The Countess Penelope Sells Out – Guest Post by Helena Hann Basquiat

“What’s for tea, Mum?” The Countess Penelope of Arcadia asked in the delightfully disarming diction of a late 19th century Dickensian street urchin. “Mum, what’s for tea?”

The fact that I am not actually her mother is irrelevant, as is the fact that she is neither a Countess, a street urchin, nor, in fact, British — a sad truth that she laments on a nearly daily basis.

“Mum, what’s for tea?” The Countess repeated, and would continue to repeat, I knew, until I gave her the answer she expected.

I couldn’t just say, “Lasagna,” though I could really go for lasagna. I couldn’t say “Cajun Chicken Caesar Salad”, which was what we were actually having for dinner. No, thanks to Penny’s tendency for fixation and my outrageously large record collection, the only answer that Penny was going to accept was:

“Beans,” I sighed, because sometimes it’s easier to play along with Penny than to try to re-direct her mostly harmless insanity. “Heinz Baked Beans.”

The+Who+-+Sell+Out+-+1st+++Sticker+&+Poster+-+LP+RECORD-382267Penny had been thumbing through a thick stack of records I was re-acquainting myself with — a relaxing Sunday morning amusement of mine — and had come across an album called The Who Sell Out. The album cover features guitarist Pete Townsend applying a giant deodorant stick on one half, while on the other half of the cover, singer Roger Daltry is literally bathing in a tub of Heinz Baked Beans.

“This!” Penny declared immediately upon seeing it. “This! This! We’re listening to this! I don’t care if it’s an all pedal steel band featuring Yoko Ono on lead vocals — I have to know what this is all about!”

I put the album on and tried to explain to Penny about the history of it — how it was a sort of tribute to pirate radio station Radio London, and how it was kind of The Who’s response to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I gave her a primer about how the band used actual radio jingles as well as making up their own, and how it was all supposed to be tongue in cheek irony — the band laughing at themselves because they had been making commercials to promote themselves at the time.

But for all the encyclopedic knowledge that I was attempting to impart, all that Penny focused on as we listened was the jingle for Heinz Baked Beans. And so, for the rest of the morning, I had been hearing: “Mum, what’s for tea? What’s for tea, mum?”

The only answer the persistently pertinacious Penelope permitted was, of course:

“Beans, darling. Heinz Baked Beans.”

After answering this question in this Penny-approved manner about 37 times (in a row), Penny finally diversified her demands.

“Do we have any?”

Find out if Penny and I actually did have Heinz Baked Beans after this word from our sponsors.

——–

Migraines. They can really ruin your whole day. When I have a migraine, it’s like someone’s put my head in a vice and is stabbing me repeatedly in the eyes with a rusty screwdriver that’s been dipped in iodine while playing Nickelback at full volume on one radio and Skrillex on an infinite loop on another. That’s when I turn to Madvil Liqui-gels — and sometimes it even works!

But there are some headaches that even Madvil can’t touch. Some headaches are caused by Internet related bullshit — bullying, slacktivism, and other the ever growing illiteracy of the general populous. Symptoms include excessive swearing, nausea, localized pain in the hindquarters, and a growing misanthropic malaise.

When I experience this kind of pain, I turn to Vodka — the deep down, sleepy-headed, fuzzy tummy, drink-til-your-vision’s-blurry-and-your-speech-is-slurred, apathy inducing, ah, who gives a flying rat’s ass medicine.

Vodka — making bullshit more tolerable.

———-

Even though I had chicken marinating in Frank’s Hot Sauce and pepper encrusted bacon fried up nice and crisp and drying out, and even though I’d gone out and bought a wedge of Parmesan cheese for shaving, and fresh Romaine lettuce for breaking up into salad, Penelope insisted (quite insistently, I might add) that we rectify our Heinz Baked Beans shortage immediately. Right away. Post haste, even.

So we found ourselves in the canned goods aisle, looking for the iconic blue Heinz Baked Beans can, which we eventually had to look for in the International Foods aisle, because Penny wasn’t satisfied with the Canadian Heinz Baked Beans — it had to be the British can from the album cover.

