Excerpt & Giveaway: Flotsam by R J Theodore

Flotsam - R J Theodore

R J Theodore has a new Science Fantasy Steampunk book out: Flotsam. And there's a giveaway!

Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.

Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.

Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.

Warnings: genocide plots, bigotry, racism, classism, obsessive ex-lover, violence, gore, grief and loss, religious dogma, law breaking, manipulation, hostage situations, claustrophobia, anxiety, frustration, guilt, lies and deception, betrayal

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About the Series:

On a planet cracked open by ancient magic, outlaws and pirates are the only ones with what it takes to save Peridot from its next apocalyptic threat.

Guest Post: Meet Tisker, a Thief with a Heart of Gold

Flotsam is the first book in an alchemy-imbued adventure through the open skies of Peridot, a planet that was destroyed and remade by its gods in a distant past. The book opens on the not-quite-law-abiding crew of the airship Wind Sabre, working to salvage an ancient ring from the trash caught in the titular gravity trap at the bottom of Peridot. But as they retrieve their prize from the ice- and monster-infested garbage layer, Wind Sabre is joined by two unannounced vessels: an imperial airship and the strange starship crewed by Peridot's alien visitors.

Both unwelcome ships are clearly interested in the ring, and their timing is uncanny.

What should have been a simple freelance contract now catapults the crew of Wind Sabre into a run for their lives. But it also gives them a chance for more than their usual hand-to-mouth contract work when the aliens offer a significant fortune for the ring, while the imperial ship is offering to arrest and hang them. It's not a hard decision for an airship crew down on their luck and nearly out of fuel.

Tisker may be the youngest of Wind Sabre's crew, but he doesn't lack for experience—though not of the positive sort. He was raised as a thief and a cutthroat under the direction of crime bosses while the older orphans kept the cycle of child criminal going: finding new recruits from the bounty of unparented tots trying to fend for themselves. His fighting skills and light fingers don't go unappreciated by the crew of Wind Sabre, but no one would wish that kind of childhood on anyone. Tisker's lucky to have found his way out of that life, down to the docks, and into the crew quarters of a transient airship.

But he didn't just sneak aboard any ship. He watched the docks and found a small crew that could not only use an extra pair of hands, but that could fill that gap in his life. Could become his family. For several days, he snuck onto, and was subsequently chased off of, the deck of Wind Sabre, a carrack-hulled airship with a laughably small crew: Talis, its captain; Dug, first mate; and Sophie, engineer. He was sure he could eventually convince Talis that he didn't mean harm to her ship—she knew what the bosses had trained him for, after all. He had to. He was getting too old to pass unnoticed in the throngs of dirty pickpockets. Soon, he was going to have to join the ranks of the boss's lieutenants and start training the next generation of children. He had no intention of bringing more kids into the life he had. He'd leave from the docks, with or without an airship under his feet.

Luckily, Captain Talis saw something in Tisker and—after a few days—she stopped chasing him away. Challenged him to tell her what he knew about airships—which was a fair amount from watching the docks but very little practical and almost no vocabulary. He'd be an investment in time, food, and hot water if he was going to shape up to be worthy of Wind Sabre.

Still, Talis had a hunch, and gave him a chance. That hunch paid off in a big way—it turned out Tisker had what some might call a god-given talent for flying, especially for a kid who spent his whole life in a bottom-hanged city with stable and unmoving rock over his head. He knew the wind, on an instinctive level, and knew how a ship worked with it, not against it. Talis let him fly Wind Sabre out from the city that raised him and never tried to pry him off her deck again.

Once, Tisker's focus was on keeping his crime boss happy so he’d get fed once a day. And on learning to fight so he could keep the other kid thieves from bullying him and taking that meal for themselves. And learning to run and to hide so he wouldn't get left behind after a snatch to answer for his criminal siblings to the authorities.

But when he got a face full of wind, his purpose changed. He wanted to get away from the cramped dens and flea-peppered blankets. To get out into the skies on an airship where the wind could always find him.

Having accomplished that, he's only got one purpose in life now. He wants to keep the crew of Wind Sabre safe and keep them together. Among his duties aboard the airship that gave him the life he wanted, in addition to those that Captain Talis would write on a list, Tisker plans to keep his shipmates' tempers from boiling over, keep tensions from mounting, and keep their various prides from doing irreparable harm to his new family.

He's got his work cut out for him. Airship pirates aren't always the most sociable types and have a bad habit of burying their feelings. Captain Talis and Sophie are often at odds over the needs of the ship, so Tisker does what he can to sympathize with Sophie while honoring the orders of the Captain that rescued him. When Captain Talis and Dug are often at odds over something in their past that Tisker doesn't quite understand—a story that neither the captain or first mate are willing to talk about—Tisker tries to make sure everyone's present needs are met, often by cooking a comfort meal or doubling his efforts at the ship's physical duties. When that fails, he cracks a joke to split the tension in the air.

The youngest, Tisker has an influence over his crew that even he isn't aware of. His earnestness and youth awaken the protective natures of his crewmates. Often, he manages to dissolve tension simply by showing how much he cares about the others, making them realize on their own that they're reaching critical levels of pridefulness. When Tisker—whose face is not the mask he might like to think it is—shows concern, often the rest of the crew backs down of their own volition.

But now—with the aliens not just offering heaps of money for the salvaged ring, but asking to be taken to meet one of Peridot's living gods—can Tisker keep the crew's pride, and their secrets, from tearing his new-found family apart?

Find out in Flotsam, Book One of the Peridot Shift, Second Edition, available now in digital and print from your favorite indie bookseller or online retailer.


