Blog Tour: Serengeti Series by J.B. Rockwell with Excerpt and Giveaway

Today’s stop is for J.B. Rockwell’s Serengeti Series. We will have info about the book and author, and a great excerpt from the book, plus a great giveaway. Make sure to check everything out and enter the giveaway.
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Serengeti

Book One

It was supposed to be an easy job: find the Dark Star Revolution
Starships, destroy them, and go home. But a booby-trapped vessel
decimates the Meridian Alliance fleet, leaving Serengeti—a Valkyrie
class warship with a sentient AI brain—on her own; wrecked and
abandoned in an empty expanse of space.

On the edge of total failure, Serengeti thinks only of her crew. She
herds the survivors into a lifeboat, intending to sling them into
space. But the escape pod sticks in her belly, locking the
cryogenically frozen crew inside.
 
Then a scavenger ship arrives to pick Serengeti’s bones clean.
 
Her engines dead, her guns long silenced, Serengeti and her last two
robots must find a way to fight the scavengers off and save the crew
trapped inside her.

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Dark and Stars

Book Two

Fifty-three years Serengeti drifted, dreaming in the depths of space. Fifty-three
years of patient waiting before her Valkyrie Sisters arrive to
retrieve her from the dark. A bittersweet homecoming follows, the
Fleet Serengeti once knew now in shambles, its admiral, Cerberus,
gone missing, leaving Brutus in charge. Brutus who’s subsumed the
Fleet, ignoring his duty to the Meridian Alliance to pursue a
vendetta against the Dark Star Revolution.

 
The Valkyries have a plan to stop him—depose Brutus and restore the
Fleet’s purpose—and that plan involves Serengeti. Depends on
Serengeti turning her guns against her own.
 
Because the Fleet can no longer be trusted. With Brutus in charge, it’s
just Serengeti and her Sisters, and whatever reinforcements they can
find.
 
A top-to-bottom refit restores Serengeti to service, and after a rushed
reunion with Henricksen and her surviving crew, she takes off for the
stars. For Faraday—a prison station—to stage a jailbreak, and
free the hundreds of Meridian Alliance AIs wrongfully imprisoned in
its Vault. From there to the Pandoran Cloud and a rendezvous with her
Valkyrie Sisters. To retrieve a fleet of rebel ships stashed away
inside.
One last battle, one last showdown with Brutus and his Dreadnoughts and
it all ends. A civil war—one half of the Meridian Alliance Fleet
turned against the other, with the very future of the Meridian
Alliance hanging in the balance.

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Hecate
Prequel to Serengeti
 

Black Ops—the intelligence arm of the Meridian Alliance Fleet came
calling with an offer Henricksen couldn’t refuse: a ship—an
entire squadron of ships, actually—and crew to command. A chance to
get back to the stars.
 
Too bad he didn’t ask more questions before accepting the assignment.
Too bad no one told him just how dangerous this particular skunkworks
project was.
 

They call the ship the RV-N: Reconnaissance Vessel – Non-combat, Raven for
short. A stealth ship—fast, and maneuverable, and brutal as hell.
On the surface, Henricksen’s assignment seems simple: train his crew,
run the RV-Ns through their paces, get the ships certified for
mission operations and job done. But an accident in training reveals
a fatal design flaw in the Raven, and when an undercover operative
steals classified information from a Black Ops facility, the Fleet
Brass cancels the tests completely, rushing the faulty ships and
their half-trained crew into live operations. On a mission to recover
the Fleet’s lost secrets.
 
Out of time and out of options, Henricksen has no choice but to launch
his squadron. But a ghost from his past makes him question
everything—the ships, their AI, the entirety of this mission, right
down to the secrets he and his crew are supposed to recover.

