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Cast Off

(Book Three of the Peridot Shift)

by R J Theodore

Cast Off - RJ Theodore - Peridot Shift
Part of the The Peridot Shift series:
Editions:Hardcover - First Edition
ISBN: 978-1-956771-11-4
Paperback - First Edition
ISBN: 978-1-956771-12-1
Size: 5.50 x 8.50 in
Pages: 464
ePub - First Edition
ISBN: 978-1-956771-13-8
Pages: 424
Paperback - First Edition, Large Print
ISBN: 978-1-956771-14-5
Size: 8.50 x 11.00 in
Pages: 628

The Action Packed Conclusion to the Peridot Shift Trilogy

Peridot is on the edge of annihilation. Once life-giving, the world’s Trade Winds are transforming people into soulless monsters. The surviving Alchemist gods neglect their followers or take advantage of them. Even worse, a delicate peace has been wasted, and everything and everyone is at stake, especially Meran, the mistreated embodiment of the planet.

Captain Talis and the crew of Fortune’s Storm must try to do some good with what’s left of Peridot in the hope that, together, they’ll reclaim the hidden pieces of Meran’s soul before the chaos seals her disastrous fate.

Publisher: Independently Published
Cover Artists:
Tropes: Aliens Among Us, Ancient Weapon, Band of Misfits, Cross-Species Friendships, Enemy to Ally, First Contact, Found Family, Magic Talisman, Powerful Artifact, Quest, Reluctant Hero, Roguish Thief
Word Count: 117,600
Setting: Peridot
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Tropes: Aliens Among Us, Ancient Weapon, Band of Misfits, Cross-Species Friendships, Enemy to Ally, First Contact, Found Family, Magic Talisman, Powerful Artifact, Quest, Reluctant Hero, Roguish Thief
Word Count: 117,600
Setting: Peridot
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters

Talis stepped off the salvage platform onto the alien wreck. Getting closer to the ship did nothing for her optimism.

“The first Yu ship we find and it’s not giving me a good feeling.” She reached back with a gloved hand to help Zeela down after her.

Zeela chose her footing delicately and didn’t pull free of Talis’s support once she’d stepped off the platform. Behind the glass headgear, the lavender shadows on her pale cream face were exaggerated in the strange lighting of flotsam, making her concern look twice as deep. “That bad?”

“As bad as Wind Sabre. You could almost forgive someone for passing this one over.” The shadows across Talis’s own golden skin wouldn’t trouble the blind woman, so she let the concern in her voice resonate across their communication line. Not a habit she usually exercised as captain of her crew, but Zeela was different. For some reason, Talis always wanted Zeela to know how she was feeling.


And right now she was feeling like they were exposed. Flotsam was a realm where things went to be lost to the cold. And there were monsters here who had been designed to feed on the lost items. And bodies, whether they had a pulse or not. Still, sometimes it was worth the risk to drop down and see what could be reclaimed from Peridot’s gravity well.

A chunk of outer hull curved over them like a bowl thrown off-center on its wheel. Underneath, the metal and white synthetic surfaces of its bulkheads were scarred and melted, twisted and blackened. Had the others been in better shape, or had the crew of Fortune’s Storm finally gotten ahead of their unknown competition? And if the latter, by how far?

Like a dagger point between her shoulder blades, Talis could feel them running out of time.

Zeela’s hand on Talis’s arm had nothing to do with the fact that she was blind, and far more to do with the unsteady footing. Chunks of silver hull, coated in a thin layer of ice, and over that, remnants of seventy-five generations of trash caught up against the hull. They each took small steps on the tilted, treacherous decking.

“You want to wait here while I go ahead?”

Zeela’s sigh sounded in Talis’s helmet. She made a deliberately stern face and held up one delicate primary hand. The heavy descent suit couldn’t detract from the Vein woman’s grace. One might think that while their pilot and resident stitcher, Tisker, had added the extra pair of sleeves for her primary arms, he’d done some custom tailoring to compliment her beautiful form. There hadn’t been time for that, Talis knew. Zeela just always looked amazing. “Please, Talis.”

Talis had made the offer to go ahead alone a number of times already, before the platform even reached the wreck. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop.”

“Believe that, if I were able to do this from a distance, I would have stayed aboard Fortune’s Storm sipping tea and directing you over the comm line.”

