Richard Fox is the author of the Ember War Saga and Exiled Fleet series. His novel, Iron Dragoons, won the Dragon Award for Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy novel.

He lives in fabulous Las Vegas with his incredible wife and three boys, amazing children bent on anarchy.

He graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point) much to his surprise and spent ten years on active duty in the United States Army. He deployed on two combat tours to Iraq and received the Combat Action Badge, Bronze Star and Presidential Unit Citation.

Queen of Sidonia by Richard Fox

In a galaxy controlled by massive corporations, few worlds are truly free. When explorers find a priceless wormhole near Sidonia, the hostile attention of the Aquitaine Corporation focuses on the small, backwater kingdom.

To protect their world, Sidonia's royalty rush seventeen year old Princess Cosima into an arranged marriage, one that will guarantee a treaty and shield Sidonia from Aquitaine's clutches. But Cosima never asked for the honor of becoming the next queen to a man she doesn't love.

With the fate of the planet in the balance, a team of deadly assassins targets Cosima. The best killers money can buy will see the Princess dead before her wedding day. Cosima will need her wits to uncover the identity of the assassins targeting her, and her courage to stay alive in the middle of an interstellar power struggle.

If you like space opera novels with intrigue, a fast-paced plot and a tale of survival against impossible odds, then read The Queen of Sidonia today!

 

REVIEWS

  • "This has all the elements of a mystery novel. There is danger at every turn. There is royal intrigue. A real cliffhanger awaits at the ending."

    – Amazon review
  • "This book made me laugh out loud, gasp, "Oh, my God!" audibly in a coffee shop at one point, taught me a few new words, and kept me scrolling through page after page with enjoyment. I'd recommend this book to a friend (or two!) and will enjoy reading more by this author. Great read!"

    – Amazon review
  • "I loved reading this. The author finds a good balance between the sordid space opera politics and the swashbuckling, princess-in-peril stuff. "

    – Amazon review
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

He'd never killed a princess before. Jerrum's targets were almost always rival businessmen, suppliers who delivered defective products or ran off with their deposits, or the occasional pirate who inflicted more damage than could be written off.

The kill order for the daughter of a minor House on some backwater planet came with a very specific stipulation—her death had to be public and it had to be memorable. The deviation from Jerrum's usual assassination contract meant a premium payday. His team didn't complain, not that they could.

Tracking his target was easy, as every major news outlet on the planet was fixated on her arrival to Margrave Spaceport just outside the domed capital city. The banks of vid screens before Jerrum followed the target's shuttle as it descended through the atmosphere. Ribbons of text on each screen shared the same basic information over and over again: Princess Cosima would marry Prince Francis on her eighteenth birthday, the first royal wedding in decades.

The networks had two grainy pics of Cosima, which were years old and taken from lousy angles. Jerrum's target packet was much more detailed. He swiped a recent pic of her up onto a monitor—tall, strawberry-blonde hair that fell to her neckline in loose waves, sharp features with smart green eyes. Pretty…too bad she had to die.

Jerrum tapped his throat twice to activate the microphone hidden beneath his skin. "Carter, Glint, stand by. She's about to make planet fall."

Glint mumbled, the sound of a cheering crowd in the background of his terse reply.

"I don't like being up here," Carter said, her voice low and modulated, as if several women were speaking her words at once. "Too hard to escape if spotted."

"You're a professional. If you can't evade a couple of local security guards, then I'm better off without you," Jerrum said.

The shuttle slowed its descent and made a leisurely approach to the landing pad on the outer edge of the spaceport. The crowd, throngs of people lining the wide road from the spaceport to the fortress walls surrounding the capital city, cheered as the black and silver shuttle from House Zollern passed over them.

The crowd extended into the open Tannhauser Gate and stretched almost to the gates of the palace centered in the city. The sudden holiday spirit around the royal engagement had brought out almost everyone in the city, which suited Jerrum's purposes. There would be thousands of eyewitness accounts to bolster the live video feed beamed to the rest of the planet of Sidonia when Princess Cosima died.