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Serengeti Excerpt

ONE

Serengeti dropped out of hyperspace into a quiet, empty section of the cosmos.
Too quiet. Too empty.
Sensors drank in data, feeding it to Serengeti’s AI brain.
“Something’s not right,” she said
Henricksen cocked his head, looking up at the camera. “Because we’re here or because the ships we came after aren’t?”
Serengeti shunted the sensors’ feeds to the bridge. “Take a look for yourself.”
Henricksen frowned and stabbed at a panel, parsing through the information it displayed. “Nothing.” He shook his head. “Doesn’t make sense. There should be something here.”
“There should,” Serengeti agreed, studying him through the camera’s electronic eye. “That’s what has me worried.”
Brutus—Bastion class, commander of their fleet—sent three scouts ahead, but none of them came back. Needless to say, Brutus was not happy. In his inimitable wisdom, he decided to send yet one more ship after those missing three. That’s how Serengeti ended up here, in this oh-so-quiet, oh-so-empty section of space. She and Henricksen, the rest of their crew.
Drew the short straw. Lucky us.
She scanned the area around them and found nothing. No marker buoys or distress beacons. No radiation signatures, none of the electronic noise interstellar vessels endlessly squawked out. Not one sign of their scouts or the enemy warships they’d been tracking. Just an unsettling silence
Not good. Not good at all.
Space was many things, but it was seldom quiet.
“Nothing.” Henricksen pounded the panel in frustration. “Not a goddamned thing.” He straightened, looking out the huge windows wrapping the front of the bridge. “Where the hell are they, Serengeti?”
Gone, she thought, drifting in the darkness, the stars keeping her company. Destroyed like all the other ships before them.
Three ships—Osage, Barlow, Veil of Tears—lost with all their crew. Hundreds lives—AI and human both—wiped out in an instant. Hundreds added to the thousands already spent in this decades-long war between the Dark Star Revolution and the Meridian Alliance government.
“Bastard.” Henricksen punched the panel in front of him. “Brutus already had intel on the DSR ships. He never should’ve sent Barlow and the others here. Or you after them,” he added, turning his eyes back to the camera.
Serengeti considered him a moment, deciding how to answer. Henricksen was captain—her fourth captain in as many decades and by far her favorite. Solid man. Smart. Good instincts. Cool under pressure, when so many of his kind ran hot. More importantly, he knew his place. Knew he was captain of Serengeti’s crew, but not of Serengeti herself.
His predecessor never quite figured that out.
“Bastion says go, we go,” she said simply. “He leads this fleet, whether we like it or not.”
Henricksen grimaced, obviously not liking it. Not one bit.
Serengeti didn’t blame him. As AIs went, Brutus was kind of a prick.
“There won’t be a fleet if he keeps throwing away ships like this.” Henricksen stared at the camera, waiting for Serengeti to respond, dropped his eyes to the display in front of him when she didn’t and toggled the feed, swapping one view for another and another. And when the electronic displays didn’t give him what he wanted, Henricksen turned to the bridge’s windows, searching the stars outside for answers.
Serengeti found that amusing. As if human eyes could ever compete with AI sensors.
“Dammit.” Henricksen curled his hands into fists, smacking the panel in frustration. “What the hell’s going on, Serengeti?” He looked up at a camera. “They should be here. Something should be here.”
“There should,” she said again, having nothing better to offer.
Henricksen grimaced, obviously hoping for more. “Two weeks, Serengeti. Two goddamn weeks we’ve been chasing those DSR bastards, and now they’re just gone. Ghosted away.”
“And our scouts gone with them.”
“Yeah.” Henricksen sighed and rubbed his face, scrubbed fingers through his short-clipped hair.
Dark hair. Black as coal, once. Peppered with grey now, after so many years travelling the dark and stars.
“Brutus is gonna be pissed,” he said, eyeing the camera.
“Probably right.” Serengeti paused, choosing her words carefully. “This mission—”
“Mission.” Kusikov—Communications Officer, a slim, bookish-looking young man in an ill-fitting uniform—snorted in disdain. “More like wild goose chase,” he said, throwing a sullen look at the nearest camera.
Henricksen folded his arms, glowering at his comms officer. “You got a problem, Kusikov?”
