GUYS, I’m proud to be a member of International Association of Science Fiction Authors. IASFA regularly offers bundles and interviews with indie authors through their newsletter to over 10,000 subscribers. And this month, I am pleased to have two novels be a part of their promotion. SIMON SAYS and SHORTCUT!
It’s an All Science Fiction Novel Bundle, with a bunch of great novels for 99 cents or free and it runs from Sept. 24 (today) through Sept. 28 (Thursday).
Here’s a brief interview I did with IAFSA about SHORTCUT:
Bryan Thomas Schmidt, author of Shortcut
I write hard science fiction thrillers. I love the real world stuff and how it drives the story, from ride alongs with actual police to science and maths, even pop culture. For me, I love being able to learn new things and then use it to make the movie in my head come alive in words. At least that’s how I hope it works out.
The research is a lot of work but worth it. But I spent hours and even years on Shortcut. It’s nice to be able to build on that now beyond just the novel to do some other stories. With John Simon, I spent hours up all night riding through the most dangerous neighborhoods in Kansas City with the police doing real world research. I visit all the real settings and take notes. I love being able to use that to make things more vivid and real, even when I’m inventing new locations, people, and things.
If you like good adventure and suspense mixed with humor and fascinating characters, even a bit of real science and math, you should enjoy my stuff.
All right, here’s a confession. Yes. I’ve become a very bad blogger. Whereas for two years I posted twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, with regular aplumb, I now find myself posting every other week at least once, two if I’m lucky. So I apologize. Amazingly, the audience for the blog remains steady, even when I don’t post. Some of my posts continue gaining new views regardless, so it’s encouraging that my content matters. But still, my drain creatively from being so busy with editing and writing has hurt my blogging. I am just not thinking up ideas or having creative energy for it like I used. I’ve failed to do some interviews too and had to back off on others. Sincere apologies for that. But I also do not want to be one of those people who posts boring blog posts just to post. You don’t care if I bought new socks, changed shoe sizes, or what I ate. This blog is about writers and editors and helping the same. So I need content that’s appropriate with substance.
So, I hope this will be a worthwhile post. Those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know I have been working on my first fantasy novel, Duneman, since January2010. Well, it’s finally done, four drafts later, and four agents are considering it for representation. In the meantime, I have started work on book 2 of that cycle, called The Dawning Age, which I expect to be 4-5 books total. Yeah, that’s right, I’m not sure. I’m a discovery writer, a pantser. The only reason I have an idea I can’t do it in three is because the agents asked for synopses of the next two books, so I had to throw something together. I did a pretty good job with Book 2, I believe, but I was totally lost on book 3…because book 2 isn’t done yet.
So meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek at my first fantasy novel. I hope you enjoy it. It took a while to write but I enjoyed every minute.
(Dawning Age Book 1)
CHAPTER ONE, Scene 1
He gained consciousness sweaty and hot, lying on his back. It took a moment for the black spots to fade, replaced by the blinding sunlight and white sand stretching as far as the eye could see. Where am I?
The sandy landscape reflected sunlight and heat back at him as he sat up, shaking off the sleep. Scattered belongings—clothes, canteens, a shattered barrel and trunk, torn saddlebags—
stretched off into the distance toward the remains of a wagon. Footsteps led toward him, smeared and uneven as if perhaps he’d stumbled to where he lay. Sunlight glinted off flesh atop a nearby dune. Was someone else alive? Scattered severed limbs—an arm severed at the elbow, the hand still attached, fingers stiffened like claws, a leg severed mid-thigh, another cut off mid-calf—provided the answer.
His back ached as he examined himself. Tattered brown pants stretched down to just below his knees where threads of scattered lengths were all that remained. He had no shirt or shoes or socks. The skin of his feet was sunburned cherry red. No wonder his body felt aflame. How long had he been there?
And then it hit him like a stone from a slingshot: Who am I? He searched his memory but no name would come. His mind was like an unpainted canvas or a new fence awaiting its first coat of color.
His left shoulder cried out with every movement of his arm, so he reached back to examine it with his right and found a long, scabby cut running in an arc down his back. Had he been in a fight? Who did this to him? He checked himself again for cuts and abrasions. His forehead hurt, and dried flakes of blood came away on his palm and fingers. He had a large bruise on his abdomen and small ones on his chest and stomach. Pain flared as he moved his right ankle, but he couldn’t tell if it came from sunburned skin or a jagged cut, scabbed over now from the heat and sun.
