Robert Jeschonek is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author whose action-packed, envelope-pushing fiction has made waves around the world. His stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Galaxy's Edge, Escape Pod, Pulphouse, and many other publications. He has also written official Star Trek and Doctor Who fiction and comics tales for AHOY and DC Comics.

A prolific, versatile, and award-winning writer, Annie Reed has written more short fiction than she can count. She's a frequent contributor to both Pulphouse Fiction Magazine and Mystery, Crime and Mayhem. Her stories appear regularly on Tangent Online's recommended reading lists, as well as in annual year's best volumes. She's even had a story selected for inclusion in study materials for Japanese college entrance exams. Her Unexpected series of short-story collections showcase some of her best work.

Her longer works include the superhero origin novel Faster, novellas In Dreams and Unbroken Familiar, mystery novels Pretty Little Horses, Paper Bullets, and A Death in Cumberland, and the suspense novel Shadow Life written under the pen name Kris Sparks.

Annie writes mystery, science fiction, and fantasy under her own name and writes suspense as Kris Sparks. She also writes sweet romance under the name Liz McKnight. She can be found on the web at anniereed.wordpress.com.

Gray Lady Rising by Robert Jeschonek and Annie Reed

Together again for the first time!

Powerhouse writers Robert Jeschonek and Annie Reed join forces to bring you the first novel in a rousing new series that proves you're never too old to kick some ass.

In GRAY LADY RISING, retired military armor jock Augusta "Gus" Light, the Alliance's heroic Gray Lady, blasts off on a desperate mission that's as personal as it gets.

Thirty years ago, young Gus Light led a last-ditch battle to save the people of Shepard's Moon from a bloody guerilla uprising. She earned a medal for her heroism but lost everything she held dear, including the newborn son she was forced to leave behind.

Now an army of guerilla fighters led by a megalomaniacal warlord are staging a bloody takeover of Shepard's Moon, and this time the guerillas are winning. When the Alliance refuses to send troops to defend the planet against this new menace, the take-no-prisoners Gray Lady comes out of retirement for one last battle.

Nobody but nobody threatens her son.

Charming smuggler Mephistopheles Drake's in a worrisome situation. With business a little on the slow side and dock fees piling up, he's in no position to say no when a gray-haired woman with a take-charge attitude hires his ship for transport. Especially when she pays his fees in advance and clears up all his debts.

He's not even too worried when she loads a couple tons of armor and a bucketload of ammo in his cargo bay. He's been in the smuggling business a long time. He can handle anything.

Then she tells him where she's headed: right in the middle of a civil war.

Nobody but nobody puts Drake and his ship in danger.

Against a backdrop of action-packed conflicts and intergalactic politics, Gus and Drake go toe to toe in a battle of wills—and mutual attraction. But that's only a prelude to the biggest battle of all: the fight for the heart and soul of Shepard's Moon.

CURATOR'S NOTE

•I've known Annie Reed for years, and my admiration of her work has only increased during that time. Though we've talked about collaborating before, this is the first time we've made it happen—and we both had a blast! This space opera epic about an armor-clad, take-no-prisoners warrior woman and the old-fashioned, crafty, and tough cosmic smuggler who joins forces with her turned out to be a fun and exciting project that brought out the best in both authors. Gray Lady Rising is loaded with action, character development, and surprises in the tradition of classic space opera and scifi adventure. Best of all, Annie and I had so much fun writing it that we've decided to continue the series with book two! This is what happens when creative minds get together and turn their unique talents loose on a stage as big as the universe itself. – Robert Jeschonek

 

REVIEWS

  • "Gray Lady Rising explores relevant themes of companionship, family, and self-reliance against the

    backdrop of elaborate intergalactic politics and action-packed conflicts. The captivating storyline builds suspense and urgency; my eyes were glued to the page the whole time. A paragon of feminine power, the protagonist possesses a vitality that both stuns and inspires readers, making us feel that we too are capable of anything. If you enjoy military sci-fi thrillers and non-traditional characters, you might enjoy reading this as much as I did!"

