The next book in the series:

 

Here are the first few pages of Xiantha:

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

AS SHE WALKED back across the spaceport after the independence ceremony on Kwaide, Grace stopped again to bow her head in front of the memorial to Solian and Gerrant.  The crumpled remains of the space shuttle would be there for all eternity – an eternity which would always remind her of that hateful day, of what had happened.  She felt a miserable churning in her stomach, and found that her eyes were wet as she remembered those last few moments of Solian, in the heat of the battle.  He had died to save her, she knew.  He had struggled to distract them, to give her more time. She could still hear his battle cry as he faced certain death, in those few seconds before he was decimated by the sycophants.  Guilt swirled again in her stomach, and she hoped she wouldn’t be sick.

Footsteps told her that somebody had come up to stand beside her.  The person was silent for a long while, gazing with her at the twisted remains in front of them.  Without looking, she knew who it was.

“It wasn’t your fault, Grace,” Ledin said.  “What happened to them was because of the war.”

“It was my idea to use the fuel pipes,” she said brokenly.  “If I hadn’t had that stupid idea—”

“—if you hadn’t had that stupid idea, Kwaide would be under Elder rule again, and the sycophants would be purging this spot of the no-names like me.”

Grace closed her eyes again for a long time, and breathed deeply. Eventually she said, “Yes, I suppose they would.  But that doesn’t make it right, does it?”

“Grace, you are a heroine to New Kwaide.  When you thought up a way to get through to the shuttles you prevented the Elders from getting their hands on the orbital station.  That was the one defining moment of the whole war!”

The corner of her lip quivered.  “I don’t feel like a heroine.  I feel guilty all the time.”

He touched her shoulder, gently.  “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, Grace.  It will eat away at you inside.”

She gave a slight sniff and nodded through eyes that had suddenly filled with tears.  “I know.  It is just that my mind seems ... stuck.  I see that one scene over and over in my head.”

“Both Solian and Gerrant would be horrified if they knew that you were agonizing over their death.  They were proud to die for New Kwaide.  So would I have been.”

Her expression softened.  “I know.”

“There was only one thing I would have regretted, and I have remedied that now.”

Grace found herself blushing slightly.  She thought she might know what that one thing was.

“And I don’t regret a thing,” he went on defiantly.  “Faint Kwaidian never won fair lady.”

That provoked a weak smile at last.  “Six and Diva will tease me about it,” she pointed out.

“It will keep them from heckling one another.  I have done them a favour.”

“They always heckle each other.  They got into the habit when they were held captive on Valhai and there was nobody else to talk to.  But Diva would cut the hand off any outsider who criticized Six, and Six would do the same for her.”

“I know.  In fact, I have sometimes wondered if First Six ...”

Grace gave a doubtful shake of her head.  “Diva was brought up as a princess on Coriolis.  I think her elitist upbringing would stop her even considering allying herself to a no-name, however much she might like him.”

“Well – you never know.  We Kwaidians are very persistent.  We don’t give up easily.”

Since Grace wasn’t completely sure that he was referring only to Six she found that difficult to answer, and was cross to realize that her cheeks were reddening again.  She indicated the waiting shuttle with one hand and a slight inclination of her head, and they walked slowly away from the wreckage behind them.

 

 