Kusikov flushed and cut his eyes away, taking a sudden interest in the station in front of him. He was overly smart for a human, and well aware of it—a fact Serengeti found amusing at times, and flat-out annoying at others—but even Kusikov knew better than to lock horns with Henricksen. Especially on the bridge.
“No, sir,” Kusikov muttered. “No problem.”
“Good,” Henricksen grunted, turning away.
“Waste of time,” Kusikov mumbled.
Henricksen froze, back rigid, head turning slowly toward Comms. “Is that what you think? Really?”
“I wasn’t—”
“’Cause I don’t think the relatives of those people on Tissolo do.”
Ice in Henricksen’s voice, an arctic tundra in his grey eyes.
“I didn’t—I wasn’t—” Shock drained the color from Kusikov’s face, shame sparked two bright blooms on his cheeks. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“Damn right, you are. Tissolo started all this, Kusikov. Not the war maybe—that’s been going on as long as anyone can remember—but that’s why we’re here now,” Henricksen jerked a thumb at the windows, “taking census of this backwater section of space.”
Kusikov ducked his head, flushing more brightly.
They all knew about Tissolo now, and the mining colony the Dark Star Revolution destroyed a few weeks back. No one paid much attention to the planet before then, but after what the DSR did…uproar. Demands for retaliation, blood for blood.
That’s how things went these days.
And so, to appease the people on Tissolo, and address the fears of the twenty-eight other planets under Meridian Alliance rule, the Citadel sent Brutus and a small armada after them. Three hundred and forty-two heavily armed AI warships sent after a rag-tag fleet of DSR vessels.
Brutus, being Brutus, was only too happy to take on the challenge. After all, it was a big operation—an important operation—and a chance to get noticed by the Citadel, who was admiral in charge of the fleet. Two weeks they’d been searching, chasing the DSR ships that attached Tissolo across light years of space. Two weeks of failure and missed chances.
Brutus was starting to feel the pressure. Serengeti almost felt bad for him. Almost.
“Tissolo was a massacre.” Henricksen took a step towards Comms.
Kusikov blanched and moved a step away.
“Our job, Kusikov, is to hunt down every last one of those DSR bastards and destroy them.”
Cold words. Simple, brutal orders passed down from the highest levels. No trial this time. No second chances. No benefit of the doubt or consideration of the DSR’s intentions. Just death and vengeance. That’s the point they’d gotten to in this war.
Henricksen moved another step closer. “Bastion says find those ships and chew them into tiny metallic bits, then that’s what we’re gonna do. Savvy?”
“Yes, sir,” Kusikov said quietly.
“Good. Now stop complaining and find something useful to do.”
“Aye, sir.” Kusikov stared at his feet—head bowed, shoulders slumped, looking like a contrite schoolboy. A quick look at the camera above him, shoulders shrugging apologetically, and Kusikov stabbed at the panel in front of him, carefully avoiding his captain’s eyes, never quite looking him in the face.
Henricksen gave him a long look, eyeing Kusikov suspiciously as he puttered about, trying to appear busy. “I said useful, Kusikov. That’s just randomly poking buttons.”
“Yes, sir.” A hint of sullenness crept back into Kusikov’s voice, but he grabbed up his comms visor, fiddling with the settings before slipping it over his head.
Henricksen grunted, shaking his head as he turned away from Comms and looked up at the nearest camera. “So whaddaya wanna do?”
Serengeti thought a moment before answering. “Empty this place may be, but there’s more here, I think, than meets the eye.”
Or sensors in her case. Serengeti didn’t really have eyes, just her systems and her sensors, the cameras throughout her body. But then, those were better than human eyes, weren’t they?
Infinitely better. Far more exact.
She studied the stars outside through those sensors, activated a dozen different cameras set in the plating of her hull and peered through those too, AI mind processing, parsing through reams of streaming data.
Not much there. Not much to go on at all.
“I say we take a closer look.”
Henricksen dropped his eyes to the bridge’s front windows, taking a look himself. “Good idea,” he said, nodding slowly.
“Initiating active scans.” Serengeti reached for systems, sending a deluge of muons and other elementary particles into the emptiness around them.
“Short range is coming up empty,” a woman’s crisp voice said.
That was Finlay at the Scan station—late to the party and trying to make up for it. She was a tiny thing, even for a human. Petite and red-headed with a spray of freckles across her cheeks and nose, bright—though not the genius Kusikov claimed to be, nor a tenth as annoying—eager and just the tiniest bit naive.
