Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra find themselves once again on the fringe of populated space—and at the center of a raging covert war.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Fault Tolerance, the third book in Valerie Valdes’ sci-fi series—publishing August 2nd with Harper Voyager.
Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra find themselves once again on the fringe of populated space—and at the center of a raging covert war. When Eva’s sister asks for help locating a missing scientist, promises of a big paycheck and a noble cause convince Eva to take the job despite lingering trust issues.
With reluctant assistance from her estranged mother, Eva and her crew follow the missing scientist’s trail across the universe, from the costume-filled halls of a never-ending convention to a dangerous bot-fighting arena. They ultimately find themselves at the last place Eva wants to see again—Garilia—where she experienced her most shameful and haunting failure.
To complete her mission and get paid, Eva must navigate a paradise embroiled in a rebellion, where massive forests and pristine beaches hide psychic creatures and pervasive surveillance technology. Can she find her quarry while avoiding the oppressive local regime, or will she be doomed to repeat past mistakes when her dark deeds come to light?
NO SHIT, THERE I WAS
Captain Eva Innocente stifled a yawn as the doors at the far end of the green room slid open, allowing the screaming, whistling, and feet-pounding of thousands of audience members to wash over her like a coronal mass ejection. Other competitors lined up in front of her, fidgeting with nervous excitement or stoically awaiting further orders from the production assistants, who communicated via silent commlink messages. Indistinct blue, pink, and yellow lights slowly illuminated a massive arena with platforms floating in midair above an enormous stage. Exuberant music rose in volume, the rhythmic thump of bass vibrating in Eva’s chest. An announcer’s voice emanated from the wristband an employee had strapped onto Eva earlier.
“Welcome, persons of all persuasions, to the Crash Sisters Grand Melee!” the voice said, dragging out the final syllable. The crowd’s roar increased in intensity.
Record scratch, freeze-frame, Eva thought. Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.
“I’m really sorry, Captain,” Leroy said. He tugged on his neat orange beard, an old nervous habit, stranger now that his facial hair was neatly trimmed rather than scraggly and unkempt.
“No te preocupes,” Eva said, propping her face up with one hand as she leaned on the table in the mess. A half-finished cafecito sat in front of her, doing little to sweeten her bitter mood.
She was worried. Most of the sizable paycheck she’d just collected from The Forge—with a hefty bonus for the whole “destroying a huge enemy ship and possibly saving the universe” thing—was supposed to go toward ship repairs, supplies, and upgrades, not this impromptu vacation.
But this was Brodevis, the Planet of a Million Microclimates, home to about that many overpriced tourist traps scattered across the various landscapes. It was also a prime location for memvid production facilities, including Crash Sisters, the competitive combat reality show in which Leroy starred. The docking fees alone were more expensive than most hotels in any other part of the universe.
“I was so sure I’d be able to swing something, but all the hotels are packed.” Leroy’s holo crackled a bit from lag, as the heavy traffic on the local quantumnet relays reinforced what he’d just said.
“It’s not your fault,” Eva said. “I should have waited to come until you confirmed.” Everyone had been so excited, and desperate to leave the Forge base after weeks of sporadic repairs. It was hard to get ship parts when your secret space station was days away from the nearest Gate. And between the Forge people treating them like pets who did an impressive trick and the Fridge refugees from the battle being salty about losing and trying to take advantage to lurk and spy, the place was a reactor core leaking radiation, waiting to explode.
An orange striped cat wandered in, tail primly raised and slightly curved at the end. Same color as Leroy’s hair, more or less. It was pursued a few moments later by a black-and-white spotted cat.
“I couldn’t even get your docking fees waived, there are so many people here for the Grand Melee. I even tried to, uh, ask some other people for help, but it’s a total mess.” Leroy lifted his chin in greeting at someone offscreen, probably his girlfriend, Momoko, who also starred in the show. “Hold on a sec, I’ll be right back.” The holo flickered and switched to a still of Leroy’s face, frozen in a dramatic scowl more reminiscent of his villainous Crash Sisters persona, The King.
Leroy had sworn that, with his relative fame and connections, he’d be able to get them a swank room, free parking, even some meal coupons for the fancy replicators—the kind that could make complex meals instead of patties and cubes and liquids that tasted almost like they saw flavor once across a crowded room. Instead, La Sirena Negra was crammed into the spaceship equivalent of a sleeping pod, and her crew was getting increasingly antsy. They’d been promised beaches, window shopping, fancy shore excursions, and maybe even a foot massage or two. But they couldn’t even get a reservation at the cheapest sidewalk food vendor stall. The last place Eva had tried to order takeout from wasn’t taking requests for the next twenty cycles.
The black-and-white cat sidled up to the orange one, rubbing its head under the other’s chin. Apparently the orange one didn’t appreciate this, because it hissed and sent out a psychic wave of irritation that made Eva scowl.
They weren’t the only ones fighting on the ship right now. Her sister Mari had tagged along, after her superiors at The Forge had gently but firmly encouraged her to recuperate from her injuries somewhere besides their damaged base. Agent Elus wanted to recruit Eva’s crew to work for The Forge, an offer Eva hadn’t rejected yet, so this might be a plot to convince them it would be a good idea. If so, Mari had been the wrongest possible woman for the job. Still, Eva had thought this might be a good opportunity to reconnect, heal their relationship along with their physical injuries.
