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Mutiny is a complex puzzle to complete. It requires the subtlety of a stalking predator and the strength of a charging carnivore—both qualities that Mr. Sekkiad exercises with ease. But the pleasure of the hunt is often complicated by personal vendettas and new enemies, and the crew of the Coronal Runner is no exception. Aboard this vessel, Sekkiad will either die a traitor or prove his prowess as the most ruthless hunter in the galaxy…
Check out the first five pages to the book:
Dealing with your captain is a delightfully complicated ordeal.
And when I say that, I don’t mean it in a snarky way. It’s not like when I tell our gunners there’s some new “delightfully complicated” cannon that they’ll be spending weeks practicing with. I mean that it’s such an intricate problem that I just have to enjoy it.
I think the best way to explain how it goes is comparing it to a giant, enormous puzzle: you start out by acquiring the puzzle itself—in this case, getting on the ship. Then you find those corner pieces, the things that are easy to set apart—the ship’s hidey-holes and security measures, the captain’s close friends and less-than-friendly subordinates. From there, it’s weeks and weeks of carefully putting together the middle: who do you talk to? When do you buy your compatriots weapons? How do you market your campaign?
But there is, of course, one element that’s not quite covered by my puzzle analogy, and that’s because you don’t get very emotionally involved with a puzzle; the captain is a different story. This person has to trust you. She has to know you’re safe. She has to know you care about the crew and the ship and the navy. And it’s those quiet nights where, if you’re not cautious, you let a piece of you into the open. A piece you actually care about.
I made the mistake while trying to convince Captain Huxley of my caring character. After all, we’d only been working together for a few weeks since leaving Glacies Port. Most of the discussions we’d had were about the crew, the ship, and the journey ahead. This was the first one just about each other.
She stared over the silver deck of the Coronal Runner, gazing through the invisible shield that preserved our air and blocked any interstellar radiation. Just like ancient maritime vessels, our ship had a flat surface atop its polished, metal-gray hull. This stardeck offered a gorgeous view between dazzling, silver-white solar sails. And the grand, shimmering kaleidoscope of white, yellow, red, and blue stars around us didn’t disappoint.
“After the University, what did you do, Sekkiad?” Huxley snapped in the silence. Her commanding tone fit her posture: tall and upright, a little closer to me than most humans would stand—my appearance obviously didn’t frighten her. But her authoritative attitude didn’t scare me off, either.
“The first thing I did was teach. I instructed young students in preliminary biology.” I recounted my history without much thought. There was no point to lie—at least not about my time before the war.
“Did you enjoy the work?”
“I loved it. Especially when the University hired me for research.”
“What did you like more? The teaching or the research?”
I glanced at Huxley. She hadn’t been very conversational over the last few weeks, so I was a little surprised that she cared for the small talk now. Perhaps the peaceful view of the nearby magenta nebula had reminded her of her home in the Red Clouds.
Regardless of her newfound curiosity, however, I continued spewing facts in the hope that she’d eventually spill some weaknesses of her own. “The studies were better. We researched a number of things, the most fascinating of which was the twiner—one of the most impressive feats of evolution I’ve ever seen.”
“And why is that?”
The captain’s tone sounded a little too flat for her to really care, but at this point I was actually happy to continue, “It’s a genius, ma’am. A true genius. The twiner sets up these huge, enormous webs of transparent strands. But it’s not just a mess of ensnaring threads—each web is designed to hold a unique mass.
“When a specific species of a specific weight steps on the center, the middle of the trap corkscrews down into itself and tears the strings holding the edges apart. Then it snaps around the prey without the twiner putting in another ounce of effort. And once the prey dies from a swift, poisonous barb, the twiner sucks out the innards of the food at its leisure.”
“That’s horrifying, Mr. Sekkiad.”
“Aye, but it’s a genius. It designs each trap to capture a very particular prey—if the structure triggers from too little weight, then there’s no reward; too much, and the creature inside could break out and feast on the captor. And what’s amazing is that this predator adjusts: the twiner keeps growing, and its traps evolve accordingly. It’s beautiful to watch each hunt become more and more fearsome.”
“And you taught this to the children?”
“Well, the youngest on Galek were fascinated by the most terrifying creatures, so I always tried to prepare a frightening lecture for them. One boy, Gibbs, loved them so much, he tried to capture a twiner on his own.” I smiled. Before the quarantine, the little child would spend days searching for the beasts of Galek. He’d constantly run up to me and explain what monster he’d researched in the previous day.
I continued, “But Gibbs, after the assault on Galek—well, I suppose it isn’t important. I get a little carried away if you let me ramble on about that planet. What did you do at home, captain?”
I shut my fangs tight into my jaw and stared to the mesmerizing, violet cloud on our starboard. I always hated talking about Gibbs since the war started. Every time the boy’s face appeared in my head, I had to clench the ringed display bones on my neck. Otherwise, the rounded spines extending out the back of my collar would clatter with grief. And I wasn’t going to let my captain see her first mate get emotional over a child.
Captain Huxley seemed to have noted my sudden stop in the conversation, and her eyes flickered in my direction. But, thankfully, she didn’t say anything about the pause and instead answered, “I was an engineer for the navy. Kept a close eye on the engines and repaired the sails. Helped design the X1-sloop. So I’d make sure you keep good maintenance on our ship, Mr. Sekkiad. I’ve got an eye for engines that haven’t been well-kept.”
Captain Huxley turned and offered a small smile to me, which I tried to offer back with a twist of my fangs. It seemed she was back to her usual stern self after that, however, because she clicked her heels and said, “Well, keep everything ship-shape, Mr. Sekkiad. And watch our port side; I don’t want any more showers from the Jeel tail knocking away our sailors.”
“Yes, ma’am, of course, ma’am.” I watched her step across the chrome deck and into the silver, square captain’s quarters on the back of the Coronal Runner. Then I spun back to the portside stars and clacked my fangs against my jaw in annoyance.
Stupid, I thought. To spill the detail about Gibbs wasn’t dangerous to my mission on this ship, of course, but it always made it more difficult when they knew about me. When they knew something random I cared for, some kind of unimportant passion I had, it could make it that much harder to look them in the eyes and slay them. Then again, it made the hunt a little harder and a little more personal—and the success thereof more satisfying than any puzzle one could purchase. Like I said, it’s delightfully complicated.