Not content to buy one can, the Countess began filling our cart with every can on the shelf. When the shelf was empty, she turned to me with a mischievous grin, which I recognized as the one she usually gives me when she’s up to what most people would call no good but what I had come to refer to as story fodder. Without her saying a word, I knew that we were probably about to do something terribly scandalous, much to the embarrassment of total strangers.

We arrived at the checkout with eighteen cans of Heinz Baked Beans, a package of foot long hot dogs, three boxes of laxatives, half a dozen English Cucumbers, a roll of duct tape, a package of condoms, a box of garbage bags, two tubes of KY jelly, and an old Hannah Montana DVD we picked up in a clearance bin. As the cashier — a girl only a couple of years younger than Penny herself — scanned each item, Penny stared at the girl, making full eye contact and asked her increasingly suggestive questions.

“How long are those cucumbers guaranteed to stay firm?”

“How quickly do those laxatives kick in?”

“How safe are those condoms if they come in contact with hot tomato sauce?”

“Do you know if this is the Hannah Montana episode with the wardrobe malfunction?”

Stay tuned for the answers to these and other questions after these important messages.

———

“Mmmm… Mum, these tatties ur amazin’! Whit did ye dae differently?”

“Och, it’s th’ newest hin’, Seamus. They caa it salt an’ pepper.”

“Whit dae ye hink, Dad? Doesnae it taste sae much better?”

“Mebbe sae. But Ah dornt loch it a body bit. Mah mammy ne’er used salt an’ pepper, an’ we liked it jist braw.”

Och, gie th’ pickle it ay yer crease. Ah hink it’s brammer, an’ we’re gonnae use salt an’ pepper frae noo oan.”

Tired of bland Scottish cuisine? Does the idea of one more tasteless potato and cabbage dish make you want to impale yourself on your own bagpipes? Then try what the rest of the world has already discovered – salt and pepper!

Salt and pepper — now available in finer Scottish markets everywhere!

——–

“Um, I don’t know,” the confused checkout girl said, looking more uncomfortable by the second. “I’ll have to ask my manager.”

“Penny,” I said through gently clenched teeth so I didn’t break into laughter. “Penny darling, maybe we just let the nice lady ring us through so we can get home and untie the boys. We’ve been gone quite some time now, and you know how hanging them upside down sometimes causes circulation problems.”

“Oh, dear, yes,” Penny agreed, winking at the cashier. “The last thing you want when you have an evening of debauchery planned is problems with blood flow.”

And so we left, sparing the poor girl any further embarrassment or trauma, and went home and cooked up a couple of cans of Heinz Baked Beans and made some toast.

I watched in bewilderment as Penny scraped the actual beans off of her toast, leaving the sauce behind.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Yeah, I really don’t like the beans all that much. It’s really the sauce I was after.” She replied sheepishly.

“But I’ve seen you eat beans a hundred times,” I said.

“What can I say?” Penny shrugged. “I’m fickle. And I don’t like having the farts. Maybe you should slow down. The last time we had beans, well, you know.”

I didn’t know.

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, you know. Beans, beers, Good Will Hunting. You befouled our apartment, Helena. Befouled it.”

“I did no such thing!” I protested.

“Whatever,” Penny said dismissively. “I get it. A woman your age needs lots of fibre.”

A woman my age? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, Helena,” she replied, shaking her head sadly. “It hurts me to watch you lose your mind like this.”

“You know, you think you’re being funny,” I said, “but just wait until you’re changing my diapers. I’m going to save these boxes of laxatives and eat nothing but Heinz Baked Beans all the time and brew up something special for you.”

Penny cringed in horror, and looked at the sixteen remaining cans of beans sitting on our counter.

“So,” she said in sweet supplication, “I feel like I’ve been a bit evil today. I mean, that poor girl at the checkout, and now I’ve been ever so cruel to you — what do you say we erase a bit of my karmic debt and take these cans down to a homeless shelter or something?”

I felt a rumbling in my tummy and began rounding up the extra cans.

“Sounds like a plan, darling,” I said, and then, as an afterthought, added: “But it doesn’t change anything. If I lose my mind, I’m going to shit my pants at every opportunity. Hell, I might even dig it out and throw it around a bit. Maybe play with it like marbles.”