His employer wanted a spectacle, and Jerrum was about to deliver that in spades.

****

Cosima felt the shuttle rumble as it settled against the landing pad. Her empty stomach lurched as the whine of engines faded away and green all-clear lights lit up around the exit hatch.

She looked at the door with dread, as if it was about to open into the raw vacuum of space and not her fiancé's reception. She had never met Prince Francis before, and the butterflies in her stomach grew into eagles as the hatch cracked open with the snap of bolts.

Her handmaid, a tall woman with a lined face and gray creeping into her black curls, sprang from her acceleration couch and unbuckled Cosima, who was suddenly befuddled by the safety harness she'd used since before she could walk.

"Lana, I don't know if I can do this," Cosima said, looking up from her seat with wide eyes.

"You can and you must, my lady. Now stand up so I can make you look presentable," Lana said. She pulled Cosima to her feet, the young woman's legs wobbling more from nerves than re-acclimation from zero gravity.

Lana ran her finger down Cosima's spine, and the spacesuit fell away. Sleeves and breast- and back plates clanged against the deck. Lana pushed the leg plating away from her charge. Cosima stood in her skin-tight under suit, shivering despite the warm air of the shuttle.

Lana wrapped a black silk-dress bottom around Cosima's waist and a matching shawl over her shoulders. Tiny wires in the dress activated, smoothing out wrinkles in the fabric and pulling it tighter against Cosima's frame.

"Almost done." Lana pulled out a silver necklace, blue Stahlium gems glistening in the meager light of the shuttle, and draped it over Cosima's upper chest. Clasps found their own way around her neck and connected with a click.

"It's heavy." Cosima shrugged her shoulders.

"It was your mother's, and this is the perfect time to show off. No second chance for a first impression," Lana said. She ran a wand over Cosima's hair. The blonde strands that had been abused by her helmet grew in volume and arced ever so slightly around Cosima's face to accentuate her features.

Lana took a stylus off her forearm and held the tip over the silver-filigreed Stahlium choker wrapped around Cosima's neck. Gold flakes glittered within a deep blue lapis lazuli the size of her thumbnail set into a platinum base crown. A holo screen appeared over Lana's forearm, and a diagnostic showed the shield emitter active and fully charged. The shield was worth several hundred times the cost of the heirloom necklace and was one of only a few full-body shields in the entire system. Lord Zollern had spared no expense to protect his youngest daughter.

Lana stepped back and looked Cosima over. The handmaid's lips pressed into a fine line, and she swallowed hard.

"I promised myself I wouldn't cry," Lana said. She wiped a tear from her eye and stripped off her suit with a spacer's ease. Lana wore a light brown tunic with House Zollern's seal embroidered on the breast. "Come on, let's go meet your fiancé."

"I think I'm going to be sick," Cosima said.

"Not in that dress, darling. Remember, smile and wave." Lana tapped the exit hatch twice.

The hatch lowered with a pneumatic whine. Bright light flooded into the shuttle and assaulted Cosima's eyes. She blinked hard to adjust to something so alien to one raised on a space station: natural light.

A roar came from a crowd somewhere in the haze of light. Cosima blinked hard and saw hundreds of people waving and cheering for her, and a red carpet leading from the stairs descended from it.

Cosima took a deep breath…and stepped back from the door.

The press of a hand against her lower back stopped her.

"One foot in front of the other. I'm right behind you," Lana said in a stern tone that hinted her handmaid wasn't above shoving her out of this shuttle if it was necessary.

Cosima gritted her teeth and stepped out onto the staircase. Cheers rose into a thunder of shouts and applause. The claps and shouts of her name jarred Cosima like a steady electric shock as she made her way down the stairway.

"Don't trip, don't trip, don't trip," she murmured, the hem of her dress blocking her view of the stairs. She imagined a video clip of herself tumbling down the stairs broadcasting through the entire solar system, on replay until the sun burned away.

Her foot touched the concrete landing pad, and she strode away from the shuttle, her gaze locked on the reception party waiting for her at the end of the red carpet.

