READING AND RESOURCE GUIDE
MARKED BY LIGHT is the first book in the Ambasadora science fiction adventure series. This space thriller contains an ensemble cast and elements of space opera, science fiction romance, cyberpunk, military science fiction, a galactic empire, and anthropological science fiction.
If everyone told you love wasn't real, would you still be willing to die for it?
Sara Mendoza and Sean Cryer are.
In their multi-partner, caste-ruled society, love and jealousy are considered emotional fallacies, nothing more than fleeting moods and sentiments biased by hormones. Relationships and conceptions in this world obsessed with celebrity, beauty, and power are based on DNA and lineages...or should be. But not everyone believes in the ruling traditions of the all-powerful Embassy. A quiet rebellion prowls the dark underground of this shiny world where techno-militants calling themselves fraggers grow in numbers and bravado. The Embassy intends to silence the fragger movement before the heresy of equality spreads throughout the system.
Sara Mendoza is part of the Embassy's plan. Captured, tortured, and falsely accused of treason, she is given a chance to win back her freedom. She only needs to charm information from one of the fragger leaders, then kill him. But by the time she figures out the Embassy's intel is flawed and that Sean Cryer is her true mark, she's already in love with him.
Sean knows why Sara is on his ship from the start, but as a lonely, anti-social doser, he doesn't value his life, only his ideology within the fragger organization. Against his better judgment, he becomes her protector, each day caring more about a future he was always afraid to hope for.
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"Talk about an outlaw hero that is larger than life. Talk about a hero who changes worlds."
—Jenna Bennet, NYT Bestselling Author of The Fortune series
"The book has a lot of themes, dealing with issues of caste, social mores, sexuality, freedom and the danger of a person gaining too much power over others. Like any good piece of science fiction, it makes the reader really think about things while at the same time creating an entertaining world to experience; in this case, the author took her background in anthropology to create a very realistic world. Highly recommended."
-K. Sozaeva "Obsessive bibliophile," Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer and Vine Voice
"Complex world building, complex societal structure, complex technology."
-Jennifer Foehner Wells, Author of Fluency
"The author has a way of paying attention to details to the point where every nuance is covered; the reader will be able to picture the environment, expressions, and scenes very well."
-Chels, Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer
"AMBASADORA has a lot to say about the human spirit and it says it well."
-Mike Resnick, Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author
"With an anthropologist's eye for world building and an engaging fast-paced style, Heidi Ruby Miller hurtles her characters through a dystopian labyrinth in which hollow beauty is revered and love a virtual crime."
-Christopher Paul Carey, author of EXILES FROM KHO
"Beautifully vibrant and intricately textured, Heidi Ruby Miller's AMBASADORA explores the value of true humanity, the limitless power of desire and the triumph of the individual soul. Amidst edge-of-the-seat action, Miller effortlessly incorporates the conflicts of the modern woman inherent in upholding feminist sensibility. AMBASADORA is a banquet of sumptuous words, a truly exciting adventure that fans of science fiction are sure to enjoy."
-Mary SanGiovanni, author of THE HOLLOWER series
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"It's not real. None of it's real." For most of Sara's imprisonment, she tried to convince herself of just that.
She dragged herself across the entryway by her elbows. Blood oozed from hundreds of cuts on her legs, a miasma of red streaks on the geometric design of the olive tiles. She would rest here at the Sovereign's apartment within the Palomin Canyon Reserve until he decided it was time to return her to Faya’s dank cell.
This guest suite was like a gilded cage. Only here the torture wasn’t needles or shockers, but knowing that even if she escaped the windowless room, she'd never make it out of Palomin alive. Not that she had the strength to even try it. Maybe when the Sovereign first imprisoned her here—twenty, forty days ago? She had lost track.
Lost track of how long ago Chen Starrie had set her up and abandoned her to save his own rogue skin.
Abandonment seemed to be a theme in this society, going all the way back to those citizens on the worldships millennia ago. They must have felt as she did now—trapped and hopeless, sick and dying. She couldn't help but think about them during these hateful days spent in the remnants of one of their old ships, creatively converted into this repository for the system's Archives and desert home to Sovereign Simon Prollixer.
She never cared about those ancient days, never understood, but her present circumstances mirrored those of the Lowers back then. The Lower Caste had been shut away from the rest of society for being unclean, damaged.
Thinking that even those people managed to survive through their horrors sometimes gave Sara resolve. Sometimes.
The cold tiles stuck to her skin as she crawled the short distance to the bathroom. Her tears blurred her vision, morphing the intricate white archway at its entrance into a hazy apparition. The normally straight and regal columns bent at irregular angles as though melting.
