This morning, I sent off my edits for Hunt the Stars. I added about 6k words, bringing the total manuscript to just under 113k, which falls right between Aurora Blazing and Chaos Reigning.
This was a pretty fast edit for me because I usually plan for about a month, and I finished in under two weeks. I’ve now read this story more times than anyone should, and I still love it, so I hope you all will, too.
Bree, half of writing duo Kit Rocha, read an early copy (before I was done editing, even!) and had a few very nice things to say about it over on Twitter, including, “Ok I just finished my early copy of Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik and somehow it’s my favorite thing she’s written yet, it’s AMAZING…” which made my whole weekend, y’all. 💕😭
Here’s a little snippet of the first chapter to celebrate turning in edits. This hasn’t been finally approved or copyedited, so it’s still subject to change, but I won’t tell if you don’t. :)
And, in case you missed it, HtS is now available for preorder. The cover isn’t up yet, but I’ve seen a rough draft and it is IN-CRED-I-BLE! 😍 I can’t wait to share!
I leaned against my ship’s cargo ramp and watched with narrowed eyes as four soldiers in Valovian armor stalked through the landing bay. This was a human station in human space—Valoffs shouldn’t be here. Yes, we were at peace—for now—but both sides had made it clear that they preferred it when everyone stayed in their own sectors.
The soldiers moved from ship to ship. At each, the group leader spoke to the ship’s captain for a few minutes before continuing on. They moved like Valoffs rather than like humans wearing stolen armor, so I raised my mental shields as they approached. It wasn’t easy for a human to learn to shield against Valovian abilities because we had no natural defenses, but I’d learned the hard way during the war. Certain death provided excellent motivation.
The leader was male: tall and muscular, with thick, black hair, dark eyes, and skin a shade or two lighter than my own golden tan. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t immediately place him. He was encased in layers of synthetic black armor from neck to feet, and I knew from experience that it would deflect all but the strongest plas pistols and blades. It had exactly two weaknesses, and you had to be within reach to exploit either of them.
The group stopped several paces away, but even at this distance, their leader looked almost human. In general, Valoffs had a wider variety of hair and skin color and were a little taller than humans, with a slightly finer bone structure. However, their eyes were the biggest giveaway. Their irises were often threaded with multiple vibrant colors, and they had better-than-human night vision. They spent a lot of time in the dark—days on Valovia were only ten hours long.
There were a few other minor differences between us, but at a glance, most Valoffs could be mistaken for human easily enough. Scientists had confirmed that they were nearly human, a branch that had diverged several millennia ago. The constant debate was whether they’d settled Earth and created the human branch or if some long-forgotten humans had hitched a ride to Valovia.
Or maybe an unknown third party had created us both. The speculation and conspiracy theories were both varied and unending.
I felt the slightest brush of a mind against mine. It felt cold, as always, even though I didn’t think it really had a temperature. When he encountered my mental shield, the leader raised an eyebrow. He was all hard angles and harsh beauty. Sharp cheekbones, strong jaw, straight nose.
And a mind that could kill with a thought.
Three soldiers in full armor—including the battle helmets that covered their faces—waited behind him. I couldn’t tell if they expected trouble to find them or if they were prepared to be the trouble.
“Are you the captain of this ship?” the Valovian leader asked in lightly-accented Common.
I straightened away from the ramp. I wasn’t particularly tall, and I had to look up to meet his eyes, which added an annoyed bite to my tone. “Yes.”
“I am Torran Fletcher. I want to hire you.”
Now I understood why all of his previous conversations were so short. This one would be, too. “No.”
“I’m a bounty hunter. I hunt criminals and murderers; I don’t work for them.” And I especially didn’t work for one of the top Valovian generals who’d led the war against the Federated Human Planets, commonly shortened to FHP or Fed. No wonder he’d looked familiar. He’d been one of our priority targets, but as far as we knew, he’d never been anywhere near the front lines. Disgust pulled at my lips. Coward.
His piercing gaze seared me. “I know you. Lieutenant Octavia Zarola, hero of Rodeni,” he mocked before his expression hardened. “Slaughterer. You are worth a lot in Valovian space.”
Memories of blood and death and war and betrayal caused my mental shields to falter. Torran’s expression went carefully blank—the look of a Valoff using their ability—and once again I felt his mind touch mine. I slammed up my shields and locked away the pain.
I hoped that whatever memories he’d glimpsed gave him the same nightmares they gave me.
My palms itched with the desire to grip a weapon. The enemy stood at my door and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it unless I wanted to cause an interstellar incident—which I did, very much. But the thought of my crew stayed my hand. I couldn’t go and get myself killed for a vengeance that was three years too late, not when two people still depended on me.
I returned to the conversation, pretending the lapse hadn’t happened and that I hadn’t imagined sinking a plas blade into his armor’s weakest point. My smile was not kind. “Then it’s good that we’re not in Valovian space. And I know who you are, too, General Fletcher. You’re not worth anything at all, but station security might make an exception on principle alone.”
Torran tilted his head as he considered me. “I could tear through your flimsy shields in half a second. You can barely maintain them as is.”
“Try me,” I taunted with a careless shrug. “You will be dead before they fall. As you mentioned, I’ve fought your kind before.” And they’d always, always underestimated me. It was why I was alive and they were not.
He stared for a few moments longer before apparently coming to a decision. “I will pay you two-hundred-thousand Federated credits to retrieve a missing item for me. Half up front, yours to keep as long as you make an honest effort, and half on successful delivery.”
I blinked at the number, certain I’d misheard. Just the up-front half was ten times more than the largest bounty we’d ever landed. It would keep us in food for over a year, allow me to hire an actual mechanical engineer or two, and provide for the ship upgrades that Kee, my systems engineer, desperately wanted. There had to be a huge catch or every other captain in the landing bay would’ve snapped up the offer, Valoff or no.
When I didn’t say anything, Torran frowned. “Did you hear me?”
“I heard you just fine. I’m waiting for the catch.”
“My team and I will accompany you for the duration of the search.”
Uncomfortable, but not so much that the other captains would turn down a fortune, especially if they were smart enough to limit the search to a set amount of time. There had to be something else.
“And the search will begin on Valovia.”
Ah, there it was. Valovia was the heart of the Valovian Empire, and humans who ventured into their space tended to disappear. That, plus the bounty on my head, meant that I wouldn’t fly there even for the fortune on offer. I mentally blew a farewell kiss to the most money I’d ever almost earned. “I decline. I suggest you find a Valovian crew to help you.”
—Copyright Jessie Mihalik. All rights reserved. Coming Feb 2022 from Harper Voyager.
Now I must get back to writing book two, but if you enjoyed this little peek at Tavi and Torran, you can preorder Hunt the Stars now! It’s coming out Feb 1, 2022!