Sooo... last week I got ARCs of The Good for Nothings!!!
I gotta be honest. It feels a little strange to be celebrating anything given the state that the world is in right now. (BTW I hope everyone is staying healthy!) But I guess life goes on, or at least it goes on as much as possible amid all the COVID-19 closures and cancellations. We need distractions and entertainment and joy now more than ever, so even though I feel a little out of line tooting my own horn, maybe now is the perfect time to share a snippet of my brand new book with you! After all, you're probably stuck at home as much as possible, so why not read something a little zany, amirite?
The Good for Nothings is available for preorder though all retailers by clicking here! The book will be released on August 4, 2020, and in case you need a quick refresher, it's about four misfits (AKA my space babies) who are forced into working together to find an ancient treasure in exchange for having their criminal records expunged. Here's chapter one! Chapters two and three are coming soon, and look out for an annotated ARC giveaway that I'll be doing soon as well!
THE GOOD FOR NOTHINGS
The guard was laughing at me.
This was not part of the plan.
We'd only just begun and already this heist was heading south. Or this job, as my family phrased it. Heist sounded too unethical, and after all, the point of a job was to make money—and that's what we were doing. Making money. Whether or not it was legal . . . well, that was inconsequential.
Today's illustrious venue: the Solar Hall in the Grand Treasury of the icy planet Vaotis.
The plan: While my parents and cousins were busy doing what they did best—skulking in the catacombs, preparing to pull off the biggest robbery in Saros family history—I was in the lobby, doing what I absolutely did not do best, despite my mother forcing me into the role during a shouting match this morning over breakfast. I was given the arduous task of being a distraction to the head security guard. And I was failing.
I often thought of my family's crime empire as belonging to a secret club, and right now, I was dangerously close to having my membership revoked.
"Just hear me out, sir, please. I'm not trying to sell anything, just take a pamphlet."
I shoved a stack of freshly printed flyers at the guard's chest as he loomed over me. All the inhabitants of Vaotis were tall enough to double as skyscrapers, their skin the brownish gray of sludge, thick enough to combat the harsh elements outside the opulent treasury doors. "You may be unaware, but Vaotis is neglecting thousands of innocent creatures every single day. We at the A.R.S.E., that is, the Alliance for the Rescue of Slugs and Eels, are giving a home to the homeless, a voice to the voiceless. They make excellent companions, you know, and we are encouraging all citizens to consider adopting one of these cuddly, docile—"
"You're wasting my time is what you're doing," the guard said in garbled Isolat, the common universal dialect. He ripped one of the flyers into a dozen pieces and scattered them at my feet. Irritation sizzled through me. Slugs made me gag. Eels made me cringe. But stars, I had worked hard designing those fake posters, too hard to stand idly by and watch them be desecrated.
The guard sighed. "I don't want nothing to do with your arse—"
"A.R.S.E.," I retorted.
"Right. That. It's ludicrous. Girl, the last solicitor who couldn't take a hint and leave when they were ordered mysteriously found that their head had come unattached from their body."
"Beeeeep!" At the mention of decapitation, a tiny, frightened sound rose up from behind me.
"What is that?" The guard's lip curled as he finally noticed the little robot hiding behind my legs. "Is that an EL-102.5? That model is ancient. You'd be better off junking it."
"How dare you!" I drew Elio against me, clapping my hands over his long, floppy ears. His appearance was humanoid from the neck down, but the rest of him resembled an Earthan bunny rabbit, with a bulbous silver head, a black button nose, and huge blue sensors for eyes. He had been a part of my family for decades. Most definitely long enough to make him incredibly sensitive about how outdated his android body was.
I tensed as the guard reached out to poke Elio's dented forehead. "Where did you get that thing anyway? Definitely not on Vaotis."
"Neptune," I blurted before my mind could catch up with my mouth. "The dark side. At an antique sale last year."
Elio twitched at the word antique.
