READING AND RESOURCE GUIDE
STARRIE is set within the world of Ambasadora, but it works well as a standalone novel. This space thriller contains an ensemble cast and elements of space opera, futuristic romance, military science fiction, a galactic empire, and cyberpunk. It has some instances of graphic language, sex, and violence.
In this caste-ruled society, celebrity, beauty, and power mean everything, and multiple partners are the norm. Love and jealousy are considered emotional fallacies, nothing more than fleeting moods and sentiments biased by hormones. But sometimes people just fall in love...and that can be deadly.
Ben Anlow and his team embark on a revenge mission to bring down serial murderer and rapist, Liu Stavros, at his fortress in the inhospitable mountains of Tampa Three. But contractor Naela Starrie already has her own kind of vengeance planned for Stavros. Even as a battle-hardened soldier, Ben's not prepared for the darkness he sees in the female assassin, nor the way she challenges his prejudices about contractors when she makes a sacrifice to save to his life.
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"Miller’s short third novel in the space-faring, caste-bound, hierarchically polyamorous, and socially striated Ambasadora universe (after 2013’s Greenshift) manages to balance the exoticized presentation of the setting with relatable human interaction...the romance between Ben and Naela highlights the emotional side of reaching out to those who are different from you, even in a world where those differences are stylized and codified."
"STARRIE is one ripping fast book and a well told story. I loved it!"
--Basil Sands, The Big Thrill
"With explosive action, kick-ass heroes and romance that hits all the right notes, STARRIE gives fans of science fiction romance everything they want—at a breakneck pace. Plan to stay up all night finishing this one, it’s impossible to put down!"
- Rhonda Mason, author of The Empress Game
"Take authentic, straight-ahead space opera. Stir in a highly trained, kick-ass assassin on a mission of vengeance. Toss in a career soldier and watch them battle together, and grow together, as adversity piles on. Serve hot! Heidi Ruby Miller’s STARRIE serves up the perfect concoction of nonstop, take-no-prisoners SF action and romance, set against the intriguing backdrop of the brutal and dangerous world of AMBASADORA, and deftly leaves us wanting more."
-Win Scott Eckert, coauthor with Philip José Farmer of The Evil in Pemberley House
and author of The Scarlet Jaguar, winner of the 2014 New Pulp Award
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Ben Anlow squeezed out of the craggy basalt passage of Monmouth Cave and into the shadow of Durstal Ki, Tampa Three's second tallest peak. The frigid air crystallized on his nose hairs, but he breathed in the freshness of the night, happy to have this open darkness instead of the oppressive rock that he and his twelve-member team had traveled under for the past three days.
As he moved for cover among the boulder field halfway up the giant mountain, Char's slender form slid easily out of the diagonal split of rock in his periphery. Her prime, Duncan, poked his head through next. He was having a more difficult time of it. Not only was the guy extra tall and broad, even for an Armadan, but his leg was worsening—well, what was left of it. Tackling a mountain lion genetically engineered to exterminate any trespassers had its consequences. Of course, if Duncan hadn't acted fast, both Ben and Matt would have lost more than a limb.
All in all, they had been fortunate. Ben rubbed the spot of ink encircling his left wrist for some more luck. The black chain tattoo may not have been what kept him safe during his missions, but he wasn't going to take a chance and alter his routine.
Matt exited last, the team's eternal sweep. They joked that he always knew more about the landscape behind him than in front of him.
Ben switched on his co-com and quietly addressed the men and women tucked in and around the shuttle craft-sized boulders. He couldn't see any of them. "Remember, alive and original," he said.
"Alive and original."
"A and O. Copy that."
"Copy, Lt. Commander."
Ben clicked the co-coms to silent mode. Stavros's sentinels would eventually pick up their com signatures, but Dreadfire Team wouldn't give them any help finding their position. Each of Ben's troopers fanned into formation—battle rifles at the ready with night vision scopes—as they prepared for the steep crags and sheer drop-offs surrounding the mountain fortress.
In their thirty years of service together, these dozen Armadan men and women had scaled many mountains, blasted into deep reaches of space, hunted down their share of inter-system criminals, and were still going strong.
Sure there were some horrific moments along the way—Ben had lost track if he or Duncan had had more limbs reattached or replaced. Matt had been comatose for six months a few years back. Char nearly bled out during a raid on the Svetz Pods, and Meke had to be quarantined for seven weeks in a radiation detox facility.
Any of them could have died or left the team, but decade after decade they all ended up back together. This was family, even to the ones who had amours and children spread across the Intra-Brazial system. Dreadfire Team were siblings in arms, and the only one of thirty Armadan special ops teams to be alive and original, thanks to Papa Ben, a nickname he never liked because it made him feel old, and at fifty-one, Ben was still a couple decades shy of mid-life.
He motioned for the left flank to keep to the trees for cover. The tall, fat-trunked pines remained dense until the timberline gave way to a boulder field buffering the highest mountain in the Chulama Chain, Durstal Ki. The sun had a few moments left in the sky to their rear, but Durstal Ki loomed ahead like a black hole, ready to suck them in, never to be seen again.