    – Alicia Chen, Reviewer
  • "Taking the most foundational tropes of every quality sci-fi novel, Robert Jeschonek and Annie Reed twist a typical tale about found-family relationships and corrupt governments into a refreshing story about an unorthodox female protagonist who is unapologetic in both her power and capacity to love. While the novel is so deeply guided by its cast of characters—who readers cannot help but root for—Gray Lady Rising is simultaneously riddled with political intrigue and intergalactic action scenes you can't look away from, effectively twisting the most classic aspects of sci-fi novels in the most delightfully unconventional way."

    – Alex Nadirashvilli, Reviewer
  • "A great read for those who are always wishing that Firefly hadn't been abruptly canceled, this definitely fills that void quite nicely. Intense, meaningful, and thrilling, Gray Lady Rising is a fun and powerful read."

    – Nicole Mautone, Reviewer
  • "Annie Reed and Robert Jeschonek's Gray Lady Rising flips the science fiction genre on its head by giving the readers Augusta Light, who is old and sardonic but no less a badass. Pairing Gus with smuggler Mephistopheles Drake, who counters her cynicism with some of his own, creates an atmosphere that is quite unlike anything I've ever read before. Gray Lady Rising effortlessly balances lighthearted humor and emotional themes of familial struggles and recognizing who you are outside of what is familiar, creating an amazing story that any science fiction fan will devour."

    – Laura Temples, Reviewer
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

"Let me get this straight," Kymmie said now. "They forced you to retire because you got old?"

Okay, that wasn't so endearing. Gus might think of herself as old, especially on those mornings when her joints ached and no amount of exercise got the kinks out, but to hear some kid call her that?

She took a drink from the shot glass in front of her. Irish whiskey—the real stuff—produced the kind of smooth burn all the way down that no synthetic booze could hope to replicate. Depak Station was far enough from the central hub of the Free Worlds Alliance that it was a damn miracle any bar in this station managed to stock real booze manufactured on Earth. The shipping charges alone must have cost a small fortune.

Gus had no idea what the three shots of real Irish whiskey must have cost Kymmie. With any luck, the kid had an expense account.

"Not me," Gus said. "My armor."

Kymmie raised an eyebrow as she shot a pointed look at Gus's hair.

The short gray hair had given Gus the nickname "Gray Lady." Her hair had turned gray when she was little more than Kymmie's age, she'd just never seen the need to do anything about it. She wasn't a fashion model. She was a warrior who went to battle wearing a mechanized suit of armor. The gray hair suited her. The men she'd taken to her bed over the years certainly hadn't complained.

Had been a warrior, she corrected herself. The fact that she still wore her hair regulation short was more habit than anything else. She'd been shitcanned (because that's what it really was when you got right down to it)—what? Almost ten standard years ago now? How time flies when you're not doing the job you loved more than nearly anything else in the universe.

"Didn't they offer to upgrade you?" Kymmie asked. "Just because your armor wasn't any good any—"

Gus slammed the shot glass down on her table hard enough that a few of the old dogs—crew from freighters waiting out repairs to their vessels, captains of short haulers trawling for passengers willing pay enough to keep their ships flying—glanced in her direction to see what the fuss was all about. Gus ignored them, and they went back to their own drinks.

Kymmie had gone pale. She shrank back in her seat as Gus glared at her.

"Insult me," Gus said, "and I could give a crap. I heard much worse from those far better than you." She leaned forward. "Insult my armor? Do it again and I'll throw you across the bar."

It wasn't an empty threat. Gus kept herself in shape. All those hard-earned muscles from decades spent inside her armor, she wasn't about to let them go to flab. Throwing someone like Kymmie across the room wouldn't even make Gus break into a sweat.

She could tell Kymmie understood that. She swallowed hard enough that Gus saw her throat move beneath the silk scarf the reporter wore around her neck.

"Sorry," she murmured.

She might actually be contrite, or else she was just scared shitless. Either one worked for Gus.

"Look," Gus said. "How many armor jocks have you interviewed in your life?"

The flush that swept up Kymmie's cheeks gave Gus the answer. She was Kymmie's first.