He stood and his feet cried out in protest. He wobbled, losing his balance and forcing him back down to his knees. He buried the pain in the back of his mind and turned slowly in a circle, looking around him. Scattered, thin cumulus clouds filled the clear blue sky overhead. Thick sandstone walls and clay-tiled roofs topping white stone buildings rose in the distance, a few spires and towers looming in their midst. A trail of smoke curled into the sky from behind them. A city!
Wait! Why didn’t he hear anything? A few sheep bleated from the west, their cries mixed with scattered insect chirps and bird calls, but there were no sounds of people, wagons, horses, tools. Maybe when he got closer. Ignoring his feet’s protests, he stood again and stumbled across the curved white dunes toward the sandstone walls.
Ahead, beside the city walls, a boy herding sheep stopped a moment to use the untucked tails of his loose-fitting light blue shirt to wipe sweat from his darkly tanned forehead. His boots stretched up over his brown pants well past his ankles, and he held a tall, curved wooden staff in his right hand as he watched the desert grassland and the herd around him.
Drawing near, the man called out to the shephard. “Ho, neighbor! A fine day for herding.” His chapped lips and parched throat hurt from the effort, reminding him how much he longed for water.
The boy nodded, staring at him with caution, his left hand wrapping firmly around the staff just below his right.
“What city is this?” The man smiled, not blaming the boy for his wariness. I must look a fright.
“Chyllos, stranger.” The boy’s voice cracked in the way that occurs when one transitions from a boy to a man.
He must be older than I thought. “What day is it?”
“Third day.” The boy spoke with a gentle, plain accent, his words slow and deliberate.
Orean Midlands? The question popped into his head along with images of the Lands, his home. Multiple states, the Elbian pass and mountains, the mighty Esos River, source of water for much of the inlands. Then: I remember seven day. Could I have been unconscious that long? “Do you know where I might get water?” He hocked, trying to call up enough saliva to wet his cracked, painful lips and throat, but none came. The boy carried no canteen, and there was no sign of a well.
“There’s a well in the square.” The boy nodded toward the city walls.
The man limped past the first of the sheep, the boy shrinking away as soon as he moved. “Thank you kindly.”
The boy turned his body to keep the stranger at his front, and the man continued feeling the shephard’s gaze on him as he waded through the grazing herd and on toward the city. A wide, wooden gate stood open to one side with no one standing guard.
The stranger entered through the high stone walls, moving along a sandy street past shabby, rundown houses packed in side-by-side. Their second floors projected out over the boardwalk and into the street where crude signs dangled from creaking rusted hooks. The city appeared to be on the verge of collapse. What city would be this deserted at mid-day?
He hurried up the street, garnering surprised stares from a couple shopkeepers sweeping the wooden boardwalk in front of their stores. Ignoring them, he continued toward a sign labeled “tavern” at the far end, then stumbled up onto the wooden boardwalk. The tavern stood along yet another sandy street which wound off into the distance in both directions. A quick search revealed no currency in his ragged pockets. For a moment, he considered passing by to look for the public well, but the sun continued its baking blare and surely a tavern had water. He grabbed the door handle and swung it open, assaulted immediately by the smell of sawdust and smoke. Stepping inside, the scent of stale ale filled his nose as he waited while the door shut behind him and the sunlight faded away.
The tavern seemed typical for a small city, dimly lit with torches spread evenly around the room on hooks attached to the white plaster walls. The bottom half of each wall consisted of wooden slats hung side-by-side, the floor of matching dark wood with a thin layer of sawdust. As his eyes adjusted, he spotted a bar across the room beyond scattered round wooden tables and chairs. A bartender eyed him from behind the worn, polished surface with the same wary look as the shepherd boy.
“Good afternoon, neighbor,” the man said. “Can you spare a cup of water for a stranger?” For a moment, he wished he could ask for clothes, too.
The bartender was large and muscular, his skin dark like the shepherd’s, a brown leather apron tied over the top of a loose fitting white shirt and brown trousers.He scowled as the stranger approached. “How did you get here?” he demanded in a scratchy baritone, as the stranger sat on a tall stool in front of the bar.