She stopped to wipe her nose on her arm. A pair of disembodied silver eyes appeared in the archway.
It’s just the dosing. Another hallucination.
The eyes flew at her. She ducked her head and screamed. They hovered there, within touching distance. Just like the fragger v-mitter lenses, but they had wide black pupils in their centers.
She buried her face to hide her tears from them.
"Get away from me."
She should have expected to see some residual images. Faya had finished her latest modification session only an hour ago. And this time she had stepped up the hallucinogenic dosers.
The eyes aren’t real. There aren’t any fraggers here.
Sara never told Faya about her fear of the techno-militants or what really happened before she was captured here at Palomin. She never would, no matter how many torture sessions she had to endure. But Faya didn’t need to know what inspired Sara's terror, only which drugs would make it manifest.
Her hatred of Faya gave Sara a moment’s courage. She clawed at the fresh cuts on her legs, begging that the horrendous sensation of splitting skin destroy the horrid images. Pain had become her only tether to reality these past weeks. Another secret she had kept from Faya. The more intense the pain, the less the dosers worked, the more Sara retained her clarity.
She looked up to stare at one silver v-mitter, now featureless and dead, its mate, the bloodied eye of the fragger she had fought outside these walls.
"You're not real." Sara slammed a fist against the tiles. The pain wasn't working this time. Had Faya finally dosed Sara so much that the visions would never go away?
Angry and frightened, she continued her crawl toward the bathroom. The raw eye stayed just ahead of her, rolling around as though still in a socket. She ignored it and counted tiles, anything to force her focus elsewhere, until the eyeball plopped onto the back of her hand.
It stared at her.
She screamed and flung it off.
The stench of charred flesh wafted from where the eye had rested on her hand. There were no signs of burns, but the acrid smell overwhelmed her. She heaved and pulled herself up to the toilet. Bluish mucus and bile burned her esophagus and mouth as it came back up from her stomach. The taste reminded her of cleaning chemicals. The throat-searing pain overloaded her senses. The eyeball rolled around on the tiles a few times, as if to get her attention, then vanished.
Now that her mind cleared, the pain in her legs grew in proportion. She smiled weakly at the trade-off.
With mustered strength, she propped herself up and grabbed a thick towel from the washstand. The towel caught on the rim of an empty water glass and sent it tumbling to the floor, shattering it into tiny pieces. Dark red streaks soaked through the towel's pale green fabric as she pressed it against her legs. The contact of even the softest fibers sent needles of reassuring pain through her.
Blade cuffs. What sick mind came up with that idea?
Faya favored the devices over the shockers, which had stopped Sara's heart once, and dental torture, though there weren't many molars on her right side left to pull. Faya was at least kind enough to rub anti-microbial salts into the cuts and empty sockets and rinse them with chlorate, to keep down the infection.
Can’t have you dying on me yet, Faya had whispered against her cheek.
Sara could still smell the pungent chlorate here in the sterile bathroom, mixed with Faya’s strawberry scent.
But, the worst part was the nightmares—they stayed after the split skin and contusions healed.
Trying not to move her lacerated legs, she grasped the side of the huge bathing tub and dragged herself into a sitting position. Her naked back absorbed the coolness of the tub’s side. She closed her eyes and panted.
"I see Faya went for the blade cuffs again."
Her eyes flew open and her heart jumped. He was here. Rainer was finally here.
Glass crunched under his boots as he approached. "At least she stayed away from your face this time." He nudged her head up to look at her scars.
His skin had tanned since a few days ago, or was it yesterday? Or last week? The bronzing complemented his sculpted face and dark hair. She was deathly pale and her face now bore no resemblance to the woman she used to be. Faya had succeeded in her humiliation.
Rainer reached past Sara and turned on the water for the tub. Its rushing noise brought comfort, static to fill her mind. When he bent down beside her, she smelled the subtle woodiness of his scentbots. Breathing deeply, she allowed his scent to calm her.
"I’m giving you the stims first because it’s going to be painful when you hit that water." Rainer pressed a doser patch into Sara’s neck before she could protest.
She barely noticed the pinch of the tiny needle or the endorphin stimulants pumping into her bloodstream.
"Let me see what damage she did." He lifted the towel and set it aside. A brief sadness crossed his face. After a careful inspection of her cuts, he grabbed a crystal atomizer from the wash stand and sprayed her legs with an analgesic.
"You’ll still feel some pain, but that should help until the stims flood your system."