“OH MY GOD, Helena, you’re disgusting!” Penny shrieked. “I was just a baby! You’re never going to let that go, are you?”

“Never,” I grinned wickedly. “Not if I live to be a hundred.”

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday to My Favorite Dilettante!

J. S. Collyer:

Celebrating talent :D

Originally posted on 1WriteWay:

A little birdie (well, actually, a big birdie) told me that today is Helena Hann-Basquiat’s birthday!  And what better way to celebrate her birthday than by heading over to Amazon and picking up one or all of her recent publications:

Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, available in both ebook and paperback.  I highly recommend the paperback.  The printed format is candy for the eyes.  If you are a fan of Helena’s blog (and how can you not be), then you will love having the adventures of Penny dammit, Countess of Arcadia and Helena all in one beautifully designed place.

Three Cigarettes, available as an ebook and only 99 cents.  By the way, I’ve read and reviewed Three Cigarettes and found it to be both thrilling and chilling.  Although Three Cigarettes was written by Jessica B. Bell, Helena was the editor.  More importantly, she is Jessica’s keeper and…

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‘Downtime’ – ‘Zero’ side-story and #FlashForFriday

If you haven’t read it here then you have probably heard me shouting from the mountaintops that my debut science fiction novel, Zero, has been accepted for publication and is due to be released August 2014. YES IT’S TRUE. THEY’RE LETTING ME LOOSE ON AMAZON.

Ahem.

You can read the official publication notice here and, if you sign up to Dagda’s newsletter whilst you’re there, you will get updates on the book as well as news on their other works. They accept submissions of poetry, short and flash fiction as well as novel manuscripts and have a rapidly growing catalogue worth checking out.

Rest assured however that I shall not be shutting up about this for some considerable time, so keep an eye on The Path also for cover reveals, commentary on the bittersweet process that is editing, as well as my usual waffle on writing, reading, the universe and everything. And bacon.

In the meantime, it has been a fortnight and so here is my next contribution to #FlashForFriday. (See previous pieces here and feel free to join in!) As a tease/treat this week’s flash fiction is a side-snippet of interaction from two of the characters from Zero after a particularly traumatic event. I have included a suitably themed track from the amazing mind.in.a.box to set the tone. Enjoy!

 

 

Downtime

“I’ve done what I can, Captain,” Rami said. Kinjo marvelled at the steadiness of her lieutenant’s voice. “We’ve set all the bones and stitched up all the wounds. It’s up to him now. We’ll know more in the morning.”

The captain’s face on the surgical bay’s viewscreen was tight. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Get some downtime. You and Midshipman Kinjo…” Kinjo watched something chase itself over the captain’s hard face then smooth again. “Thank you.”

Rami nodded and cut the connection. Kinjo was still stood by the gurney, feeling like she could drop any minute but unable to move.

“Come on, Kinjo,” Rami said, moving to leave. “We’ve done all we can.”

Kinjo blinked again at the figure on the gurney, unable to recognise their commander. He was a mess of bandages and tubes. His chest rose and fell but otherwise he was unnaturally still. She thought he looked smaller than usual.

Rami called to her again and Kinjo followed her out of the surgical bay in a daze. They dumped their bloodied scrubs in the medbay santisier in silence, then Kinjo shadowed Rami’s steps all the way back to their cabin.

“I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.”

“If what’s worth it?” Rami asked, voice finally betraying the strain she must be feeling as she finished washing in the cabin basin.

Kinjo blinked, not realising she’d spoken out loud. She watched Rami towel her face dry. There were dark circles under the lieutenant’s eyes but otherwise she was unreadable.

“Loving someone,” Kinjo murmured. She caught the look that flitted over Rami’s face before she smoothed it out and felt guilt prickle her skin. Kinjo knew all about Rami and Commander Webb…how they looked at each other and what they said to each other when they thought they were alone. You’re never truly alone on a ship like this.

Well, not in the literal sense…

Yes, Kinjo knew about Rami and Webb. But what she had with the commander was different.

“I know I shouldn’t care so much,” Kinjo almost whispered, still holding Rami’s steady but unfathomable gaze. “I know this work is dangerous. But…I owe him this life, whatever it is. It’s hard not to…”

“He’s not dead yet,” Rami said, sitting next to Kinjo with the edge of a smile curling up her mouth.

