If you'd like to sign up, the list is open for another week. The rules are simple. Post the first thousand words of your book or story, and link back to the list at: The First Page Review
This sounded like fun, so here I'm posting the first part of Ghosts of Innocence. This is my first novel, available in paperback and most e-book formats at major online outlets.
If you take the time to read this opening, I'd love to know whether or not you'd continue reading it. If it does capture your interest, I am preparing a sequel for publication early in 2018.
Enough rambling, on with the story ...
Mouth dry, Shayla Carver swallowed a sour taste at the back of her throat. An orbiting battle station, one of many surrounding the Emperor's home planet, Magentis, filled the nearest viewport of Chantry Bay's forward lounge. A mushroom forest of defensive batteries, domes blackened by centuries of conflict, studded the outward face of the fortress. The Imperial crest was barely visible on its dulled and scarred flank.
As it receded behind them, Shayla murmured a mantra to ready herself for action. But she couldn't rid herself of the unwelcome thought: that station was too damned close. They could blow us to Space and beyond when they realize what's happening.
No. The mission planners had discussed this possibility. The big plasma cannons were all facing away from the planet. They can't threaten us now.
Shayla forced her head back against the hard wall of the lounge, feeling the roughness of the hangings behind her. A tiny knot in the fabric pressed into her scalp. The pinprick pain helped steady her thoughts.
She breathed deep and surveyed the lounge through half-closed eyes. She counted at least sixty passengers scattered in groups amongst the benches and circles of stools and armchairs cluttering the coarse, grey carpet. People of all ages and races, resplendent in uniforms or formal dress denoting their professions in readiness for landfall.
Excited chatter barely masked growing tension as they approached their rendezvous with an orbiting reception base. A round-faced woman, wearing the crimson headdress of a planetary ambassador, paced the length of the lounge and brushed yet another imaginary speck from the sleeve of her robe. Even such a dignitary wasn't exempt from stringent interrogation before setting foot on Magentis.
But the knot in Shayla's stomach had nothing to do with security screening. Once more she mentally rehearsed her movements, awaiting her cue.
A diamond-bright spark separated from the expanding disk of the planet. The reception base.
According to the schedule, starhopper Chantry Bay should have slowed and docked.
A few puzzled gazes followed the sunlit jewel of the base as it flashed past the viewports. Shayla saw the first glimmer of comprehension in some faces. Decades of terrorism had sensitized the public psyche to unannounced deviations from schedule.
A coterie of scribes and administrators on the other side of the lounge looked up from their scrolls and notepads and stared at each other, styli wavering in their hands. External communications had died. Right on cue.
The lights flickered, then failed. Through the lounge's forward viewpoint, the daylight side of Magentis flooded the cabin with an aquamarine glow.
An eerie silence fell, the ever-present hum of machinery now deafening by its absence. Shayla closed her eyes, barely breathing. In the back of her mind she'd started a countdown at the first flicker of the lights. Eight and a half minutes until they hit atmosphere. Unless the navy caught them first.
Shalya squeezed her eyes even tighter shut, counting steadily, as bedlam erupted.
A wet crash and a shriek. Someone had toppled the samovar bubbling in the center of the room.
A groan and a sour whiff of curdled milk told Shayla that the jolly, mustachioed bureaucrat opposite her had brought up his lunch. He'd spent the last hour enthusing over his duties in the Office of Corrections, in charge of the public punishment stalls for the eastern end of the Bay of Jorka. His dedication to human suffering had made Shayla sick.
A hand squeezed her knee through the heavy embroidered textile of her robes. She opened her eyes a crack to see a worried face gazing at her. Not Scolt again, she groaned to herself. Not now.
She glanced around the lounge, then took his hand in hers. Scolt had taken unwelcome interest in her for the whole week-long flight. Another time, in another life, she might have returned the interest, but even out of uniform the emerald tattoo on his forehead and his preening arrogance had marked him out as a member of the Imperial Color Guard. Not a good bedfellow for a woman with treason on her mind.
Shayla had no time to waste. She gazed into his eyes, smiled, and finally did what she'd been longing to do the whole flight.
She broke his fingers.
As he shrieked in pain, Shayla slipped around the end of the bench and into the main corridor leading from the back of the lounge into the depths of the ship.
She squeezed into a crush of people jamming the short ramp up to the command deck. The captain, face ashen in the planet's ghostly light, faced the scared and angry crowd, trying to restore calm. Shayla felt a twinge of pity. The crew must have been shocked when the normally-secure door to the command deck had opened. The malicious code she'd inserted into the ship's command system had been designed by her twisted genius brother. Shayla was confident it couldn't be bypassed, but her mission planners had figured that the crew could do with some distraction to hamper any attempts at troubleshooting or communications.
She pressed her back against the wall and pushed past the edge of the crowd.
A figure in the gloom caught her eye. A young girl, eyes wide, clutched a stuffed toy lion tight to her chest. Shit! I thought this ship was for Imperial staff only!
Shayla glanced back towards the lounge. Through a gap in the press of bodies she saw that Scolt was already on his feet, his face twisted into a snarl. Damn, that was quick. She would have only moments more to get away from him.
That's it. Thank you for reading