fingers.
You must find her.
Talta pulled her hands free of the pot once more and got unsteadily to her feet. The three suns were moving across the sky and the world around her grew lighter still, bathed in the bright orange glow of the early morning. From her position in the courtyard she could see out across her city, and across the barren desert of the Sand Seas. Beyond them lay the other cities of Sittan, none of them as great as hers, but still powerful and well resourced.
So far, they had not openly challenged Talta’s position as empress. But . . .
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