Kinjo stared at the deck between her boots. “Not yet.”

They both sat in silence a moment. The ship hummed round them and exhaustion lapped at Kinjo in waves. It wasn’t just a weariness of the flesh. It went right to the bone. Right to her centre.

She jumped when Rami put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s worth it,” she said.

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Striking the Balance – Editing as Art rather than Science

Here’s a general update before I get on to my latest revelation about editing:

Some writers I know like to focus on one project at a time, but I find it beneficial to have a few irons in the fire. It means you have a way to refresh your creativity if you hit a mental cul-de-sac on your main project. A short break from something big to write a short story or flash fiction or blog post is often all you need to feel the fire again. It also means that you’re keeping your connections/networks/online presence fresh, which is not only good for expanding your audience but can be a great boost for motivation and commitment. There’s nothing quite like people reading and enjoying your writing on a regular basis to give you the confidence to motor on with the novel draft, for example. 

So I have been keeping my hand in online over the last few months whilst tackling more adventurous projects and it has been paying off. Two of my short stories are available in Dagda Publishing’s dystopian SciFi collections Tuned to a Dead Channel and All Hail the New Flesh. I can now also announce that my short story Wasteland, a horror short I produced around Halloween last year, will be featured in The Siren’s Call Ezine in the near future! If you are a fan of writing or reading horror, check them out. They currently have a flash fiction competition running and are always looking for submissions and their ezine is available through their website.

(A big thank you to the wonderful Helena Hann Basquait for pointing me in the direction of The Siren’s Call! And if you haven’t heard of Helena, where have you been? If you’re a fan of creative non-fiction with humour and edge, check her out. Her Memoirs are now available for your reading pleasure.)

I have also recorded my very first interview, which is now available to stream online: the great Anneque Malchien, indie author, reviewer and blogger, invited me to answer a few questions and, bless her, opened the my flood gates on the subjects of UK weather, science fiction and gendering your characters. Check out her blog post here for a link to the interview and to hear my voice! It is the first time I’ve heard my voice too, it was certainly interesting!

Simmering away in the background to all this activity is The Big Stuff. This, at the moment, is the editing of Zero, my debut science fiction novel that is due for release August 2014. (For DAgda Publishing’s official publication notice, click here. You can also sign up to the publisher’s newletter on their website . Not only will you get updates about my book but Dagda are brimming with poetry and short fiction releases, as well as novels, and always hungry for submissions. Whether you’re a reader, writer, or both it’s worth it).

Getting this far has made me realise many things, but one above all is that editing is a funny old game. I have read through my draft of Zero more times than I care to think about and yet I am still finding errors: continuity errors, redundancy, even typos. You will need to edit more than you think. And it can’t be all done at once, either. After a while you stop seeing the text. So be patient, but be prepared: there’s a lot to do.

But at the same time, I’ve realised you do have to be careful when pruning. You could edit forever, whittle the language away like the sea at rocks until you grind the narrative down to sand. But you still want a story with stones left at the end of it. Of course, if you want bald, simple, minimalist then go for it. Whittle away. But not every narrative suits this.

The main challenge so far with editing Zero has been finding the balance between what the story can live without and that which should stay, not necessarily for plot or exposition, but for atmosphere,character or theme. I’m so tempted to cut and cut and cut so that there is just the bare minimum left so the reader can fill in the gaps. I do like my fiction interactive. But it still needs some substance. I still want my stamp on it…I still want it to have a feel and not just a prescriptive series of events.

I know that you do have to be prepared to make tough decisions for the greater good (is this sentence/chapter/character really necessary/contributary/consistent?) but I’ve also learned to not be afraid to enjoy the writing and know what should stay because it feels right, not just because it’s vital to the plot.

Now, to keep it up for 140,000 words!

Stay tuned for continued musings on my progress with Zero and, of course, more fiction and book reviews and general wafflage :) Still a long way to go! But we’re enjoying the trip :D

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Of rain, swords and Ellen Ripley: my first Author Interview!

I’d like to thank the tenacious and outstanding Anneque G. Malchien, blogger, writer, reviewer and all-round awesome egg, for asking for and recording my very first author interview.

