Firefly meets Dune in a breakneck race to escape across an alien moon thriving with aliens and criminals…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Ten Low, an action-packed sci-fi adventure from author Stark Holborn—publishing June 8 with Titan Books.
Ten Low is an ex-army medic, one of many convicts eking out a living at the universe’s edge. She’s desperate to escape her memories of the interstellar war, and the crimes she committed, but trouble seems to follow wherever she goes. One night, attempting to atone for her sins, she pulls a teenage girl—the sole survivor—from the wreck of a spaceship. But Gabriella Ortiz is no ordinary girl. The result of a military genetics programme, she is a decorated Army General, from the opposing side of the war to Ten. Worse, Ten realises the crash was an assassination attempt, and that someone wants Ortiz dead…
The pair bury their hatreds and strike an uneasy deal to smuggle the General off-world. Their road won’t be easy: they must cross the moon’s lawless wastes, facing military hit squads, bandits and the one-eyed leader of an all-female road gang, in a frantic race to get the General to safety. But something else waits in the darkness at the universe’s edge. Something that threatens to reveal Ten’s worst nightmare: the truth of who she really is and what she is running from.
The downed lifecraft was dull silver, new looking, with no markings or badges to suggest what kind of ship it might have come from. But that wasn’t unusual; ever since the war it had been standard practice to strip all lifecraft bare, in case of a landing in enemy territory. Not that Factus took any side; no one wanted it anyhow. Even the Free Limits—with their dreams of unfettered living—had little use for a barren wasteland where the enemy was everything and nothing.
Nothing was moving inside the craft, only a few wisps of smoke coiling from the ruined casing. The whole thing stank of hot metal and burning plastic. Gripping my knife, I approached the figures. They lay huddled, so close together that it was difficult to tell them apart, covered in sand as they were. A large figure—a man, I thought—cradling a smaller one. I nudged the man with my boot, and when he did not move, I pulled off my ragged gloves to reach in through the smashed helmet of the flight suit.
His face was cold, but I felt a pulse, faint and faltering. The helmet of the smaller figure was raised, a little. I wormed my fingers through the gap. The flesh there was warmer, the pulse stronger. The man’s arms had done their job.
I began to brush the sand away from the suits, searching for identification. But they too were plain: no labels even. The man was solid and muscular and at least seven feet tall. It took all my strength to roll him away. As soon as I did, a weak groan emerged from the shattered helmet. I ignored it, and worked at easing the smaller of the two into a position better suited to breathing.
As soon as I touched the body, I felt slackness within the sleeves. Whoever wore the suit was small and slight. The man was undoubtedly an adult—was the second a child?
Swearing, I began to unclip the helmet from the suit. What might a child do for my tally? I didn’t dare think about it as I wrenched the helmet free.
I saw black hair tangled around a small face grey with blood loss, the features lost beneath a cake of dried gore and sand. Desperately, I began to check the skull, searching for wounds. When I found the contusion on the scalp, three inches long and bleeding sluggishly, I let out a breath. If that was the only damage—and if the child regained consciousness—they should live.
I had seized the child under the arms when something struck me hard in the side and sent me sprawling. Choking on dust, I scrambled for the knife, cursing myself to falling into an ambush…
But no. There were no other blows, no figures emerging from holes dug into the sand, no swooping crafts. Reddened eyes stared back at me. The man was awake.
He croaked a word, blood staining his teeth, and his eyes went to the knife, then to the child. He tried to rise, only to fall again with a gurgle of pain.
‘No harm,’ I told him, holding up my hands. ‘No harm. Medic.’
He rolled an eye towards me.
‘You— touch her,’ he said, in an accent I could not place, ‘you die.’
He was not in a position to be making any kind of threats, but slowly, I nodded.
‘I need to fetch my kit,’ I said. ‘I have supplies. I can treat you both.’
‘Where?’ The question followed as I turned away. ‘Where is here?’
He had half-lifted his head to stare around, his face showing ropes of strain.
‘The Barrens. North of Redcrop.’
He frowned, raising his eyes to the sky, losing its beauty now, turning flat white. ‘Where?’ he insisted.
I followed his gaze up towards Brovos, just visible in the sky. It was the only nearby planet, the last before the void. Had he fallen from so far he did not even know which moon he was on?
Above, invisible in the air, I thought I felt them sway and shift the distant stars.
‘Factus,’ I told him, turning away. ‘We’re on Factus.’
Excerpted from Ten Low, copyright © 2021 by Stark Holborn.