"Slow down. Wave," Lana hissed from a step behind her.

Cosima raised her arm and gave a quick wave to the crowd, which responded with even louder cheers.

She kept waving, her eyes still locked on the reception party, a slightly pudgy man flanked by two of the King's Guardsmen. The guards, a man and woman, each wore gleaming white ceremonial armor, white chain mail tight against their bodies, and black sashes over their chests bearing medals and ribbons she didn't recognize. The sash on the male guard, who stood nearly half a head taller than her, had a single red border on it. That decoration she knew: the Blood Stripe for a soldier wounded in combat.

Each guard had a holstered pistol and a sheathed sword hilt hanging from thick leather belts. Both stood as still as statues, their half helms covering the top half of their faces. A single black line serving as a vision slit made her think of the construction droids that tended to her space station. The left gauntlet of each guard bore a raised bump running down the forearm, the cheaper and less effective cousin to the shield emitter she wore around her neck.

The man between the guards, wearing a high-collar suit with coattails and gleaming white gloves, smiled at her. She couldn't help but notice his bulging stomach and puffy face, but this was Prince Francis, her fiancé.

Cosima forced a smile and strode a bit faster.

The guards unsheathed their swords, the blades flashing in the sunlight. Each brought the hilt of their weapon up to their helm in a salute dating back to the knights of Earth. They held the salute for a moment, then sheathed their blades.

"Curtsy," Lana said, reminding her of protocol.

Cosima measured off the requisite three-step distance from the prince, pinched the hem of her dress with her thumb and forefingers, and raised it ever so slightly to perform a proper curtsy, just as she'd practiced since she was a child.

She glanced up to see the prince finishing a bow. He stepped beside her and offered up the crook of his arm. She entwined her arm with his, and they stepped off toward a pair of ground cars waiting at the edge of the gate leading into the walled-off capital.

"Smile and wave, smile and wave. That's half of being in the royal family," Francis said. He followed his own advice and twisted his hand from side to side, a technique to maximize waving and minimize effort. Cosima followed suit and smelled an aroma that was too rank to be cologne coming from the prince.

"And what's the other half?" she asked. She picked out a group of young girls holding a banner with her name on it and extended her arm to wave just at them. Squeals of excitement from the girls carried through the din of the crowd.

"Doing it with an enormous hangover," Francis said. "I realize this is all a bit sudden for you. My apologies."

"Sudden?" Cosima struggled to keep her smile as her grip tightened on Francis's arm. "I received a sealed message from my father last night announcing our engagement and that the wedding would be on my birthday next month. And when will my father be back from New Chosun?"

"Soon, another day or so depending on the gravity tides. In the meantime, you have a great deal of planning to do for the wedding," Francis said. His perfect smile and robotic wave kept up unabated.

"Me? Alone?"

"Not alone, we have staff for that. My attention must go to matters of state. You can handle the women's work," Francis said. Life aboard Styria Station was egalitarian, there was nothing she knew of that constituted "women's work."

He took his arm away and motioned to the ground car on the right. Small pennants bearing the royal crest on each corner of the vehicles lolled in the breeze.

"We ride separate. We aren't married yet, can't give off the impression of anything improper." He winked at her and broke away to the other car.

The male guard stepped past her and opened the car door. She made a beeline for the sanctuary away from the cheers and the annoyingly natural air. The unmanaged humidity and free-flowing pollen were already starting to bother her sinuses. She was careful to keep the hem of her dress low as she sat in the backseat.

The driver was a robot, a cap and jacket over hydraulic limbs bolted to the driver's seat.

Cosima felt a blast of cool air and looked at the guard still holding her door open.

"Well?" she said, a petulant tone to her voice.

"Your dress, my lady," the guard said.

She glanced down and saw a slip of fabric hanging over the door frame. She pulled her dress close, and her head sank to her chest.

The door shut and she took a ragged breath. All the emotions she'd managed to keep hidden during the walk welled up inside her and threatened to spill over the dam of comportment.

The car drove forward, electric engines in the wheels carrying them forward without a sound.