I discuss writing, the universe and everything, talk a little about myself and my experience with publishing so far and a lot about science fiction. Click here for a the link to the interview as well as to Anneque’s blog which is worth keeping an eye on for news, reviews fiction and everything indie and awesome. 

Enjoy!

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Motoring On & A New #FlashForFriday

I hold my hands up and admit that I have not posted a lot of fiction up here recently. This is due to the official announcement earlier this week that my first debut novel, Zero, (a SciFi romp set in a gloriously dystopian future of oppressive social structures, rebellions and space-cannons), will be released this August 2014. I am more than a little pleased, not only because IT’S HAPPENING, IT’S REALLY HAPPENING! But also that it should be coming out in time for people to sling on their kindles for their summer holidays. It’s just the sort of story to sweep you far and away, just the kind I enjoy when lounging next to the pool.

So, I’m spending my evenings editing the 140,000 word draft at the moment: tightening, pruning and polishing. It’s such a different ballgame to writing, though a great amount of fun. There’s nothing like watching a project come together after so much hard work.

But to keep my mind fresh and to keep the blog engaged, both important for long-term productivity, I felt it was time for another piece of Flash Fiction.

I would like to thank the inimitable Helena Hann Basquait for providing me with the prompt for this story. In true Helena style, it’s suitably saucy and deliciously dark. (Incidentally, if you are a fan of witty creative non-fiction with an edge, check out Helena’s blog for details on the release of her Memoirs and other fiction. Well worth a read)

Without further ado, enjoy your Friday Fix of Flash Fiction and a new and wonderfully daft track form one of my favourite bands.

 

 

The Beast

Gary stopped and stared, noodles dangling from his mouth. “You got a date with Veronica?” he mumbled.

Harry beamed. “Friday.”

Gary put down his lunch, shaking his head. “How…how?”

Harry shrugged. “I just asked her. She said yes.”

Gary narrowed his eyes. “You’ve not taken up black magic or anything? Sold your soul to some dodgy character with hooves?”

“I think I’m offended.”

Gary held up his hands. “No offence meant, mate. It’s just…Veronica Herald?”

Harry grinned again. “I know.”

“You man enough for her, Harry? Think hard now.”

“Look,” Harry said, puffing himself up. “She may be gorgeous, successful and intelligent – ”

“And the CEO.”

“…and the CEO,” Harry swallowed. “But she’s human, right? Maybe she just…liked the look of me.”

Gary raised his eyebrows. “You know what they say about her, right?”

“People say lots of things.”

“Yeah…but the thing?”

Harry bit a fingernail. “The thing?”

Gary leant forward over the canteen table. “She’s gets so…hungry, as it were…that when she takes a guy home…if she doesn’t think he’s up to it she ‘feeds the beast’ first. So to speak.”

Harry frowned though didn’t like the feeling gathering in his belly. “She what?”

Gary shrugged. “Takes the edge off. You know. Not many men can meet her in the middle otherwise. Or so that say.”

“That’s gotta be crap,” Harry flustered. “She’s not an animal.”

“Maybe,” Gary said, going back to his noodles. “Maybe not. Good luck.”

*

Harry looked around the elegant hallway as Veronica locked the front door behind him.

“This is a beautiful home,” he fumbled. The dinner had gone well. The wine had helped him not say anything too stupid. But the hallway dwarfed him and he suddenly felt sober and small.

“It is, isn’t it?” Veronica smiled, that smile that showed all her teeth. He tried to decide if her black eyes burned or if it was just in his head. “Go through to the living room, Harry. There’s more wine. I’ll join you shortly.”

Harry swallowed. “Oh, ok. Where are you going?”

Her smile widened. “Just freshening up. Go and make yourself comfortable. Then I’ll come and make you even more comfortable.”

Harry had never felt less comfortable in his life as he perched on the edge of the leather couch, telling his hands around the crystal glass to stop shaking. He listened to a door open and shut somewhere in the house and then the silence that followed, sipping wine to try and ease the tightness in his throat. As the silence stretched on he looked at the window wondering if it would be possible to climb out and run.