Rainer was always gentle when ministering to her wounds, but very clinical. When his actions became too tender, his touch too caressing, he detached himself from the work and became methodical. Nevertheless, she craved his touch, any touch besides that of her tormentor.
"Thanks," she whispered.
"Hold onto my neck." He lowered her into the tub.
As the warm water inundated the shallow cuts, bright red clouded the bath. The shock sent her head spinning. Her fingers dug into Rainer’s neck, and he waited for her to relax before pulling away.
"I take it you haven't told Faya what she wants to know yet." Rainer moved toward the tall cabinet to the right of the tub.
Suspicion crept into Sara’s ailing mind. Was this part of Prollixer’s ploy? Faya roughed her up, then Rainer came in as trusted healer.
"I've told her everything I know about Chen. And I don't know anything about Simon’s curse." Her voice broke when saying the Sovereign's given name, but the endostims kicked in enough to make the insult sound strong. "I just hope he dies from it."
"He might." Rainer left the room.
Maybe Simon figured the male contractor could seduce information from her that Faya couldn’t procure through behavior modification. Only, Rainer had never tried to seduce Sara. In fact, he always turned down her physical advances.
How could she blame him? She'd bashed every mirror in this suite just so she wouldn't catch a glimpse of herself. With a sick little look, she spotted a brand new shiny mirror above the sink. Simon always made sure to replace them just before she returned from another torture session.
Rainer stood over the tub with a crystal shaker and poured a silvery powder into the water. Sara held her breath in anticipation of the burn from the metallic antiseptic, but its pinch was subtle compared to the chlorate. When Rainer turned off the water, the silence was stark and unnerving.
"I believe you don't know anything more," he said.
His words almost stopped her heart.
"Otherwise, why put yourself through all this? To cover for a man who left you to die? A man who led you to believe he'd have a child with you." Rainer swirled the powdery solution around her legs.
The burn in Sara’s heart matched the sensation on her sliced skin. She couldn’t even think of Chen without wanting to wrap her hands around his throat and crush the life from him. The sudden surge of emotion brought with it a panic, and panic often brought on—.
She looked to Rainer, then past him into the bedroom. It was there.
Her body shook as she stared at a hovering orb of light, no larger than a pebble. The expanding sphere drifted toward them. Rainer scanned the room, even drawing one of his cenders.
He couldn’t see it.
On some level she understood it was just another deranged image in her mind, but that didn’t make her reaction any less real.
The fragger energy orb augmented, its speed increasing, until it hurled its room-sized mass directly at her. She threw her hands in front of her face, afraid its energy would char her body as it had those contractors on Palomin's rim.
"Sara." Rainer’s voice sounded distant, like he still fought to be heard over running water. "Sara, there’s nothing there."
He pulled her dripping arms from her face and tilted her head up. "Look at me. Sara, look at me."
Ashamed of her scarred visage, she twisted out of his grasp. Scraping at her legs drew fresh blood and calming pain.
Rainer grabbed her hand to stop her. "What did you see?"
She shook her head and closed her eyes.
"Tell me what you saw."
"A fragger orb." The absurdity of it disgusted her.
"Do you still see it?"
"No," she said, then defiantly, "Do you?"
Rainer ignored the question and took a fresh towel from the cabinet. With careful hands, he helped her out of the tub. Her legs still screamed with pain, but she could at least stand if she leaned up against him. That physical contact felt better than the stims, than the pain. He wrapped her legs in silky gauze then guided her around the broken glass and into the bedroom.
She rested her head on his shoulder.
He held her with one arm while he turned down the bed with the other. When he laid her down, she held onto his forearm and rubbed her thumb over the fine dark hairs.
"Can’t you stay with me a little longer? Just hold my hand, until I fall asleep?" She craved affection, gentleness, someone to hold her and say it would be okay.
Rainer stared at her, his expression unreadable. "This is business, Sara. The healthier you are, the stronger you'll be to defy Faya."
"I'm not defying her." The thought was more absurd than a fragger orb detonating inside the room. "I don't know anything, including why Faya's failure is so important to you."
"That's business, too. Mine."
"Would it be different if I didn't look like this?" She placed a shaking hand on his, trying to hold onto its warmth. "I just need someone to be near me." She wanted her mother, her father, one of her cousins, even her sister to hold onto right now. Most of all, she wanted Rainer because he was here and he was always the one to take her pain away, to listen to her ravings.
A commotion in the hallway put them both on alert.
Rainer tugged his hand away and looked at her. Not quite a look of pity, but it still stung. "I’ve been here too long already," he said. "If the Sovereign knew about this, we’d both be dead. You won’t need me soon. He has other plans for you, ones that don’t involve torture...or at least not like this."