The guard stroked his pointed chin. The dark side of Neptune was a dismal wasteland, not exactly a prime destination for . . . antiquing. While he mulled that over, I glanced at the clock hanging on the wall above the doors, wondering when I would receive the comm on my wristband letting me know that my family had made it into the vaults below the treasury. They should have been there by now.
"Wasn't aware they sold bots on Neptune," the guard grunted. He placed one hand lightly on the blaster strapped to his belt, and I felt my pulse quicken. But he only chuckled. "Get out of here, child, while I'm still in a good mood."
"But wait! The A.R.S.E.—"
He turned to go. "I've had enough of your arse, girl."
"No, wait! I don't think you understand just how dire the situation is." I hurried after him as he headed for the security desk, which displayed a whole slew of monitors that I really didn't want him looking at right now. "We're raising awareness for the Relief of the, uh, Alliance . . . No, wait. The Alliance Rescue for the . . ."
Oh, crap. What did I name this fake organization again?
"Alliance for the Rescue of Slugs and Eels," Elio whispered behind me.
"Yes!" I snapped my fingers. "That! Listen, sir, I know that as a species they may be a little slimy, but they're really quite sweet and desperately in need of your attention. In fact, if you'd just review the pamphlet again, you'll find that arse—"
"I thought it was A.R.S.E.?" Elio whispered urgently.
"Not. Helping," I hissed back at him.
I slammed my hands on the guard's desk just as he started to examine the cameras. "Hey! Listen to me!" I screeched, forcing a group across the lobby to pause and watch the spectacle. The louder I yelled, the more guards would be drawn to the lobby to detain me, and the better chance my family would have of making it in and out of the vault undetected. Hit 'em when they're not looking, that's what my mother always said.
But it was one thing to be a nuisance, to be the reason that ten million ritles of gold would successfully vanish into my family's hands without a trace—it was another thing entirely to do the job well.
My hands shook as the guard eyed me up and down before switching his beady gaze to Elio. The aura around the Vaotin flickered in shades of deep mulberry, telltale signs of frustration. My stomach balled into knots; if Elio and I pushed him too far, if we got on his last nerve and he actually had us arrested, we were going to be so screwed.
"Elio." I cleared my throat, glancing at the guard's name tag. "Tell this nice man, uh, Roo, all about your experience with A.R.S.E."
But it was official, Roo'd had enough of us.
"Look, strange child, junky android, if you don't walk out those doors right now I'll—"
Roo peered down at Elio, who barely came up to his knees.
"Beep! Beep! Beeeeeep!"
"What is it doing? Is it malfunctioning? I told you it was ancient."
"No, you're making him upset!" I lunged for Elio, just as a wire sparked near his front-end processor and a gear slowly started to turn in his jaw. I could feel him heating up, each of his sensors pulsing with unadulterated rage. Being called ancient for a second time was just enough of an insult to get him really riled up.
"Listen here, you mean, ugly gray blob!" Elio yelled in his staticky voice. His processing system was so hot that it was a wonder the paneling wasn't melting off his frame. I winced as I gripped him tighter. Heat seared my palms, adding to the years of scars already etched into my skin. Maybe he really was malfunctioning. Wouldn't be the first time.
"It's a known fact that--beep—that androids have one-point-seven trillion times the intelligence level of the human population--beep—and—"
"And where is this intelligence?" Roo asked. "So far you have demonstrated none of it."
I let them go at it, twisting my arm out of Roo's line of sight when my wristband vibrated with a comm from my cousin Blair. I scanned the words quickly, positive I was about to develop some kind of stomach ulcer and die a slow and painful death. This was not going well.
Do something drastic, his message said. There are still half a dozen guards on rotation down here.
Drastic? If I wasn't busy trying to get a stupid guard to join in my completely fabricated cause, then I could have hacked the security system and had them all in and out of the vaults already, but this was the plan they'd wanted to go with. Now I'd really have to take things up a notch.