*

The click of Veronica’s stilettoes on the stone stairs echoed her heartbeat. The torch beam lit her way thought she could do it blindfold now. The light had gone down here months ago, she smashed the bulb, but Veronica had never wanted to stay down here long enough to change it. Her pulse thickened as she stepped off the bottom step into the silent basement. She cast her torch beam around the smashed furniture and scratches on the walls.

“Back again?”

“Let’s get this over with,” Veronica said, rolling up her velvet sleeve and unwinding the bandage on her arm.

A mass detached itself from the shadows and shuffled forward. Dark hair hung in ropes over the death-pale face. The dark eyes under the strands burned. “You’re running out of time, you know.”

“Just feed.”

“Someone special?”

Veronica didn’t answer and thrust out her arm. The sound of horn scraping over concrete as the creature shuffled forward made her shiver. “Very well. It’s your soul.”

Veronica winced as teeth reopened the wound in her wrist and fought the familiar dizziness as the creature fed. She took three deep breaths and felt the shaking leave her. When she blinked her vision was clear, her hands steady. The creature shambled back off into its corner, yellow grin wide under the hair. Veronica did a quick search of her mind but found no fear, no negativity, no doubt.

She smiled, re-bandaged her wrist and hurried back up to Harry.

 

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Publication Announcment: Debut Novel ‘Zero’ due for release August 2014

I promised you an announcement, and here it is…and it’s a hum-dinger!

I can confirm that my debut Science Fiction novel, Zero, has been accepted for publication by the wonderful Dagda Publishing and is due for release August 2014. Chuffed doesn’t even begin to cover it. There are lasers and spaceships and drama and intrigue and I can’t even begin to describe how much fun it was to write and to have it sent out into the world is just the icing on the space-laser cake.

You can see the official publication announcement here and yuo can also sign up for Dagda Publishing’s Newletter through their website for updates! There will be artwork reveals, teasers, all sorts!

You can also now ‘like’ my official Facebook page where I shall be posting updates and artwork as and when and plenty of joyous waffling. 

Zero is my very own, epic pirates-in-space romp and I hope people will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing!

Have a gander at the synopsis and see that you think:

 

Zero: Synopsis

Kaleb Hugo is every­thing an offi­cer of the Ser­vice should be: loyal, expertly trained, unques­tion­ing. He has done every­thing ever ordered of him and has done so with a pride that comes from know­ing you are fight­ing for the good of humankind…until the day that he made a deci­sion, as he has had to many times before to ensure the best out­come for the Ser­vice, but in direct vio­la­tion of regulations.

A bat­tle was won, but Hugo was con­demned and dishonorably dis­charged for going against orders and risk­ing him­self and his unit to save an inhab­ited satel­lite that had been deter­mined as an accept­able loss.

Offi­cially, anyway.

Unof­fi­cially, Hugo has been noticed by Admiral Pharos and re-​​assigned to cap­tain the crew of the Zero, an eight-​​man craft clas­si­fied as, at best, a pri­va­teer ship and at worst a smug­gling and bor­der­line crim­i­nal enter­prise ves­sel. What very few peo­ple besides Pharos know is that the Zero, and its crew, are con­tracted by the Ser­vice. Their role is to inves­ti­gate and infil­trate the less savoury lev­els of soci­ety. They sell on, buy in, bar­gain, threaten and report back on every­thing the polit­i­cal lev­els the Ser­vice don’t offi­cially want to know about.

The Zero’s rag-​​tag crew look to their com­man­der, Ezekiel Webb, as their leader and mid­dle­man between the reg­i­mented expec­ta­tions of the Ser­vice and the harsh and unpre­dictable demands of the under­world of colo­nial space. Captain and commander clash, but they will have to learn to fight together if the Zero is to survive.

But the undercover crew is pulled into an Orbit-​​wide game of pol­i­tics, deceit and cor­rup­tion which will threaten to tear them apart as well as throw human­ity back into a cycle of war and destruc­tion. To pre­serve the frag­ile peace, Hugo, Webb and the crew will have to over­come per­sonal tragedy, insur­mount­able odds and every cruel depraved twist of fate that the Orbit can throw at them and Hugo will end up having to go against every­thing he has ever believed in to save his crew and bil­lions of inno­cent peo­ple.

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