If you’ve read any of the Amargosa novels, you know JT is a horny bastard. It’s how he ended up on Amargosa in Gimme Shelter. It’s how he killed time on Hanar in Storming. (Well, that and his chosen playmates resembled a certain Gelt lady he spent time handcuffed to in Second Wave.)
And then there’s Mitsuko Yamato. She was a completely unplanned character introduced in Flight Blade. The grandniece of the king of Bonaparte, the Compact’s only planet-wide monarchy, she has opted to be more Vasquez from Aliens than Kate or Meghan. She trains Marines to use swords. She leads special forces teams in EVA suits retaking asteroids from squatters (all while sending missives home to inform a mining concern on Earth that her people are not fighting and dying for their bottom line.)
And she ends up with a smart ass pilot named Giddeus Modesto. This has all the makings of a Hallmark movie. Only Hallmark generally lacks explosions, forest battles with separatist rebels, or a hot-shot pilot taking a shortcut through a planet’s atmosphere. You might be surprised, however, that Hallmark was not on my mind as I wrote this. In fact, my wife didn’t even watch Hallmark when I finished Flight Blade. No, what actually spawned this story was another show, Ice Road Truckers. At one point, when I still watched that show, I had this idea of someone stranded out in the boonies on the frozen planet of Demeter (home of JT’s paternal grandparents, people who talk like they’re from Maine or Nova Scotia, and a lot of alien fish.) As one of the big trucks rolls by, the person sticks out their (hopefully gloved) thumb and snags a ride. The IRT theme, Aerosmith’s “Livin’ on the Edge,” with its drumbeat, is pounding as our frozen traveler climbs into a heated cab.
And then Mitsuko’s soon-to-be boyfriend crashes on Demeter, really where a more heavily populated Earth-like world keeps some of its suburbs. It just sort of grew from there.
So, what does that have to do with Checkmate and JT Austin?
JT is one of three characters from the Amargosa Trilogy to feature in a side novella. He actually is the protag in Gimme Shelter. But in Flight Blade, Mitsuko ends up on Hanar, where JT lands at the end of Second Wave. (Not a spoiler. You’ve had five years to read it by now.) JT is very much a Giddeus in the making: Cocky, horny, and undisciplined. And he’s becoming a pilot, thanks to Suicide’s tutelage. Gid is tasked with showing him how to fly. Mitsuko, however, takes him under her wing. Why?
They both fled gilded cages via war. Mitsuko used her connections to be something other than a celebutante. JT ran away from home and landed in the middle of an alien invasion. And Mitsuko has something both her boyfriend and JT lack: Discipline.
A couple of people asked why, once Giddeus is out of the picture, Mitsuko and JT didn’t just hook up. The logical answer is that not everyone sleeps with everyone else. “But JT is the chiseled white dude who’s supposed to bed every woman in sight.”
Sorry. I don’t write those. He doesn’t even think he is, even at his most promiscuous. He’s a kid trying to figure out an adulthood forced on him by circumstance. And after dating Giddeus, the last thing Mitsuko wants is another rebellious flyboy from an aristocratic background. But she senses in him a certain maturity she wants to help him nurture. They automatically have each other’s backs in Suicide Run, and at the beginning of Checkmate, they bunk together.
It was a friendship I didn’t quite expect to happen until I started writing Storming Amargosa. Well, I should say until I started rewriting it. That thing went through six drafts. Somehow, I always have the hardest time ending a story arc. But Mitsuko is riding in that Falcon, alternately called Dunkirk and Normandy 5, when JT flies into a fusion blast and somehow manages to land. (And avoid the worst of the rads. Another story.) He’s there when she loses Giddeus. And she follows him into Kray’s camp for the final showdown with the man even the Gelt consider the real enemy on Amargosa. In short, they bond under fire.
In Checkmate, she’s saddled with an unwanted transition. She has agreed to marry her great uncle’s heir as another house takes over Bonaparte’s throne when he passes on. It just so happens to be a fellow shipmate of JT’s who should be a snooty throwback to the British royal family, pre-William and Harry. Instead, he swears. He shoots people. He plays poker with commoners and drinks rotgut. And now he’s king whether he likes it or not. Mitsuko is the one who has to give him the news, but it’s JT his captain knows the new king will listen to. Because JT walked away from the corporate equivalent of that life after having grown up in the velvet prison. He has very much become the farmboy pilot, is not only from a world governed by a democracy but lives on a former colony full of farmers, both human and Gelt, and even hangs out with a werewolf-like being named Spikey. Kinda hard to ignore that.
It’s when the mission goes to hell in a bucket, and JT is left picking up the pieces that he and Mitsuko switch roles. By story’s end, he’s adrift, and she’s the rock. She pours whiskey down his throat, gets him a little high, and forces him to spill his guts. It’s Mitsuko who gets him where he needs to go when all but a couple people around him turn out to be something other than he thought.
The next novel is about Mitsuko, and JT, in fact, doesn’t appear until halfway through the story. But more on that when publication day nears.