R J is giving away a $20 gift card to Bookshop.org with this tour:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d47223/?


Flotsam Banner

Talis descended toward the sparkling layer of trash below her feet. Generations of detritus, coated in frost, shifted slowly and caught the light. She hung in open skies, a tiny dark figure on an impossibly thin thread. Her airship, Wind Sabre, lurked in the shadow of a small island above her like the hoarbeasts that lurked in the garbage below. Around her, the shrapnel of Peridot’s tectonic crust peppered the skies, tiny islands not big enough to park a chair on.

She might have said the chance to do something reckless like this was half the reason she was in her line of work. But there was no one to bluff except her crew on the other end of the comm—Dug, Tisker, and Sophie—and she owed them more than words. She owed them a job that didn’t end up costing more than it paid. She owed them a ship that wasn’t in constant want of repairs. She owed them a ship worthy of being called a home.

A soft click sounded in the comm of her helmet, and Dug’s voice cut through the quiet sounds of her rapid heartbeat and quick breaths. The voice tube transmission made him sound small and far away. “Progressing well, captain. How much farther do you need?”

Talis unclenched her jaw to answer. “I’d guess I’m just about halfway down. Can’t make out any details yet.”

“Understood. There is plenty of length on the winch.” Her first mate’s voice was low and even, though his syllables were tight as a guitar string. Dug was worried.

The bulky descent suit didn’t make it any easier to see the view below her. It was a one-size-fits-all antique, big enough to wear over her clothes. Big enough that Dug, who towered above her and was thick with muscle—could have worn it, if he was so worried. It was designed to keep her body heat in, and it was most definitely doing that. The musty wool lining felt moist after the short time she’d had it on. Her breath fogged the glass dome that protected her from the thin air, even though she wore a scarf over her mouth. Yet her fingers were still getting stiff with the cold. She could have worn thicker gloves if she was just going down to strap up a large object to tow out. But this time her quarry was smaller than that, and thinner gloves provided better dexterity.

From this distance, the garbage below her looked deceptively beautiful. A lazy flow of icy shapes caught the green light from Nexus, and their reflected light sparkled through the fogging on her helmet. It wasn’t hard to imagine why there were so many stories about treasure down below.

And there was treasure down there. Or, reckless or not, she wouldn’t be dropping into it. The flotsam layer was where the dead went to be forgotten. Dead people. Dead ships. Dead technologies. Gravity trapped it all there. Kept it from dropping out of Peridot’s atmosphere on the bottom side and drifting off into the stars. Silus Cutter created the hoarbeasts centuries ago to prowl the frozen wreckage and clean things up a bit with their vicious, crunching jaws and fang-lined throats. Did her god intend for those beasts to prefer the frozen flesh of bodies to the wrecks? She wouldn’t ask if she got the chance; she was here for the latter and glad to have the chance.

If things went wrong, Talis would be on the menu, too. But the contract for this salvage made it worth the risk. She could make a lot of overdue repairs on Wind Sabre with the payoff. Her crew had been enthusiastic about the operation when she proposed it, knowing what kind of money a salvage might bring in. Better than the transport jobs she’d scrounged up of late. Not one of the trio had volunteered to make the descent, though.

“You’re the reckless one, Cap,” Tisker told her at the time. The cheeky helmsman got away with the comment. He always did. His crooked, infectious grin and sparkling, deceptively innocent eyes transformed every gibe into a morale boost.

Details emerged, just a couple lengths below Talis. Large shapes at first. Broken hulls of ships tangled in their own lift canvasses. A roof, a wagon. An old tree trunk. Anything organic or burnable should have been composted or used for fuel, not pitched over island edge. But those hadn’t always been the rules. Seventy-something generations back to the Cataclysm that fractured Peridot and the Re-Creation that made it what it was now. Seventy-something generations of garbage and waste swirled in the gravity trap. And down here, nothing ever decayed.

Soon she got close enough to see movement: the hoarbeasts pulling themselves across the wrecks, their undersides a chaos of tentacles. Their bodies flashing gray and silver in an imitation of the flotsam. They moved above and below the gravity line, scanning the field of garbage with cavernous eyes and probing the jetsam with sensitive, bobbing whiskers. Always in search of fresh additions to the flotsam layer. In search of food. In search of the dead.

And they would find them.

Mostly Cutter folk. Some Vein. Even a Rakkar or two. The Bone fed their dead to the ravens and kept the bones, but still ended up in flotsam. Usually lost with their ships. No Breakers, of course. Their population was finite and, as far as the ages since Re-Creation had proven out, didn’t die of natural causes.

If they couldn’t find dead flesh, they’d be perfectly happy to accept the living.

Continuing to descend, Talis was far too aware of such things. Her brother had tormented her with stories of the hoarbeasts when she was a child, and she grew up convinced they clung to the bottom of her bed the way they latched onto the hulls of airships that flew too low, too close to flotsam. Convinced that their tentacles and their long, sharp teeth would find her in the dark.

In her forties now, and captain of a smuggling ship that had taken on many a perilous contract, she still didn’t sleep with her feet hanging off her mattress.

Author Bio

R J Theodore

R J Theodore is an author, graphic designer, podcaster, and all-around collector of creative endeavors and hobbies. She enjoys writing about magic-infused technologies, first contact events, and bioluminescing landscapes.

Her love of SFF storytelling developed through grabbing for anything-and-everything “unicorn” as a child, but she was subverted by tales of distant solar systems when her brother introduced her to Star Trek: The Next Generation at age seven. A few years later, Sailor Moon taught her stories can have both.

She lives in New England, haunted by her childhood cat. Find more information at rjtheodore.com.

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