Maybe she should cut the kid some slack, but the next armor jock—military jargon for the soldiers who climbed inside a few tons of metal shaped like a giant of a man and carried enough ordnance in their big shoulder guns alone to blow an enemy squad to kingdom come—might not be so forgiving. Better she learn now not to trash-talk an armor jock's best friend.

And Gus would be an armor jock until the day she died. Her armor was more than her best friend. It was her life. A second skin that had allowed her to survive when by all rights she should have been toast. More than once.

"Here's the deal," Gus said. "For armor jocks, that big, ugly suit's more than a tool we use for our jobs. When you're out there, even if your squad's all around you, you might as well be a universe of one, got it? Your whole world, it's nothing but you and that armor. You're trusting it with your life, and it trusts you to run it right."

That was the longest speech Gus had given in years. Armor jocks didn't talk, not unless they were talking trash with each other. They certainly didn't take pity on a wet-behind-the-ears reporter. Maybe she was getting soft in her old age.

Gus polished off the last of her three shots of whiskey. When she put down her glass—gently, not slamming it on the tabletop this time—she glanced at Kymmie. The reporter's cheeks weren't flushed anymore, and a frown line had built between her brows.

"You're not what I expected," Kymmie said. "I read all I could about you before I contacted you, and you're not…"

She shook her head, apparently annoyed with her inability to put her thoughts into words. Someone who made a living—or hoped to make a living—by stringing words together in something like a coherent fashion probably didn't have that happen to her often.

"A bitch?" Gus said. She'd heard that term applied to herself often enough.

"No, that's not it," Kymmie said matter-of-factly. "You're more thoughtful than I expected. More… self-aware? You've given me an angle for my story I hadn't thought of. I came here to interview a hero. Instead I found—"

"That there's a real live person inside the suit?" Gus said. "It's easy to forget that."

Especially when you'd had a lot of practice. Armor jocks didn't think of the enemy as people. The enemy was a target. Something you put in the crosshairs of the heads-up display inside your armor's helmet. You didn't think about the person lined up against you. The people inside the transports you shot out of the sky or the ground assault vehicles you blew to smithereens.

The corners of Kymmie's mouth tipped up in a smile. "Something like that," she said.

Her eyes lost focus for a moment. Gus figured she was deactivating the chip that had recorded their conversation. It was a signal that the interview was over.

Kymmie hadn't touched the drink she'd ordered for herself, some synthetic concoction that looked like a sunset over a desert.

Gus stayed seated when Kymmie stood up. "You made this pleasant," she said. "For the most part."

"Thanks," Kymmie said, her smile widening. "So did you. For the most part."

A bit of mischief touched her eyes. The kid had balls, Gus would give her that. She'd walked into a spacers' bar like she belonged even though she clearly didn't, and she'd only let Gus intimidate her a little bit. Maybe she wasn't such a wide-eyed innocent after all.

"I didn't ask earlier," Gus said. And maybe I should have, she thought. She was out of practice. "How come you tracked me down anyway? I'm old news."

"Not really," Kymmie said. "I'm doing a sidebar to go with a story about Shepard's Moon. There's apparently a skirmish brewing—there's always a skirmish brewing there, I guess—but this one's serious. The 83rd has a history there, and my boss thought it might make for a good story to interview some of the infantry who had—"

Kymmie kept talking, but Gus had quit paying attention.

Shepard's Moon.

She hadn't heard that name in nearly thirty years. She hadn't been on that planet in nearly thirty years. The 83rd had fought there. Some of them had died there.

What had happened to Gus on that dusty, dry, hellhole of a world had been much, much worse.

She ordered another drink and activated the table's viewing screen, Kymmie long forgotten. Gus directed the screen to show her all recent news feeds on Shepard's Moon.

By the time her drink arrived, Kymmie was gone, but Gus didn't care. She was too busy reading everything she could find on Shepard's Moon. Desperately scanning the viewing screen for a name she wanted to find. A name she hoped she wouldn't find.

A name she could never forget.

The name of her son.