Sophie’s Yu’Nyun data pad reported the ship was dead, but that didn’t mean every asset aboard was broken. With no luck finding other ships yet, they’d taken the bet that Zeela’s sensors would pick up electric impulses from the precious cargo they needed.

Simula. Gods-rotted simula. The aliens’ constructed bodies were disturbing as all five hells, and just what Talis and her crew needed.

“Talis, mind our footing.”

A pool of flotsam’s best offerings—a broken chunk of ship railing, a frozen tangle of line and fabric, torn bits of tree root, and a chair missing three legs—nearly camouflaged a hole in the decking. Talis squinted down the corridor ahead. At the other end was a vicious curl of metal she wouldn’t want to risk her descent suit’s pant legs on. The tiniest tear and she’d freeze to death down here. And that wasn’t all.

“We’ll need to move quietly, too, or we’ll summon the hoarbeasts.”

Zeela’s hand pulled back a little from Talis’s loose grip. “Whore . . . beasts?”

It took a moment for Talis to catch the source of the confusion. “Like hoar frost.”

“Oh.” Zeela’s face lit up with comprehension, and her lavender-tinted lips pulled back with a curve of amusement. “Oh. We just call them ‘viren sorlus’ . . . ice demons.”

“That’s actually way better.” Talis basked in the glow of Zeela’s smile, before dragging her attention back to the setting. They were, at that moment, in the realm of those ice demons, and whatever name given to them, they were the forms that had haunted Talis’s dreams since she was a child. No need to give them extra time to note the two warm bodies among the Yu’Nyun wreck. “We’ve got some sharp bits ahead, and gaps in the walkable area. It’s a little earlier than Sophie probably wanted us to break out the packs. Let’s find a way around.”

Fortune’s Storm’s engineer had developed mini airship turbines with shoulder straps, run on the same paraffin as the blowtorch clipped to Talis’s belt loop. Still prototypes, but Sophie had let them go along on this search after Talis promised to use them only if they had to, and to report back everything about how they worked. And then, Sophie had only truly relented after Zeela had promised to hold Talis to the bargain.

Nearer the inner bulkhead, there was a ledge of unbroken decking, and Talis led them along that, turning sideways to shuffle across so she could keep her arm out for Zeela.

Once across, she scanned the half-exposed corridor. Her pulse seemed loud in her ears.

She focused on the sound of Zeela’s breathing across their open radio line. The wireless radio that Zeela and Sophie had developed was a welcome change from the old days. If only the smell of lavender, rosemary, and mint Talis knew was there could come across as well. The calming mix was an omnipresent aura in the air around Zeela and the benefits extended to anyone in range of the scent.

But limited to her own canvas suit, inhaling only brought Talis the tang of galvanized metal hardware and the stale coffee on her own breath. The latter clung to the cotton scarf that kept her face warm and her breath from fogging the glass of her helmet. And whenever she moved, she also caught the blossoming scent of her own anxiety.

Scrimshaw, Fortune’s Storm’s alien crew member, had barely been able to identify the ship design from its twisted remains. Si had only been able to suggest they try this certain portion of the wreck and provide a handwritten version of the compartment they were looking for. At the first doors, Talis opened the flap on her sleeve and squinted at the Yu’keem characters. Scrimshaw’s handwriting was as different from the machined stamps on the door plaques as Talis’s logbook notes were from the chiseled nameboard on their ship.

“I can’t tell. This might be it.”

She hefted her sally bar and felt the life-learned impulse to tug her prayerlocks in the hope that they would find the ship’s inventory of simula. But she couldn’t reach them through the helmet and Silus Cutter was gone. Where did the wind carry her prayers when the god was dead and the winds were poison?

Talis ratcheted the neck of her sally bar, forcing a gap between the heavy sliding door panels.

“Anything?” Talis looked back at Zeela.

As part of their crew, and as Zeela developed new purposes for her assistive technology, she’d dropped the pretense of hiding the sensors among ribbons and beads. In Zeela’s shop in Subrosa, she’d had feedback panels in the floors and walls to help gather information. Aboard a ship, and out in the skies, she adapted new ways to cast her perception as far as possible and combat the dampening when she wore the insulated descent suit. Sophie and Scrimshaw had helped her mine parts from the alien technology in Fortune’s Storm’s cargo hold to create new, more powerful receptors.