Watching him leave, Sara couldn't even muster the strength to care what the Sovereign would do to her next.
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READING AND RESOURCE GUIDE
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHILE READING
• What parallels can we draw between the Ambasadora-verse and our own world?
• How would we react in Sara's situation?
• What are the intricacies of an ensemble cast?
• How does the setting affect the story?
• What aspects make this book Science Fiction and which make it Romance?
THEME: MULTI-PARTNER AMOUR SYSTEM AND THE EMOTIONAL FALLACY
In Ambasadora, we get the hint that the original worldship dwellers were a small group of refugees from Earth. As death and disease took its toll, the only way to boost population and ensure a diverse gene pool would be through multiple breeding partners. After a generation or two, this practice would become established as tradition and written as part of the History.
The fact that many citizens still tend toward monogamy is a source of problems in a society where promiscuity is encouraged. They use the term emotional fallacy to represent the weakness of devoting one's life to a single other person and condemn the idea that a person would make life decisions based on fleeting emotions and hormonal responses.
The world philosophy doesn't allow for true love. In fact, the word love is not used throughout the entire book. It is taboo.
THEME: EVERY GESTURE HAS MEANING
In this kind of sexually charged culture, where there is a caste system in place, finding genetically superior mates (called amours) would become the most important thing, even among these sophisticated and technologically advanced humans; therefore, they are a very affectionate society where every gesture signifies something, whether it's a kiss to the forehead meant as an informal greeting or honing in on a potential amour's pupil dilation to gauge attraction. Deciphering the meaning of a touch becomes an art form and flirtation reaches the level of targeted precision.
Sara's bio-lights, the living intra-tattoo which marks her as an ambasadora, are a physical cue broadcasting her emotions to everyone. She has no control over them, and it infuriates her that she cannot hide her feelings, from sadness to anger to arousal.
It is a mirror for a society obsessed with voyeurism and living vicariously, either through celebrities or the virtual world of the V-side. The Media knows all, shows all, and can be manipulated by the right people to control all. Aiding the Media are little mechanical spies like voyeurs with their telescoping cameras and sensitive, multi-directional microphones and mind minstrels, which can scan a person's brain and turn their thoughts and emotions into music for the amusement of others.
In the V-side, virtual home of the techno-militant, anti-government fraggers, one can become essentially anyone or anything he or she likes and sustain that image for as long they are plugged in. By avoiding the tenets of one society, they have offered themselves up as slaves to another.
THEME: STRENGTH THROUGH A LOVER
Sean and Sara epitomize the concept of strength through a lover—knowing there is one person in the entire world you are close to in so many ways, that this person would do anything to protect you, to make sure you're happy, to fight for you and love you, that fulfills your physical needs as well as your emotional ones. It runs counter to the emotional fallacy theme and usurps it by the end.
The obvious character portraying this theme is Sara because she literally chooses to live with her sterility in order to save Sean, an act which goes against every tenet of her society. But the society is itself a metaphor for sterility, refusing to change, stuck only in the ways of their History and tradition. And, though the fraggers are fighting the History, they sterilize themselves from life in the real world.
INSPIRATIONS FROM BOOKS/FILMS/MEDIA
G. I. Joe comic books and Choose Your Own Adventures from childhood
Dune books by Frank Herbert
Philip Jose Farmer stories
Arthur C. Clarke's 2010 and 2061
Joss Whedon and the Whedonverse: Buffy, Angel, Firefly
Rockne S. O'Bannon's Farscape
Luc Besson: The Transporter, Taken, La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element
Wachowski brothers' Matrix trilogy
XBOX: HALO, BioShock, Call of Duty, Morrowind
Soundtrack: Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down, Rise Against
• Greenshift by Heidi Ruby Miller
• Starrie by Heidi Ruby Miller
• Pretties by Scott Westerfield
• Uglies by Scott Westerfield
• Specials by Scott Westerfield
• Extras by Scott Westerfield
• Divergent by Veronica Roth
• Insurgent by Veronica Roth
• Allegiant by Veronica Roth
• Matched by Ally Condie
• Crossed by Ally Condie
• Reached by Ally Condie
• Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy
• Children of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy
• Seduce Me in Dreams by Jacquelyn Frank
• Seduce Me in Flames by Jacquelyn Frank
• Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair
• Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair
• Hope's Folly by Linnea Sinclair
• Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair
• Shades of Dark by Linnea Sinclair
• The Girls from Alcyone by Cary Caffrey
• The Machines of Bellatrix by Cary Caffrey
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