“I don’t really know. I’m told this place is Chyllos, but I’ve never been here before.” He shrugged.
“What happened to your clothes?” The Bartender said, staying put at the far end of the bar.
The man shook his head. “I awoke on the dunes. The sun is brutal today. Can you please spare some water?”
The bartender grunted and turned to a large wooden barrel in the corner, reaching into it with a long metal ladle and pouring water into a wooden cup. Setting the cup on the bar, he slid it down to the stranger, watching as water splashed out onto the scarred surface.
The stranger drank eagerly. The fresh water cooled his mouth and throat. Even as he finished, he longed for more. He held out the glass to the bartender and croaked: “More please?”
The bartender grunted again, approaching with the metal scoop and pouring its contents over the wooden cup on the bar until he’d filled it once more. The man noticed the bartender held the scoop as far from the cup as he could manage so they didn’t touch. He drank again, smiling. Water had never tasted so good. He sighed, wiping his dry, cracked lips on his sleeve. “Thank you very much, neighbor.” His voice was louder and warmer now as the water lubricated his throat and the pain faded.
The bartender glared at him. “Okay, now be on your way.”
The man nodded. The bartender must not care much for nonpaying customers. “Can you direct me to an inn?”
“There are no inns available here for the likes of you,” the bartender said, ending the conversation.
“If I have offended you somehow—”
“You offended me the day you were born—you and all your kind.” The bartender’s eyes narrowed, cold and flat. The stranger finished drinking and set the wooden cup back on the counter. What have I done to deserve his wrath? The bartender motioned to the cup. “Keep it. It’s worthless to me now.”
The stranger nodded and grabbed the cup off the counter, stumbling toward the door.
Sunlight blinded him again as he stepped back out onto the street. He looked around for an inn, searching the creaking wooden signs hanging from the buildings but seeing none in sight. He had to find some clothes and shelter. He limped west along the street past startled citizens sweeping storefronts or moving along the boardwalk with parcels. They hurried out of his path as he passed, scowling at him much as the bartender had. What have I done? He couldn’t remember ever being in Chyllos before, and, the further he went, the more the silence bothered him. Where were the people who patronized these establishments?
At the end of the boardwalk, he turned into a dirt alleyway between buildings and bumped into a well-dressed woman in a lacy, silk dress who’d just emerged there. “Excuse me,” he said, stepping away from her.
Her brown eyes went wide and she stared at him in horror. “Get away from me!”
The stranger turned, confused, as she ran away down the street, startled by her fear and hostility. How could someone who’d never been here before be so disliked? What was it about his kind that made them react with fear?
The bartender stood on a boardwalk, chatting with neighboring store owners and pointing at him. All three frowned, squinting angrily. Down the street, dust flew from wagon wheels as a large, dark-bearded man steered his team up the street in the stranger’s direction.
The stranger ducked into the alleyway, hearing the braying of donkeys and whinnying of horses ahead. At the end, he passed a stack of hay bales and moved onto another sandy street beside a large wooden stable. Maybe he could at least get shelter from the sun there.
As he turned right, onto the street, he saw the bartender and several others appear from an alley further down and hurry toward him up the street. Why are they chasing me?
Ducking back into the alley, he turned right again at the main street. Chattering voices came from behind and he glanced back over his shoulder as the frightened well-dressed woman pointed at him, jabbering to several men.
Quickening his pace, he looked for another alley or a good place to turn. He heard shouting and looked back to see the men following him now. The bartender and shopkeepers swooping in from the same alley the stranger had just used to join them.
Turning onto a narrower side street, the man hurried on past storefronts with faded paint fronts and a rotting boardwalk of crumbling wood. Where could he go? Then he heard whinnying and felt the dirt street vibrate as the dark-bearded man in the wagon turned onto the street, following him.
The stranger started running, his burned feet aching from the effort, but then the wagon was passing him. The driver looked down, whistling and motioned toward the wagon. “Get in, stranger!”
The man shot a questioning look. “I didn’t do anything to anyone, sir, I promise.”
“Get in unless you want to explain that to them,” the driver said, slowing his team to a crawl. “Trust me.”
The man could never outrun them. He sighed and jumped onto the back of the wagon.
“Cover yourself quickly!” the driver instructed as he spurred his team forward again.
