Here’s the first snippet from The Prodigal Emperor:
Halcyon Colony, Garris Major System
November 20, 2403
Captain Garret Penwaithe swished the cheap liquor around his mouth for a moment, just long enough to numb his taste buds enough that he could swallow it without gagging.
“This is your idea of a date?” Ensign Abigail Gordon asked – shouted really – over the raucous music that rattled the rickety table at which they sat.
“This is not a date,” Garret growled, irritated as much with himself as with her for the statement. The War Dogs were a mercenary organization, so they were quite a bit more lax on things like fraternization than the military. Even so, he was not about to date the little sister of his ex-girlfriend. Especially since his ex-girlfriend was now married to his older brother. For one thing, he thought glumly, even if it wasn’t wrong in so many ways, Jessica would kill me.
“I mean,” Abigail shouted, “the food is terrible, the setting is worse, why even come here?” She wasn’t wrong. The bar was a dive, one which was overrun by mercenaries and privateers of the worst sort, brought here by the call of loot to be taken in the fight against the Colonial Republic. Few of them cared that Halycon Colony fought for freedom. Fewer still had any real loyalty to the government that had hired them. Many of them were the type of scum that followed Admiral Mannetti. Almost on cue, across the room, he saw the pirate, Stavros Heraklion, step through the door, followed by two women from his crew.
Great, he thought, when this goes down, I’ll need to remember to watch my back, especially with his grudge against the War Dogs. He wished that the Commodore had told him more about why he and Stavros hated each other so much.
Abigail cleared her throat impatiently and Garret sighed, “You mentioned nightmares, problems sleeping? This is the best way I know to blow off some steam and get your mind level.” Well, he thought, not the best way, but I’m not going to tell you to go get laid. He might give that advice to some of his other recruits, but he didn’t want Abigail to take that the wrong way.
“Hey,” a voice growled from behind him, “pretty girl, what you doing with this loser? Me and my friends are a lot more fun.”
Right on cue, Garret thought. He glanced over his shoulder to see one of the privateers he had seen at the bar earlier. “Get lost,” Garret said.
“Yeah, get lost,” Abigail echoed. She looked back at Garret, “What do you mean by blow off some steam?” Her upturned nose and freckles made her look absurdly young.
“Heya, girly, I don’t think you understand,” the privateer leaned over the table and even over his unwashed stink of body odor and sweat, Garret could smell the alcohol on his breath. “That wasn’t an invitation, it was a warning. This worm here is wearing War Dogs uniform. You set with him much longer and you might get grouped with him.”
“The War Dogs are great!” Abigail said, her voice far louder than she had realized. “How about you get lost, asshole!”
Garret heard stools scrape across the floor behind him as the privateer’s friends stood up. The privateer leaning over the table gave a snarl and pushed Abigial, hard, so that she and her chair fell back. She rolled to her feet and brought her hands up defensively. Good reflexes, Garret noted.
Garret slammed his elbow into the man’s midriff and as the privateer grunted and bent over, he grabbed him by his dreadlocks and smashed his face into the table top. The flimsy table collapsed, but the privateer went down with it. Garret wiped his hands on his pants, he hated dreadlocks.
Garret saw the man’s friends start forward out of the corner of his eye. He stood from his chair in a smooth, easy motion. His two meter tall frame rose over the other men and his black face split in a grin that showed them even, white teeth. He saw a couple of them step back in fear. Well, Garret thought cheerfully, I can be one imposing son of a bitch when I want.
Abigail came up beside him, “What’s going on?” she asked.
“A good way to work some of that out is a nice bar fight,” Garret said just loud enough for her to hear. He cocked his head as he recognized the purple uniforms of the privateers. “Say, you’re from the Damien Walters, eh? Should have known a bunch of cowards who’d stand by and watch their captain gunned down wouldn’t have the balls for a real fight.” Garret didn’t know the details, but he had heard that Stavros had gunned down their captain in a duel.
Imposing or not, they came at him. I guess that was a sore point, Garret thought as he caught the first man and used him as a shield against two of the others. After a moment he threw his man into another and watched them both go down.
“How is this supposed to help me?” Abigail said as she ducked under a wild swing and then smashed the bottle of cheap liquor across the man’s head. Someone cut the music and the shattering glass carried clearly through the bar. Garret winced as the pungent brew stung his nose and eyes in a way that only rotgut liquor could.