Serengeti liked her. Liked her a lot. In fact, she liked most of the crew she’d been given this time around. Even Kusikov when he wasn’t being a smart-ass know-it-all. Not as many veterans on board as there once were, but she enjoyed this crew’s youthful exuberance. Their idealistic approach to a war that had raged for half a century and more.
A little too idealistic sometimes, Serengeti admitted, but Henricksen kept them grounded. Henricksen and Sikuuku, the handful of other veterans throughout the ship. They’d seen it all—the worst war had to offer—and adapted. Overcame. Kept on fighting.
Serengeti respected that, and them. Youthful exuberance was one thing. Youthful exuberance unfettered could get them all killed.
She let the scans run, processed the data they returned and then waited, holding her tongue, letting Finlay work through the information in her slow, methodical way.
Finlay cycled her panel, swapping one data screen for another. “Long-range scan’s picking something up.”
Good girl.
“What?” Henricksen demanded. “What’s out there?”
“Hard to tell.” Finlay frowned in confusion, shaking her head. “Few pings, that’s it.” She tapped at the panel in front of her, scrolling through the sensors’ data streams one after the other. Lot of information there. Hard for a human mind—even a bright one like Finlay’s—to make sense of it all. “Dammit.” Finlay swiped at the panel in frustration, starting over from the beginning.
Serengeti parsed a few strings, ran a quick correlation, and pushed the results to the Scan station to help Finlay out. She’d get it eventually, but Serengeti needed to move this along. An AI only had so much patience for the slowing processing of a human mind, after all.
Finlay pulled the new data over to her central screen and leaned close, brow furrowed as her eyes devoured the information. “Looks like…metal? Some kind of alloy? Or composite, maybe.” A few more taps at her screen, another shake of her head. “Whatever’s out there, it’s not a ship.”
“At least not anymore,” Henricksen said softly. Far too softly for Finlay or the rest of the bridge crew to hear, just loud enough for Serengeti’s microphones to pick his words up. He raised his eyes to the camera in front of him, mounted high up on the wall. “Could’ve been, once upon a time.”
He stared into the camera’s lens a second or two and then flicked his eyes back to the front windows, looking out at the stars.
Serengeti looked with him, studying the emptiness outside with one fraction of her consciousness while the bulk of her processing power sifted through the wealth of data her systems collected.
Definitely metal out there. Metal and composite both. But whether it was the remains of a ship or not…
Hard to tell. Finlay’s right in that.
Serengeti amped up the sensors, reaching farther out with her scans, stretching to the very edge of her systems’ range to suck in more data.
Information poured in, but it didn’t really offer anything more than what Finlay had already reported. There wasn’t much out there—that’s just about all the scan data said.
But those pings…
Distant as they were, scattered as they were, those pings merited further investigation.
“Launching probes,” Serengeti said, voice soft and serene, infinitely confident.
Flares erupted along her port and starboard sides, rounded metallic shapes shooting off into space, ion drives glowing cobalt blue in the darkness.
“Finlay. Bring the probes’ cameras up on the main screen,” Henricksen ordered.
Finlay stared at the console a moment, lips pressed tight, looking like she’d eaten a lemon.
“Finlay!”
“Aye, sir.” Finlay threw an irritated look at the closest camera as she set her hands on the panels in front of her. She was mad—that was clear—and her fingers fairly flew across the Scan station as she called up the feeds from the twelve probes Serengeti had sent out. A few seconds of processing and she shunted the video to the front windows—thick panes stretching from the floor to ceiling, curving with the outside wall of the bridge—so the rest of the command crew could see.
Odd, those windows, and that state of the art vessels like Serengeti, still came equipped with them. Once upon a time, those reinforced panes were necessary, back in the days when ships’ scans were limited and line of sight still mattered. But now…modern ships’ systems provided far more information than human eyes could ever discern.