THEY TOOK THE shuttle up to the Kwaide Orbital Station to meet up with Six and Diva. Arcan had agreed to transport his new spaceship over, together with the visitor.  They were to decide what their following steps would be, although Ledin would be staying on the Orbital Station above Kwaide.  His work as the most experienced pilot left on New Kwaide would be essential once the others left for their travels.
Grace and Ledin made their way into the main control room where Ledin greeted Arcan and the visitor with deference, and then excused himself.  He had work to do, although he found himself suddenly rather loath to do it.  Things had happened today which would be difficult to forget.  He forced  surprisingly reluctant legs to do his will, gave a nod of goodbye which encompassed everybody, and disappeared in the direction of the shuttle bays, where all the shuttles were now in need of fairly comprehensive services.
“Ah, Grace! How’s the boyfriend?”  Six’s voice was teasing.
“He is NOT my boyfriend!”
“Oh, come on, he kissed you in front of the whole planet!”
“He got carried away in the heat of the moment!”
“In the heat of something, certainly.  I didn’t see you pulling away!  In fact you looked as if you might be enjoying it!”
Grace went bright red, and shuffled her feet.  “It meant nothing,” she mumbled.
Six’s eyes glinted, and he took no notice of Diva’s warning look.  “And that whole bit he said about you always having someone to come back to – did that mean nothing, too?”
“Shut UP, Six!  It was just a kiss, right?” 
The visitor’s little video camera whirred curiously.
“What is a kiss?” it asked with interest.
Grace glared at the Kwaidian.  “Now see what you have done!” she said indignantly.  “How can I explain what a kiss is?”
“You could always call Ledin back and give a demonstration!” suggested Six. 
Grace wilted him with a look.  “It is a physical manifestation of an attraction between two people,” she explained.
The tiny globe crackled.  “It is the way you reproduce?” he hazarded.
Arcan shimmered.  “No,” he told the small machine, “It is, I believe, the forerunner to such activities.”
Grace was by now as red as a crimson butterfly.  It was rather too much to hear the orthogel entity instructing the alien visitor in such matters. 
“It meant nothing,” she repeated again.
Six, who had belatedly realized how truly embarrassed she was, was now looking repentant.  “It was just a kiss,” he assured the visitor.  “Like this!”  He grabbed at Diva, who was quite unsuspecting and therefore only able to give a strangled shriek, twisted her round, and gave her a quick peck on the lips before she squirmed away from him.
“Eugh! Ack!” she muttered, wiping at her mouth with her sleeve.  “What on Sacras are you doing?”
“Just giving a demonstration,” said Six calmly.  “Getting Grace out of a tight spot. You see, Visitor?  Just a kiss.  No forerunner to sexual activities!”
“You do not appear to be very adept at it,” whirred the visitor.
“Yeah, like you are going to know anything about it!”
“If the object is to make the female happy, you failed rather spectacularly,” said the visitor reasonably, focusing his lens on Diva who was still looking extremely thundery, and had one hand on her Coriolan dagger.
“And I should listen to a strand of protein in a jam-jar, I suppose?”
“Six!” Grace was hurt for the visitor’s feelings.
“What—?” he responded. “—All right, I know it saved my life, and I am very grateful.  But that doesn’t mean we have to be best friends forever, does it?   It is always making all those whirring noise. It insulted me! It gets on my nerves.”
“I expect the feeling is mutual!” said Diva drily.
“And just how many feelings does your ladyship think a strand of brain in a bowl of soup can have?”
“Probably more than you.”
Six’s mouth dropped open with outrage.  “I ... I—”
Grace giggled.  “Let’s leave it, shall we?  I thought we were here to sort out the journey to Xiantha.”
“Xiantha?  No.  I have already told you!  We are going,” said Arcan “to find my origins.”
“But first,” Diva seemed suddenly anxious, “we have to go to Xiantha.”
The bubble representing Arcan shimmered and darkened.  “Why?  It is far more important to travel to the—” he paused and his ‘head’ turned to stare sternly at the small machine hovering in space and transmitting back to the visitor.  “Are you forwarding any of this to the Dessite homeworld?”
The machine gave an indignant click.  “No.” it said, primly.  “I am not.   I haven’t transmitted your private conversations since I agreed not to last year.”
“—the Pictoris system, then.  What reason is there to go to Xiantha?”
Diva shuffled from one foot to the other.  “I have to go there,” she said.  “I have to find out what happened to all the ... the genetic material they took from me.”
The visitor, still hovering unseen above them, made his presence felt with a whirr of sudden interest.  “Is this procreation again?” it asked.
“No!  Well, yes!”  Diva told it how the Sellites had removed all her genetic material, and how she might at this moment have up to two million offspring somewhere at the toddler stage on Xiantha.  “I think they all went to Xiantha,” she finished.  “The man who came to oversee the operation was certainly Xianthan.  If not, we may have to go to Cesis too.”
“Pictoris,” said Arcan, darkening even more.
“Excuse me?”
“Pictoris.  I wish to go to the Pictoris system first.  I have transported the visitor’s ship into the hold of the new space trader, so he can come with us, since he is the only one who can visualize where we have to go.  There is nothing to stop us going there first, is there?  This is far more important than going to Xiantha, and you can go there afterwards.  I will transport you over there in this ship if you like.”
“Hang on a minute, Arcan!” said Six.  “Don’t you think we ought to make plans about this?  I mean, here you are, planning to transport us instantaneously half-way across the galaxy for the first time in history.  It seems a bit hasty just to go - we might need protection of some sort.  Bodywraps and mask packs and that sort of thing.”
The visitor gave a small mechanical cough.  “The system we are going to is perfectly safe for you to breathe,” it said.  Your feeble bodies need no protection at all.”
“Feeble?  That’s just fine coming from two neurons stuck together in a glass of water!”

 

 

END OF EXTRACT

 

I hope you enjoyed this enough to go off and buy the book! I have had a couple of comments about not putting a summary of previous books up at the beginning of each one, but the problem is that I hate spoilers, and felt that I could really spoil the reading experience of somebody by, for example telling them about Arcan before they read Valhai. so I have left it as a read-on experience, as if all the books are really one gigantic volume. But I am interested in getting feedback from readers on this, as I know it may not suit everybody.