Zeela leaned around the door frame and lifted her chin in the way that meant she was focused on measuring the space around her. The network of sensors clipped into the tightly braided strip of hair that ran from her high forehead to the nape of her neck gave no outward indication of what she sensed. She pursed her thin lips before replying. “Not from this cabin, but there is something close.”

Her nose, Talis noticed, had become quite pink. Talis’s own fingers and toes were going numb. They would have to head back to their airship soon to warm up, swap out their tanks, and dry out the air filters on their suits. The flotsam layer at the bottom of Peridot’s atmosphere trapped everything that fell into its swirl of garbage, except heat. These suits were the best money could buy—not Talis’s money, of course, they came with Fortune’s Storm when her crew stole it—but they wouldn’t protect them from the freezing temperatures of flotsam forever.

Talis cranked her torch to full brightness to give the open cabin one visual examination in case there was something valuable within to justify the effort she’d spent in getting the door open.

The aliens were efficient with their furnishings and had few unnecessary objects in their ship designs. Even fewer that weren’t fixed securely to the deck or bulkhead. The cabin looked as organized as it must have in better days. There was a glass-topped workstation with a single-legged seat, both affixed to the deck, facing the door. The seat had a very high back, with a sculpted narrow slit down the center and a backward curve at the top. Looked uncomfortable to Talis but made her wonder how uncomfortable Scrimshaw found the seats aboard Fortune’s Storm. She chuckled to herself, forgetting the sound wasn’t private.

“What do you see?”

Talis skimmed the rest of the space, shadows sweeping across the wall behind the furniture. “Just shopping for a new captain’s chair.”

Zeela made a small ah sound. “Perhaps we should move on to the next cabin.” Though her jaw trembled with involuntary shivers, she had complete control over her voice.

Guilt shot through Talis with a lurch. She’d known how cold it would be before they dropped. And she had the experience of a lesser descent suit that let her appreciate what warmth these fancy ones could hold. But this was Zeela’s first direct encounter with the chill of flotsam, and no words prepare you for it.

“Right.” Talis used her captain’s tone to cover being so insensitive. Probably doubling down on how insensitive it made her look. She was working on it. At least she knew she was doing it these days and could course-correct if it was going to make things worse. Right in this moment, she figured it could lend her a little bit of strength. Or at least the appearance thereof.

She flipped the sally bar’s release and the teeth retracted back together. The door slid closed with force as the bar fell free. It bounced on the deck and Talis scrambled to catch it before it tilted into Zeela’s leg.

“Next cabin,” she said, a touch breathless. She held her arm up beside the plaque. “This one . . . ? Yeah, I think it’s a match. Maybe?”

Talis sallied the door panels back, trying to give them as much clear space to dip under it. As Zeela lifted her chin, her sharp inhale rang like silver bells in Talis’s helmet.

She aimed the torch through the door, cranking its charger with her other hand as she braced herself in the entrance, trying to see what Zeela had already sensed.

Something stared back at them.

A partially constructed simula leaned out from a large basin on the left side of the compartment, hung over the edge as though it were attempting to crawl out half-realized. But it was no more than a skeleton of hydraulic pieces fit together with ball jointed rods and telescoping metal armatures. It wasn’t active. Its eyes might be pointed at them, but it did not truly stare back.

Talis swallowed the surge of adrenaline and released the torch crank, which she’d clutched like a pistol grip.

“Talis? Is it . . . ?”

“Yeah. Simula. We’ve found them.” The glass of her helmet fogged despite her scarf and she had to let it clear.

Finally. After weeks of searching.

Gel filled a Yu’Nyun-shaped cavity around the incomplete simula and sparkled, frozen, on the metal decking around it. A mechanical arm with wide, flat pincers, sized perfectly for the Yu’Nyun-sized sarcophagus waiting nearby, hovered over the basin, inert but looking ready to move the body that would never be completed now.

The far bulkhead wall was lined with compartments where gleaming pale sarcophagi were stacked like vault boxes in bankers’ cubbies.

Distracted by the strange face peering-not-peering at her from the side of the space, Talis didn’t measure her next step. Her boot began to slide out from under her on the frosted metal, pitching her backward. Her organs lurched upward, crowding the only available exit.

Zeela caught her in her longer, secondary arms. “I believe you were the one who was meant to stop me from dangerous missteps.”