More social interaction. This was so above my pay grade.
"Hey! You there!" I waved to a treasury employee entering the main doors, and to another exiting the lift against the wall. "And you! Say it with me! SAVE. THE. SLUGS. SAVE. THE. SLUGS." My voice echoed around the cavernous lobby as I chanted. "SAVE. THE. SLUGS."
"Save the--beep—slugs!" Elio joined in.
I leaped onto the security desk, scaring away a new wave of employees that had just entered the lobby. "You, sir, in the suit! Don't run! Ma'am! Join our cause! Yell it loud and proud! SAVE THE SLUGS!"
Drastic enough for you, Blair?
"That's ENOUGH!" Roo pulled his blaster from his belt like he was unsheathing a sword. He brought his free hand up to his mouth and muttered into an armband, calling for backup to aid in our untimely demise.
Like that was going to happen. I was already jumping back down to the lobby floor, motioning for Elio to come closer.
Roo's large face contorted in rage. A black storm cloud swirled around his entire body—the aura of the majorly pissed off. I knew that one well: my mother showcased it to me all the time.
I almost jumped out of my skin as he charged forward, the light at the end of his blaster glowing like a sun. He blocked our path to the door just as more guards burst into the lobby. Six in all. The vaults were clear.
"You should have left when I told you," Roo said with a sneer as the rest of them surrounded us.
"Well, lucky for you," said Elio, "we're adorably stubborn." He took a protective step in front of me, giving me the perfect opportunity to reach into the satchel hanging from his shoulder.
"No, what you are is one move away from being carted to the waste management sector."
Elio hung his head. His ears drooped as he let out a feeble, teary, "Beep."
"And you." Roo rounded on me. "I'm going to need to see some identifica--hey!" He leaned closer. "What's wrong with your face?"
"What do you mean 'what's wrong with my face?'" I wasn't winning a Miss Galactica pageant anytime soon, but I wasn't hideous.
"It's . . . It's flickering."
"What do you mean it's . . . oh no."
Not caring what he would think, I plunged my hand down my shirt and ripped off the paper-thin contraption stuck to my chest. A visual enhancement device I'd invented a few months prior during a particularly dull evening at home. Even though I swore I charged the battery up this morning, the enhancer had gone dead.
Beside me, Elio whimpered. It looked like we were dead too.
What the guard had seen before had been merely an illusion—a plain, slightly rumpled Earthan girl. Certainly not a member of the Saros crime family with our fluorescent yellow eyes and the pointed ears that most citizens on our planet of Condor possessed. But that disguise had gone right out the window, along with Roo's angry aura. As soon as the cloud around his head pulsed bright orange with curiosity, I knew he was looking at me. The real me.
And he knew that I had something to hide.
He pulled the trigger on his blaster.
"DUCK!" Elio and I rolled across the lobby floor, barely missing the red burst of energy that soared over our heads. It connected with the wall, leaving a gaping hole in the stone. The treasury's alarm system blared so loud that it felt like a knife in my brain. White lights flashed along the walls, almost blinding. The group of guards closed in, body armor glinting, blasters raised and ready to annihilate.
"Saturn's rings." Elio tottered to his feet. "I think a few of my bolts got knocked loose. Cora, can you check?"
"Sure thing. After we escape imminent danger, I'll get right on that."
I jumped back up as my wristband buzzed with a second, long-overdue comm from Blair: When I said "drastic," I didn't mean "make things go boom!"
It was followed by a third: Oooh, you're in trouble!
"Don't move!" The guards were blocking us from all sides. There was only one way out. And as far as I could see, that way was to plow directly through them.
I held up my hands to placate Roo as he pointed his blaster at my forehead. "Sorry, okay? We're sorry. We're leaving."
"In chains," a female guard piped up.