And yet human designers clung to the idea of windows anyway, inserting them into every new ship that rolled off the line. Serengeti asked Henricksen about that once, wondering why humans insisted on keeping such a silly, useless thing. Henricksen just shrugged and said they liked them. That they liked to look through them at the stars…
An error message appeared, flashing until Serengeti gave it her attention. She spotted the problem right away and started to fix it.
Finlay belatedly noticed and jumped in to help. “Number Ten’s malfunctioning.” She frowned at the blank window where the data from the Number Ten feed should have been. Number Ten had always been buggy—a manufacturing defect, or maybe just a quirk of its programming. The probes were AI, after all, and designed by humans. “Running diagnostics.”
Faster if Serengeti ran the diagnostics herself, but she left Finlay to it to appease her, and cast her eyes about the bridge while she waited for the results.
Five stations on the bridge—plus the captain’s chair—with a single crewman manning each. The Captain’s Command Post sat dead center in the middle with the other stations—Scan, Communications, Navigation, Engineering, Artillery—arranged in a ring around it.
Circular stations, circular bridge, circular camera eyes watching over it all. The ship designers certainly do like circles, Serengeti thought idly.
She checked in on Finlay, working away at her circular station, found her still working furiously away.
This was taking too long. Ten was a puzzle Serengeti figured out long ago, no sense having Finlay try to recover that ground. She reached for the probe herself, bypassing Finlay entirely to dip directly into Number Ten’s systems.
“Repairs complete,” Serengeti said, making a last few adjustments before bringing the probe’s feed online.
“I had it,” Finlay muttered, stabbing angrily at the console in front of her.
“Stow it, Finlay,” Henricksen barked.
Finlay flushed brightly. “Aye, sir. Sorry, sir.” She raised her eyes to the camera in front of her, looking angry and contrite at the same time. She nodded stiffly to the camera and then bowed her head, focusing all of her attention on the Scan station in front of her.
Finlay was a hard charger and didn’t like being shown up. By anyone. Not even a Valkyrie class starship. Serengeti filed that away, adding it to the library of information she’d collected from her human crews over the years. She was AI, her mind a thousand times more powerful than a human’s organic brain, but she forgot sometimes how important it was for humans to feel needed.
Need. Such a strange concept. So difficult for an AI to understand. Truth be told, Serengeti didn’t really need her human crew. It was slower—infinitely slower—to let them run basic ship’s operations. She could manage everything on her own and still have enough processing power to monitor the hundreds of cameras and relays, circuits and networks and every other thing wired into her body.
But I like having them about, Serengeti thought to herself.
Crew was…comforting. For herself and the humans who’d made her. Truth be told, humans still didn’t quite trust AIs. Funny, considering human engineers designed every last one of them, making them stronger, more capable with each generation. Humans built AIs and wrapped them inside armored shells they launched into the stars, but they still wanted human crews on board those space-faring ships. Human minds and human judgment as a counter—or perhaps a foil—to ship’s intelligence. Because most AIs couldn’t feel in the way humans did.
Maybe there’s something to that, Serengeti mused. We’ve learned emotion—some of us anyway—but it’s not organic. Not innate.
She cast her eyes across the bridge, looking from Henricksen to the stations behind him, circling around to Finlay at Scan. Need was important—Serengeti learned that over the years. Next time, she’d let Finlay run the scans and argue with Number Ten.
Good luck with that one, sister.

J.B. Rockwell is a New Englander, which is important to note because it
means she’s (a) hard headed, (b) frequently stubborn, and (c) prone
to fits of snarky sarcasticness. As a kid she subsisted on a steady
diet of fairy tales, folklore, mythology augmented by generous
helpings of science fiction and fantasy. As a quasi-adult she dreamed
of being the next Indiana Jones and even pursued (and earned!) a
degree in anthropology. Unfortunately, those dreams of being an
archaeologist didn’t quite work out. Through a series of twists and
turns (involving cats, a marriage, and a SCUBA certification, amongst
other things) she ended up working in IT for the U.S. Coast Guard and
now writes the types of books she used to read. Not a bad ending for
an Indiana Jones wannabe…

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