Like so many women Liu Stavros brought here.
Anger threatened Ben's concentration as he remembered how Mari narrowly escaped that fate. He had no business thinking about the woman over whom his brother had killed a man, the woman he would be marry one day. Ben returned to his combat experience to feed these emotions into that furnace inside him that kept his energy up, his mind alert, and his determination resolute.
With none of the heavy Armadan armor to impede their stealth, the men and women wore only thermasuit fatigues of blended nylon and flex steel. Body-fitting flat packs carried specially condensed supplies and also served as flak vests. Skull caps rested easily on their heads—the face plates and visors retracted.
The chilled air smelled of spice, giving a false sense of comfort to those minutes just before sunset.
Above the timberline, but just below the squalling ice storms near the peak, Ben glimpsed part of the great fortress. Its shiny silver reflected the surrounding snow and rock. The structure looked like a double-prowed ship or a wintry bird of prey about to strike.
Security voyeurs peppered the sky—hovering, watching, listening. The insulating cream Ben and his team had covered themselves in should dampen any thermal signatures, but it also held in a fair amount of body heat. For Armadans, who ran hot to begin with, the effect was anything but comfortable. But, it was a hell of a lot better than whatever Stavros's present victim was going through.
When they reached the break in the trees, the troopers dashed for the cover of the boulder field. Ben's boots crunched through the grey and yellow scrub. The closest two voyeurs snapped their telescoped cameras and microphones back into their spheroid casing and plummeted toward Dreadfire's position as though gravity had suddenly given out.
Ben's group dropped among the giant rocks, some as large as an Armadan surface transport. Search beacons flashed from the descending voyeurs. One flew so close to Ben's position he heard the whir/snap of multi-directional sensing devices. He could take out the voyeur, but surprise was Dreadfire Team's favorite weapon.
Ben looked to Meke, who monitored his position from a boulder several meters up. She held her palm up to indicate he shouldn't move. His nose always itched when he needed to remain motionless—just the way of things. He ignored the maddening impulse to scratch, knowing it would disappear as soon as he was on the move again.
Meke flipped her hand over. All clear.
He removed a collapsible grappler from his flat pack. The grappler's thin line launched two thousand meters into the air to hook a rock underhang just below the eastern prow of Stavros's castle. With Ben in the lead, Dreadfire Team ascended Durstal Ki, hanging in midair from a piece of string so thin, he had to concentrate to see it against the limestone and snow backdrop.
The lift was excruciatingly slow. They would be most exposed during this moment—easy pickings for voyeurs and snipers or for an ambush when they reached the underhang. And, it was damn uncomfortable being buffeted by stronger and colder winds the higher they rose.
Ben thought he discerned strains of muffled beats and human voices. He caught Matt's gaze long enough to confirm the occasional echo of music traveling on the icy wind. A warning to outsiders? Or nonchalance, proof that Stavros felt secure in his compound?
By the time they reached the underhang and activated their boots' crampon extensions, the music flowed freely, almost vibrating through the rock. The quickening tempo and building beat spurred Ben onward as he climbed and reminded him of training exercises and a few of the kill-on-contact missions Dreadfire Team had executed. When face-to-face lethal measures were necessary, it took a bit more pumping up, usually with frenzied music like this.< His crampon slipped. He engaged the co-com and said, "Double time. I think Stavros has a victim up there right now." "The music," Char said. "I knew it. I say that Order of Abduction just changed to an Order of Execution."
Several affirmations came across the coms, but it was Ben's "shoot to kill," which resonated in every ear as the com clicked off.
Ben pushed his body to scale up and over the rock underhang faster by abandoning the careful rule of three on, one off. He went for the quicker two and two—a hand and the opposite foot on, then switch. Fast climbing, reckless climbing, climbing to save an innocent. Climbing to punish a killer…which is what he had planned to do all along.
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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 Naela's situation? In Ben's?
• 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 all of the Ambasadora-verse books, 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.
THEME: STRENGTH THROUGH A LOVER
Ben and Naela 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.
THEME: OVERCOMING SEXUAL ABUSE
Naela’s decision to become celibate in a society where pedigree breeding is a duty makes her a pariah, but also fiercely independent. Rather than blaming her cold exterior on the abuse suffered by certain male members of her family, she transfers the shame to her chosen profession as an assassin. This provides her with an outlet for her rage as well as an excuse for dropping out of society completely. In this last regard, she is much like the techno-militant fraggers for whom she has a secret affection and respect. It is not until she is forced to rely on Ben Anlow, a man whose culture is quite different from her own, that she can face the trauma of her childhood and trust another with her life and her emotions.
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
Battlestar Galactica series
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, Oblivion
Soundtrack: Linkin Park, Ellie Goulding, Imagine Dragons, Black M, David Guetta
Ambasadora Book 1: Marked by Light by Heidi Ruby Miller
Greenshift (From the World of Ambasadora) 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
The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason
Matched by Ally Condie
Crossed by Ally Condie
Reached by Ally Condie
Escape from Zulaire by Veronica Scott
Mission to Mahjundar by Veronica Scott
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
The Scarlet Jaguar by Win Scott Eckert
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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