Garret caught another man’s swing and swung him into the other two as they struggled to their feet. The three stayed down and Garret grunted in disgust, “Eh, not much of a fight anyway…”
He heard tables and chairs shifting behind him, then and glanced over to see a lot more of the purple uniforms come out of the crowd. “Or… I could be wrong.”
Garret lost track of Abigail as a wave of purple uniforms washed over them. Garret was a brawler and though he’d some hand to hand training, that always seemed to go out the window in a fight like this. He caught up his chair and used it to fend two of his attackers away and kicked another man in the crotch as he came at him from the side.
Garret didn’t see the fourth man until the blow caught him from the other side. His attacker hit him again, this time in the side of the head and Garret stumbled to the ground, his ears ringing. He grunted as someone kicked him in the ribs.
He had time to shake his head and clear it a bit, just as he saw one of the privateers draw his pistol. A few meters away, he saw two others held Abigail by her arms. The one with the pistol gave a “He’s one of the War Dogs, you heard what Admiral Mannetti said, some of them dies in a bar fight and she might well cut that crew some extra shares.”
Garret felt his blood go cold. Suddenly this had escalated far beyond a friendly bar brawl. Stupid, he thought, I shouldn’t have forgotten about the politics down here and now not just me, but Abigail will be paying the price too.
“We can have a bit of fun with this one, first, eh?” One of Abigail’s captors said as he ran a hand through her blonde hair.
She spat in his face and almost pulled her arm free.
Garret saw his arm go back to strike her. Before he could finish the blow, another hand caught his. A tall man, dressed in skin-tight, red leather pants and a white button-down shirt, open to the waist stood behind the privateer. Garret instantly recognized Captain Stavros Heraklion although he had no idea why he had stopped the blow. The privateer tried to free his hand, but Stavros held him with little apparent effort, “Ah, I see that striking women is something that Captain Walters trained your crew on, eh, boys?”
The tone of threat in his voice was enough to penetrate the drunkest of the bar crowd. The handful of patrons that hadn’t backed away or cleared out made for the door. Behind Stavros, the two women from his crew stood, hands on weapons.
The privateer with a pistol glanced down at his weapon, as if to reassure himself. “Stavros,” he spat the name like a curse. “This is none of your business.”
“Oh, I think it is,” Stavros said. He gave a nod at Garret, “Now, while I can appreciate getting the upper hand in a fight like this, well, he’s been assigned to my squadron. As much as I… dislike the War Dogs, well, you put him down and it’ll take his gunboats out of the fight. You do that, and it’ll make me look bad.”
He released the privateer’s hand and stepped to the side. “And as for her… well, slapping around a woman is something I think it best to discourage, unless they’re into that sort of thing.” He leaned in towards Abigail, “I dunno, are you into that?”
Abigail flushed, “No – no,” she stuttered.
Stavros turned back to the leader of the privateers. “Well, then, see? There’s two good reasons for me to put a stop to it… plus I think any men who worked for a ball-less fuck-puppet like Damien Walters are cowards and cretins.”
The man with the pistol flushed red and Garret saw his hand tremble on his pistol. Yet the easy way that Stavros’s hands had come to rest on his own pair of pistols seemed to take the wind out of him. “Admiral Mannetti will hear about this.”
“Oh, dear,” Stavros said, his eyes wide. “Well, do give her Commodore Stavros’s regards, eh?”
The privateers began to clear out and after a moment, Garret managed to stand, though his head still spun a bit. He gave Stavros a slow nod, “Thanks.” The gratitude burned a bit, for there was no doubt that the man would brag about it at some point later. Commodore Pierce is going to be angry about this too, Garret thought.
“It is nothing!” Stavros said with an extravagant wave. “I just like to tweak those men in their ridiculous purple uniforms. Have they no sense of style? If I hadn’t already killed Damien Walters, I would shoot him again for crimes against fashion.”
Garret looked over Stavros’s tight red leather pants and the oiled chest hair that showed from his open shirt and just shook his head. Not worth saying anything, Garret thought, besides, he did just save my life. That his life had depended upon the flighty pirate at all almost made Garret want to throw up. Stavros was a womanizer, a philanderer, and a card cheat. He was also a pirate of the worst sort and whatever self-interest had made him step in was all that prevented Garret and Abigail from dying.
Garret wasn’t certain if it was possible for the night to get any worse.
Abigail looked over at Garret, her face a bit pale. “Well,” she said, “as first dates go, this was pretty terrible. You really better make it up to me.”
The Prodigal Emperor is available for Pre-Order on Amazon and will be published on September 19th, 2015.