"Well, before we do that, I have to ask . . . do any of you happen to have plans for the rest of the day? Meetings to go to? Net programs to watch?"
"No," grunted Roo. "Why?"
"Oh. Splendid." I dropped my arms and shook out my sleeves, letting a homemade stun grenade fall into each hand. "Because you're about to be unconscious for the next ten to twelve hours."
Then I pulled the grenades' pins with my teeth and lobbed the weapons through the air.
They exploded in a pulse of electric blue light and a bang that shook the building to its foundation. The guards toppled one by one, landing in a tangled heap. The noise was disorienting, but it didn't affect me the way it affected them. The reinforced plugs I'd grabbed from Elio’s satchel and shoved into my ears had absorbed most of the sound.
I bolted for the tall doors across the lobby. The blast took them down, but it was the gas that would spill from the grenades within the next ten seconds that would keep them unconscious. I didn't intend to be around to join the party.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of Elio scurrying toward Roo. The Vaotin was on his knees, wavering, but he hadn't collapsed yet. As soon as he fell, Elio tugged the blaster from his hands.
Across the lobby, more guards appeared. They were just about to shoot when Elio raised his stolen blaster and fired, sending them sprawling as half the ceiling crashed down on their heads.
"Sorry about that!" I called as Elio caught up with me and we slammed through the treasury doors.
The air outside felt like a wall of ice. I pulled up the collar of my coat to ward off the cold, but it didn't help. Snow stung my cheeks, numbing them instantly.
A few guards were left standing and were giving chase. I could feel their presence even if I couldn't see them through the swirls of snow and sleet; the glow of four warm bodies pulsed like amber lights through the ice.
Elio grabbed my hand and yanked me sharply to the right, his stubby legs working overtime. "Serpentine! Serpentine! We'll be harder to shoot!"
He swung the blaster behind us and pulled the trigger. An explosion and a chorus of screams greeted us as our feet pounded the crowded city streets of Vaotis. "This thing is awesome! I feel so cool. I can't believe you said that you bought me at an antique sale!"
"Can you hold off on being offended for, like, the next ten minutes maybe? We're in a bit of a sticky situation here."
"But, Cora, an antique sale?"
"Ten minutes, Elio. Just until we get up into the sky."
We sprinted around the street corner, sending snow flying in our wake. I'd poorly parallel parked my pod ship—our getaway vehicle—at the end of the block, between a row of pubs and a security station, which in hindsight was probably the worst place I could have left the thing. The puny, dented ship was covered in a thick layer of snow, but it had something else lying on it too. As I leaned against a nearby streetlight, catching my breath, Elio plucked a wet piece of paper from my front viewport.
"You got a parking ticket."
"Oh, for the love of—" I swiped the ticket off him, crumpled it, and chucked it in a trash can at the edge of the sidewalk.
"Cora, you can't do that! It's illegal to throw away a parking ticket!" He glanced nervously through the door of the security station, like he expected one of the officers to come out and reprimand us.
I leveled him with a look. "Seriously? You live with a family of criminals and you're worried about me illegally disposing of a parking ticket?"
"But according to article 7B of the Intergalactic Statute of Transportation—"
"Sorry!" Then there was a soft beep, and he clapped his hands over his mouth so hard that he stumbled back a step.
Somewhere through the snowdrifts I could hear the furious shouts of the guards, followed by a blast that rocked the street corner. They were coming.
Working quickly, I swiped the snow off the ship, then pulled hard on the lever to open the hatch.
It wouldn't budge.
I thrust my hands into my jacket pockets in a desperate search for my key fob to open the pod.
"Cora?" Elio pointed at the viewport unhelpfully. "You locked it inside the pod."
Sure enough, there it was. Thrown haphazardly on top of the control panel.
"What? No, no, no!"
Elio brought his fingers to his mouth and started nibbling them, probably concealing the beep that threatened to burst forth.