Usually when Talis slipped on the frost-coated flotsam, there was no one around to see it. Zeela’s arms held her for an extra moment, and Talis appreciated the strength in those deceptively slender limbs, but was thankful Zeela couldn’t see her face redden.

“Got ahead of myself.” She cleared her throat. “Thanks.”

She’d moved for that back wall, stuffed with simula crates. “There are so many. Are they all functional? I mean, aside from the one that isn’t fully baked.”

Zeela let go of her and edged carefully around, holding out her primary hands at waist height. The smaller pair of arms on the Vein always made Talis think of the few orchestral conductors she’d seen in her life, and as Zeela stood in the center of the cabin and turned to scan the entire room via the finger-tip sensors in her gloves, the comparison was only strengthened.


The verdict rang in her helmet. “Are you sure? They look intact.”

“I’m sorry, Talis. I only sense two energy sources. The rest are either incomplete or irreparably damaged.”

Zeela’s god, Lindent Vein, was right: vision misled fools. Talis saw the wall of alien containers and believed their search was over.

She took a deep breath. She’d hoped for at least five. “What about the machine that made them?”

Zeela put her hands on a console above the rim of the large basin. Talis fought the urge to step forward and push the half-formed simula away from her.

“I can’t sense a local power source. It must need a functioning ship.”

“Gods rot it.” Heat rose under Talis’s scarf again, but this time it was anger that flushed her. She aimed a steel-toed kick at the nearest bulkhead. The smooth white material shattered with a satisfying crunch.

“We have two more than we had two minutes ago.” Zeela pointed at the two compartments farthest from the machine that built them. “Those two.”

“What have I told you about being reasonable and calm around me?”

Folding her primary arms over her abdomen and putting her secondary hands on her hips, Zeela pursed her lips again. “Of course, Talis. My sincerest apologies.”

“Good. Don’t let it happen again.”


The grin Talis flashed her went unappreciated. Since Zeela had talked her way on board Fortune’s Storm, Talis couldn’t seem to make herself express her appreciation for Zeela’s calming presence directly or with sincerity. Instead it was jokes. Always jokes. She wanted to reach out and put a hand on Zeela’s shoulder, like she would have with Dug when he was still alive, but the Vein woman didn’t appreciate such familiar contact. Zeela wasn’t Dug.

Talis put her hands flat against a sarcophagi. Dug. In a few hours, she’d have her oldest friend back.

As the person who dragged him into this mess in the first place, she owed him.

She owed Peridot, too, on a grander scale.

These two simula were just a single payment on that debt. One for Dug, one for Meran. But she needed at least three more for what Talis had planned. One for each of the rings out there. Make a whole group of Merans, each limited in power but whole when together.

A council of Merans. It wasn’t the best plan, but it would buy Talis some time.

Yanking the first container free of its tight compartment, she saw why many of the room’s treasures were worthless. The bulkhead at the back of the cubbies was burned, and parts of the sarcophagus were blackened as well.

Talis palmed a glossy black panel on one side, and the container opened with a hiss, releasing a puff of crystalline air. The lid snagged, the damage interfering with the smooth motion of its tracks. Talis forced it open the rest of the way, breaking one of the slender rails with her spare, non-ratcheting sally bar. The lid fell to the deck under its own weight, twisting the remaining track. No matter. The container wouldn’t fit through the door and was extra weight they didn’t need.

“Intact.” Talis’s voice was hoarse with exertion and relief. She heard Zeela sigh, but her gaze was fixed on the Yu’Nyun-shaped form inside. It could be asleep, with its arms folded to cross at the wrist over the torso, cradled in soft, form-fitting padding. Talis’s skin prickled with unease. It felt simultaneously like exhuming a body from flotsam, and like tiptoeing around a great beast so as not to wake it.

That wasn’t far off the mark.

She turned to Zeela. “I know I was forbidden from asking, but do you want to stay here while I get this back to the lift?”

“What if you slip or your line gets cut? I would wait here forever.”

Talis laughed. “I seriously doubt Sophie wouldn’t come down here to get you. Hells, Kirna would hop over the railing without a descent line if she suspected you were in trouble.”

