To everyone who’s been asking when I’ll be releasing my next book in the Durga System Series — I have an answer for you:
March 8, 2019
(AKA my birthday.)
That’s still a ways out, so here’s a sneak peek at the first chapter of the sequel to Starfall.
Be sure to read to the end — I have a really exciting offer you won’t want to miss! (Especially if you think March is too long to wait to read the whole thing!)
A Durga System Novella
by Jessie Kwak
She thought nothing could come between herself and her new family. She was wrong.
It’s been five years since Starla Dusai’s home station was destroyed by the Alliance, and she’s spent every minute searching for evidence that she wasn’t the only survivor.
When she receives a tip that her beloved cousin Mona is alive and well on an astroid station out in Durga’s Belt, she drops everything to find her. Thrust into an unfamiliar world of crime cartels and union politics, Starla soon realizes Mona is caught up in a dangerous plot — and that saving her might just mean giving up the new family she’s come to love.
If it doesn’t get the both killed first.
Read on for the first chapter.
Chapter 1: Starla
The air here is thick with memories.
Starla Dusai breathes deep the sharp tang of oil and sweat, the sweet musk of antifreeze and unwashed bodies passed through the recycler too many times to count: Maribi Station smells like home.
At least, it’s the closest she’s found since she watched Alliance missiles shatter her family home into stars five years ago.
There are differences, of course. For one, there are too many people here, bodies crowded into every corner, in every corridor and doorway, brushing past her from every direction. The air is more electric than in her childhood home of Silk Station, too, geared towards entertaining the thousands of travelers who arrive here to catch shuttles deeper out into the black or farther into Durga’s Belt, or who are waiting for the bigger transports to shuttle them back to the surface of one of the two sunward planets, Indira or New Sarjun.
On Silk Station there was breathing room — even when her parents’ ship was in port and Silk Station swelled with crew, it was all family. And in her new planetside home on New Sarjun, Starla can go for hours without seeing another soul if she wants. In a way, her godfather’s home ebbs and flows just as Silk Station did, especially in the past few years with his soldiers and hired mercenaries flooding in and out, thudding footsteps and the tang of blood in the dry air waking Starla more than once in the middle of the night.
She’s taking the long way to meet Gia at the boxing gym, through Terminal A, which is doubly packed with people this close to the shift change. Starla hopes this will give her better odds of finding the one person she’s desperate to find — even if the press of people is making it more difficult to actually pick an individual out of the crowd.
She hadn’t counted on the newcomers. Terminal A isn’t just packed with station inhabitants today. A ferry from elsewhere in Durga’s Belt has just docked, judging by the glut of travelers shouldering duffel bags and stopping in the middle of the passage to frown at the station transit maps and mouth questions to each other.
Starla slips through them, ignoring the few that seem to ask her for directions.
Her comm buzzes with a message from Gia.
You skipping training?
Starla’s beginning to regret coming this way. She thought heading through a large swath of the population would give her a better chance of spotting her target, but it’s just chaos, a constant swarm of people.
It’s hard to take it all in.
The terminal’s length is lined with shopping and entertainment, callers beckoning from the neon-clad doorways of casinos and brothels and bars — a heady pulse thrums through Starla’s chest as she passes one, and she catches a glimpse of a room packed with bodies and smoke and flashing lights, the mass of people dancing. For Starla, it’s just after lunch. But in such a transient place, you can choose your own time.
So long as you keep moving, it seems. In the stream of Terminal A, she can’t find a single spot to just stand for one second and type out a reply to Gia without being in the way. Somebody always needs to get by, or set something where you’re standing, or open the door you didn’t notice behind you.
It makes her skin crawl. Silk Station didn’t use to make her skin crawl — it fit like a glove. Is it this station in particular? Or is it that she’s become used to wide open spaces after five years living on New Sarjun?
Gia’s message blinks insistently at the edge of her field of vision.
She sidesteps a hawker in religious headgear who clutches at her arm and tries to hand her a saint token, saying something to her around blue-painted teeth. Starla brushes the woman back and slips into the lee of a pile of crates for a second’s breather, grabs her comm.
Be there in 5.
She pushes Send; Gia’s message disappears from her heads-up.
Gia has a thing about timeliness that Starla should probably try to emulate, but she can’t be bothered this trip. Despite being comfortable with the station’s layout, she keeps misjudging the time it will take her to get through Maribi’s labyrinth — and she’s always hesitant to leave off her search.
Because her cousin Mona is here, she knows it. And in her imagination, every instant she turns away from an open doorway, Mona walks past. Near misses, it has to be — she’s been all over this damned station.