"This day is getting better and better." Our images had undoubtedly been caught on multiple security monitors since we ran from the treasury, and now the last thing that the good people of Vaotis were going to see before we escaped their star-forsaken planet would be me breaking into my own pod ship. Not the most dignified exit.
"We're going to try something." I removed a palm-size disc from my pocket and slapped it on the middle of the hatch.
"Oh, the phaser!" Elio straightened. "You fixed it?"
"Not quite." If the phaser worked the way it was designed to, it would disrupt the molecules in any solid object enough that we would be able to slip easily through. Of the two phasers I'd built, the better one was currently being used by my family to get into the vaults. This one always struggled to work properly no matter how many times I crossed and uncrossed the wires.
Still listening for the sounds of approaching guards, I turned the phaser on. The slush-streaked side of my pod ship glowed, then shuddered, blurring like I was looking through the hatch from underwater. The image flickered for a second, the hatch hardening before turning liquid again.
"Go! Go before it backfires!" I shoved Elio toward the door.
Just as I started to follow, the guards barreled around the corner in an armored transport, snow crunching beneath its wide tire treads. A delivery pod soared off the road to avoid them, crashing into an awning hanging over the front of a diner. Pedestrians ran as smoke filled the street like a low-hanging fog. I couldn't tell if the guards had spotted us yet or not.
I took my first step into the hatch, but the phaser flickered again, short-circuiting. Elio's eyes flared bright with alarm while his hands flew across the control panel, powering up the ship. I tried slogging forward, my muscles tensing and burning as I struggled to push through the hatch. It was only a foot thick. It should have been easy.
A blast of light flew over the ship, exploding into the face of the building behind us. The pod started to solidify around me, and I had a flash of fear that I would get trapped inside, half in and half out of the ship, struggling to breathe until Elio could track my family down and get the other phaser to reverse the damage.
But before my panic had a chance to reach meltdown levels, I felt a hand on my arm, pulling me out of danger as if he were dragging me through mud. With an earsplitting pop, Elio and I landed in a heap in the bucket seats at the front of the cockpit, and the hatch sealed shut behind us.
"Up! Go, go, go!" I yelled.
We lifted off, crashing into the parked pod in front of us in the process. The guards shot at us a few more times, but they hadn't accounted for us having an escape pod. In seconds, we were out of range.
A grin pulled at my lips as we hurtled through the atmosphere around Vaotis. We were coming up on the Triangulum Galaxy's only wormhole, our ticket home. Elio pushed forward on the ion thrusters. The wormhole sphere bulged and spun before us like a bubble. And just like any bubble, the wormhole could only exist for a few precious seconds at a time before popping.
The pod ship shuddered as the thrusters ignited. A shiver raced up my spine. Jumping galaxies always put me a little out of sorts. Something about the speed and the pressure made my body feel like a jar of putty.
Double-checking my harness, I watched as white light flared from the widening sphere, obscuring the front viewport. Then, as always, time seemed to slow, and that beautiful rip in the universe opened. Straight as an arrow, the pod ship soared inside.
Good riddance, Vaotis. A pleasure you were not.
My harness cut into my shoulders as the ball of energy bent around us and we were launched out the other side at top speed, only slowing once we hit deep space and the peaceful expanse of stars. Every time I saw the view, I could barely breathe. I knew that space was just . . . nothing. A vacuum. But even so, that quiet void brought me more serenity than any planet in the universe.
My smile only faded once Elio adjusted the propulsion controls and switched course, sending us down the five-hour trek toward home. In five hours, I'd have to face what I'd done. I'd drawn too much attention. I'd nearly gotten us all killed.
But maybe it wouldn't matter. If they got their hands on the ten million ritles, my family would overlook one mistake.
Fingers shaking, I sent off a quick comm to Blair. How did it go down there?
He responded immediately.
I gripped the straps of my harness in both fists as an all-consuming dread welled up inside my chest.
His next message simply read: Your mother is not happy.