Some of Talis’s anxiety lifted as Zeela joined in her laughter at the thought of the agoraphobic Rakkar acting so boldly. Zeela settled herself against the simula machine, leaning her hips against the rim of the basin. Her secondary hands gripped its edge and she shifted her weight back as if to say, I promise not to move a muscle.

Talis moved with more caution on her own than her icy fingers and toes deemed necessary, making both lonely trips to get the simula from the interior cabin, through the propped open door, edging carefully around the gaping hole in the corridor decking and across the exposed portion of the remaining ship. She laid the limp forms of the precious simula neatly onto the salvage lift, making certain she and Zeela would have a space to ride up as well and that their weight would be balanced. No need for a twisting, spinning ride at the whim of the winch chain.

Each time Talis got back within range of Zeela’s radio, the sound of patient humming filled her head. Zeela’s voice was light and airy, melodic. Talis didn’t recognize the tune, but didn’t want to call attention to it, lest Zeela become self-conscious and stop. The humming was a good way to keep track of Zeela and know she wasn’t in any danger. That, and Talis didn’t hate the sound of Zeela’s singing.

Finally, Talis was done with the heavy lifting. She glanced around the simula compartment. “Ready to go if you are. Unless you think there’s anything else worth looking for.”

Zeela stood up straight and held out an arm. “I believe the most important thing to find now is a hot cup of tea.”

Talis slipped her hand under Zeela’s offered elbow, supporting it without gripping. “Right idea, wrong liquid.”

As soon as they were safely back to the lift, Talis directed Zeela to the handholds and, while she settled down for the ride, Talis hooked into the ship’s communication line and ordered someone to bring them up and someone else to put on the two kettles—one for coffee, one for tea—that had become commonplace since their crew had expanded from four to seven. Or it would be seven soon, once they got Dug back.

“Aye, Cap!” Tisker’s voice was thick with relief. “Amos and Kirna can’t wait to see what you found.”

Talis smirked. “Maybe now they can stop wailing over their regret at not examining Meran when they met her at Nexus.”

They’d all been freshly rattled by the explosion at Diadem. Even Talis had been shaken enough to let Meran talk her into finally finding those damned rings. Once they’d come to their senses, the alchemists were beside themselves over the lost opportunity.

The platform trembled and then began to move. The chain rattled and the vibration traveled through the entire lift, through their bones. One of the simula shifted slightly, a limp arm flopping palm up. Talis tried to settle the nerves that jumped in response to the unexpected motion. She had to remind herself it was just a fancy doll at the moment. In a couple hours, it might even be Dug’s new body. There were no Yu’Nyun here.

Scrimshaw didn’t count. Si had chosen to be something else.

No, the Yu’Nyun were thankfully all stuck on Diadem in what remained of the Cutter imperial city that they had been in the process of seizing when everything went even more wrong than usual.

“Captain, we have company.”

Tisker never said her title with every letter accounted for. Self-reassurances be five-times cursed. Adrenaline kicked through her blood, leaving her wound up with nowhere to go. No scope.

“Who is it, Tisker?” She looked up but whatever Tisker had spotted was beyond the range of her naked eye.

“You’re not going to believe it.”

Talis closed her eyes, desperate to pinch the bridge of her nose, but the helmet was in her way, so she just gripped the security rail tighter. “The Yu’Nyun.”

Zeela gasped and from Tisker’s end of the comm there was a startled pause. “How did you know?”

Talis barked a short, humorless laugh. “Because I’m just that lucky.”

Reviews:M. Evan MacGriogair on Chimera Editing wrote:

R J Theodore does a truly masterful job of heightening tension over the three books and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion.

Mary Robinette Kowal wrote:

I can't stop thinking about the world of Flotsam. Science-fiction, alchemy, and airships. It's magic.

About the Author

R J Theodore is an author, graphic designer, podcaster, and all-around collector of creative endeavors and hobbies. She enjoys writing about magic-infused technologies, first contact events, and bioluminescing landscapes.

Her love of SFF storytelling developed through grabbing for anything-and-everything “unicorn” as a child, but she was subverted by tales of distant solar systems when her brother introduced her to Star Trek: The Next Generation at age seven. A few years later, Sailor Moon taught her stories can have both.

When she's not tinkering in her own worlds, she reads for both pleasure and research, sews, plays video games, cooks, and, when she can let herself be still, naps with her pets.

She lives in New England, haunted by her childhood cat. Find more information at