Qué bobería. Min and Sue were surviving because they had each other, but Pink was ready to surgically extract the stick from Mari’s ass and beat her to death with it. The only thing keeping the good doctor from going bad was the promise of that foot massage at the end of the long flight. This might finally break her. As if on cue, Mari hobbled in and went straight for the cafetera. Her broken leg was on the mend but still encased in a latticed cast, and she leaned on Eva’s cane, affectionately called Fuácata. She’d pulled her brown hair back into a neat ponytail, and she scowled when she noticed Eva had left the coffee grounds in the filter basket.
Cue the nagging, Eva thought. Three, two…
“You know you should empty this out when it’s still hot,” Mari said.
“I didn’t want to burn my fingers,” Eva replied.
“You can use a towel,” Mari said.
Eva smiled humorlessly, her facial scar pulling at the skin around it. “Or I could wait for it to cool down first.”
“It gets all sludgy if you wait,” Mari insisted. “It’s disgusting.”
Eva slurped her own coffee and stared at Leroy’s frozen face while Mari made frustrated noises. She’d have to deliver the bad news to her crew, which sucked. They deserved a real break. They’d been dragged through a huge pile of mierda and the stink hadn’t washed off yet. Now they were out a bunch of credits, refueling would cost an arm and a half dozen tentacles, and she’d maybe have to encourage her sister to catch a ride with someone else or face Pink’s wrath. Healing was a nice dream, but Pink was reality, and much more important.
I wish Vakar were here, Eva thought miserably, then quickly pushed that thought away like a baby shunning peas.
“We should have gone to Neos,” Eva muttered. “It’s a hot mess, but at least it’s cheap and quiet.” Pink had vetoed that option last time Eva had brought it up, though. Which, fair, because Pink would be the one working to pay for their stay.
“My agent did have a suggestion,” Leroy said.
“Dímelo,” Eva said.
“You could enter the Grand Melee, if you wanted to.”
Eva’s eyebrows climbed her forehead. “I could do what now? The Grand qué?” Mari paused in her coffee preparations, now actively eavesdropping.
“The Grand Melee,” Leroy continued. “It’s a big free-for-all fight, you know? Dump a ton of people in a room, there can be only one? One of the contestants got a nasty concussion trying to do the latest q-net dare, so a slot opened up.”
“What’s the dare?” Mari asked.
Leroy gave a surprisingly evil laugh. “Okay, so, first you need twenty cans of coconut cream and a box of sparklers—”
“Shouldn’t that slot go to someone on a waiting list or something?” Eva interrupted. “How do you even qualify for this?”
“Oh, it’s all good. You just have to beat a Challenge Room. You already did that at Evercon, remember?” He grinned, clearly into the idea. “My agent said all I have to do is get you bumped to the top of the list, and you’re in.”
Eva took another sip of coffee. “So I kick ass, ignore names, and I get what? A prize?”
“If you win, you get a trophy!” Leroy exclaimed.
“A trophy?” Eva blinked. How would that solve their problems? What would she even do with a trophy?
“Cap!” Min yelled over the speakers. The pilot had been eavesdropping as well, apparently. “You have to do this! The Grand Melee trophy is a super-big deal. I need that trophy. I need it more than I need to live.”
Eva hid her snort-laugh behind another sip of coffee. Min had always loved Crash Sisters as much as Leroy. Of course she would want this to happen. That didn’t make it a good idea.
“Do I have to fight you?” Eva asked.
Leroy shook his head. “It’s just noobs like you. None of us from the roster. Doesn’t mean it will be easy, but you’re tough.”
Min giggled. “You called her a noob.”
“I’m extremely insulted,” Eva deadpanned, rolling her eyes. “Are medical costs covered if I’m injured?”
“Um, not exactly,” Leroy said.
“That sounds like a no,” Pink said, sauntering into the mess. Her black hair was longer than it had been for a while, arranged in tiny braids thanks to the combined efforts of Min and Sue over their long Forge stay. She hadn’t dressed for work yet, still wearing her cozy pajamas and the slippers Eva had bought for her last birthday. “Y’all think casts grow on trees?” she continued. She glared at Mari, then pointedly ignored her, sliding into the seat next to Eva.
Sue ran in from the direction of the cargo bay, slightly out of breath. Her face and jumpsuit were streaked with grease from whatever she’d been working on, safety goggles perched on top of her head. One of her tiny robots peeked out from inside a pocket in her pants and made a squealing sound that startled the two cats, who had retreated to opposite corners of the room. They both chased each other out of the room in a burst of indignation.
“Uh, hi,” Sue said. “Min told me to come, um, you know.”
“Make sure Cap says she’ll get the trophy!” Min exclaimed through the speakers.
Someone said something behind Leroy, and he added, “It’s not only a trophy. You also get a seven-cycle stay in a luxury resort.”
“Now, that,” said Pink, “is what I’m talking about. Foot massages?”
“It’s all-inclusive,” Leroy said. “Full resort privileges, including the spa. Free food, free booze, and all the memvids you can physically tolerate.”
Eva looked around the room at her assembled crewmates, all of them staring at her like cats waiting to be fed. Mala sauntered in to join them, her tail swishing in amusement at the tension in the air, thicker than the scent of Mari’s fresh coffee percolating.
“Miau,” said Mala, slowly blinking her hazel eyes.
“No empieces,” Eva muttered.
Leroy’s cocky grin returned. “So? What do you say?”
Eva heaved a sigh. “Me cago en diez,” she said.
From Fault Tolerance by Valerie Valdes. Copyright © 2022 by Valerie Valdes. Reprinted by permission of Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.