"Wait, my handmaid." Cosima looked over her shoulder and saw Lana slip into the crowd. The guard flanked her car, one hand on the trunk as he jogged alongside.

"This vehicle is for royal passengers only," the robot driver said.

Cosima twisted to look over her other shoulder. Lana was lost somewhere in the crowd. The car passed into the tunnel running through the wall, twenty feet thick to house the shield emitters that protected the king's palace and the seat of the planet's government, surrounding Sidonia City. She knew there were two great arches that rose from the wall and crossed above the palace. Holograms covered the arches, disguising them as another part of the sky.

She sank into her seat and watched the faces of the crowd as she passed by. So many people had come out to see their future queen, but they barely knew her and she barely knew them. House Zollern lived on Styria Station, going "dirt side" was something one had to do, not what they ever wanted to do. Cosima, who hadn't been planet side since King Rasczak's seventieth birthday celebration years ago, now would be bound to the capital for the rest of her life, never to return to her home orbiting the planet.

"How much farther?"

"My programmed route will bring us to the palace in nine point seven minutes," the driver said.

She leaned forward and saw the palace, gleaming white marble with red roofs and trim against the spires, was the center point of city. Of all the places to be stuck, at least the palace cut a decent photo.

"Caution," the driver said.

A throng of people pushed against the railings, the metal bars bulging forward and losing their battle against the press of bodies. The railings gave way, spilling people onto the street. A child stumbled forward and fell to the ground in front of the car.

Cosima slapped at the robot driver and pointed to where the child had fallen. The guard sprinted forward and scooped the little boy up and sidestepped away from the approaching car, which had swerved to avoid the sudden hazards.

She gave a sigh of relief as she looked back and saw the guard hand the child over to a man and woman.

Her world vanished as an explosion ripped into the car, flipping it straight into the air. The shield emitter around her neck activated the nanosecond it detected a dangerous acceleration, surrounding her in a shell of green energy. She felt gravity lose its hold on her as she floated in the shield's inertia less cocoon. Shadows swirled against the shell as panic gripped Cosima's heart. She beat against the shell, screaming for help, but the shell cut her cries short.

A shadow loomed over the shell, and the border of her tiny green world poured back into her choker.

Her car lay on the road, twisted into a snarl of composite plastics and steel. A neat circle smoked in the street behind the car. Her shield had ejected her from the wreck and left her on the road. Sound slowly returned to her, muffled shouts and screams of pain and fear. Citizens scattered away, pushing and cursing to get distance between themselves and the carnage.

"Are you OK?" The guard grabbed her shoulder and finally got her attention.

She looked up at him, shell shocked.

"Answer me!" the guard said. Cosima tried to form words, then she saw a silhouette atop the building behind the guard. The silhouette hefted something against its shoulder.

Cosima pointed.

The guard's gauntlet shot out over her, and a semi opaque energy shield came to life with a snap of air. The shield shimmered with a sudden impact, and spider webs of light exploded across it.

A silver dart fell from the shield and clattered next to her feet. Cosima pulled her knees to her chest and covered her head as the guard put himself between her and the sniper. Two more bolts struck the shield. The guard grunted as the impacts hit like hammer blows.

Static spread over the shield, and it popped with a hiss. The sniper lingered over the edge of the rooftop, then vanished.

"Under fire! Principal unharmed!" the guard yelled. "Can you move?" he asked her.

"Yes, I think," she said.

The guard pulled her to her feet and rushed her across the road. He used his bulk to cover her as best he could. He limped badly but managed to keep up with her.

A pair of guards pushed their way through the fleeing crowd and joined the huddle over her. Their shields snapped to life and covered them both.

"I'm hit, get her out of here," her guard said. He pushed her on and stumbled to the ground. She looked back. Blood ran thick and bright red down the back of his right leg, staining his white armor.

A ground car screeched to a halt in front of them, and the guards shoved her into it with all the grace and ease of dockworkers chucking freight into a truck bed.

Her last glimpse of the guard was of him lying on his side, blood running down his leg.