And she’s running out of time.
Be here in 2. Had any luck?
Gia’s response blinks on the bottom of Starla’s heads-up. Starla swipes it away without responding, because, no, she hasn’t had any luck. Anyway, Starla can tell Gia in person when she gets to the boxing gym. In five.
Starla stops to scan the terminal, turns to find a woman in a forklift suit yelling at her. Probably to get out of the way so she can get to the crates; words blink at the bottom of her heads-up, the unit’s attempt to transcribe the forklift operator’s diatribe. It’s coming out garbled — maybe she’s got an accent, maybe it’s too loud for the unit to work properly.
Or maybe she’s using too many expletives. One thing Starla has realized on this trip with Gia is that the software isn’t programmed to transcribe swear words. She’ll have to fix that.
Starla waves both hands at the forklift operator — All right, all right. — and ducks back into the throng. She keeps scanning the people passing, out of habit, but doesn’t see anyone who looks like her cousin.
After five years of searching, she’s seen nothing of her family but obituaries. Auntie Faye’s ship was shot down shortly after the attack on Silk Station. Amit was picked up by the Alliance and has since disappeared. Uncle Ro was cornered on the volcanic moon Pele, shot himself before he could be arrested. Deyva hasn’t been heard from in years and is presumed dead.
Her parents and countless others died in the initial attack.
So when one of her godfather’s smuggling contacts saw someone matching the description of Starla’s cousin, Mona, working on Maribi Station, Starla had to see for herself — and fast.
There are still a few bounties on the boards for missing members of the Silk Station diaspora, and others are out there hunting her cousins, her aunts, her uncles. It’s what worries Starla the most, that maybe the reason she hasn’t found any of them is because they’re being snatched up by bounty hunters first, trundled into cargo holds and whisked off into secret Alliance prisons.
Like she’d been shipped off to Redrock Prison right after the attack. She’d had the help of her godfather, Willem Jaantzen, to escape, and now she’ll do anything she can to help the others.
If she can find them.
But there are dozens more Alliance prisons throughout the Durga System.
And a hundred more hub stations like Maribi bored into Durga’s Belt and Bixia Yuanjin’s moons.
It doesn’t matter. Starla will find Mona, even if she has to open every door in this place.
A change in the current of foot traffic catches her attention. Somewhere up ahead, the crush of people is getting more packed on the edges, and individuals are looking up and turning back around, slipping into open doorways, making themselves scarce.
Starla’s been paying so much attention to the faces of the people around her that she’s nearly in the middle of it before she realizes what’s going on: an Indiran Alliance squadron marching through the center of Terminal A, five soldiers with hands on weapons like they think Maribi is theirs to police — or like they’re expecting to stir up trouble. Their riot visors are down and scanning the crowd, and Starla’s mouth goes dry.
She knows what they’re scanning for. Known criminals. Terrorist group members. Exiled freedom fighters. The daughters of notorious pirate families.
She tries not to look frantic, tries to blend in, but she’s caught at the edge of the crowd — even those who aren’t on an Alliance wanted list aren’t too keen to mix up with a troop like this. If she runs, if she pushes through, she’ll only attract more attention.
But in a second she’ll be face to face with the soldiers, and that close, their facial recognition will uncover her for sure.
She’d rather run and look suspicious than get caught — but as she tenses, someone grabs her from behind, pulls her through an open doorway and out of sight.
A hand clamps over her mouth, though Starla doesn’t think she’s cried out. Gia’s been training her well, though, and Starla breaks free in seconds, spins to meet her attacker.
She doesn’t recognize the woman’s face at first, not with the wild mane of magenta hair and the scar slashed across her nose and cheek. But she would recognize the way those hands formed her namesign anywhere.
“Starla,” she signs, “it’s okay. It’s me.”
Want More Deviant Flux?
As I mentioned above, Deviant Flux is on its way. In fact — drumroll please! — I’ve set an official release date of March 8th.
Which, you know. Is still a few months out from the actual book getting into your hot little hands.
That’s why I’m SUPER EXCITED to let you, my awesome newsletter subscriber, read it early.
I’ll be serializing the rest of Deviant Flux to my newsletter, sending out a chapter a week for the next 15 weeks.
Want to get in on this action?
You’ll be signed up for the Deviant Flux serial list, and be the first to read the book.
(P.S. What do you think so far? Let me know — I’m so excited to finally be able to share this story with you!)
(P.P.S. Here’s that link again to sign up to get new chapters of Deviant Flux delivered to your inbox.)