The man slid down into a bed of straw and pulled the old blanket the driver had indicated over himself. The wagon increased its speed, bouncing harshly up onto cobblestones now as it turned sharply around another corner. What am I doing here?
He stretched out his arms, bracing himself against the slat sides of the wagon as best he could and ignored the outcries of his aching body as the wagon continued racing along, then slowed. Shadows fell over them as he heard the crunch of straw or hay and felt the wagon lurch forward and then stop again, suddenly.
It wobbled as the driver hopped down and the man heard creaks of hinges and the sound of wooden doors sliding together and a bolt snapping into place.
He slid the blanket back, his eyes struggling to see through the darkness. Whinnying and braying came from animals other than the team somewhere as the smell of smoke, hay and manure made him wince, then he realized he probably didn’t smell much better himself.
As his eyes adjusted, he focused on a metal stand nearby containing rows of horseshoes, expertly crafted. Then sat up, blinking.
“You plan to stay there all day or come out a greet a man properly?” the driver’s baritone voice asked.
The stranger brushed hay from his worn clothes and crawled toward the back of the wagon, spotting the driver waiting there with a pensive look. “Who are you and why are you wandering the streets scaring women?”
The stranger sat on the back of the wagon, gathering himself to hop down and fumbled for words. “I didn’t mean—”
“Come now, I’m only jesting,” the driver said with a laugh, wiping his hands on the dark apron covering his brown cotton pants and loose fitting tan shirt. Even his boots resembled those of the shepherd boy. The driver reached out a thick, muscular arm, extending his hand.
The stranger clasped it and slid down, his feet thumping onto the dirt floor as the driver stepped closer and got a closer look at the man, his face a mix of wariness and concern. “Why are they after you? Did you give them a reason?”
Fire raging in a nearby stove cast dancing orange and yellow flames across the walls around them. “What is this place? A smithy?”
The driver laughed. “That’s what they call me around here.” In the light of the fire, the blacksmith’s skin appeared lighter than the other residents the stranger had encountered. His eyes narrowed, locked on the stranger’s face.
“I just asked for water. That’s all. The woman bumped into me by accident.”
“What happened to you?” The smith looked him over, examining his clothes and face.
“I don’t really know.” The stranger leaned against a wooden pillar beside the open fire. “Is it a crime to be a stranger here?”
The blacksmith nodded. “Only if you’re a wizard.”
“Wizard?” the man asked. Is that what I am?
The blacksmith nodded. “You’re from the east, aren’t you? People around here don’t have such light skin. From what’s left of your clothes and your accent, I’d guess one of the cities along the coast.”
The man shrugged. “I can’t remember.”
The blacksmith seemed puzzled. “You must have come here for a reason, although I’d dare say it appears you’ve had a rough time of it.”
The stranger sighed, nodding. “I awoke on the dunes under the brutal sun.”
The blacksmith nodded again. “The summer sun is harsh in the desert. You look exhausted. What’s your name, stranger?”
The stranger searched his mind, but still had no idea what his name was. “I can’t remember that either.”
The blacksmith raised his eyebrows. “How did you come to be here, then?”
The stranger shook his head. “I don’t know. I think I was attacked in a caravan. The town’s not friendly, is it?”
The smithy shrugged. “After what we’ve been through, some are a bit fearful around strangers, especially those from the east. I prefer to judge men on their actions rather than assume they mean ill. You don’t look like a wizard or a bandit to me.”
The stranger groaned, putting his face in his hands as if he could wipe the frustration away. “I don’t remember anything.”
“Well, if you try anything, you’ll wind up on the wrong end of a hammer, my friend,” the smithy’s eyes narrowed with warning, then he smiled. “Perhaps some rest might help you remember. I can’t offer you much, but you’re welcome to rest for a while in one of the empty stalls. This late in the afternoon, I have few customers. We can talk more later about who you are and how you got here.”
The stranger closed his eyes, sighing. “Thank you so much, Smithy, for your kindness.”
Smithy motioned toward the row of stalls down a corridor to the right. “There’s one or two empty down there. Help yourself.”
The stranger stood and moved down the corridor, forcing his aching feet and legs to take the steps one at a time. It felt like he’d forgotten how to walk. He found an open gate three stalls down on the left and braced himself on the gate post as he stumbed inside. The stall floor lay covered in clean hay. He found a large pile in the corner under the shadows and sank quickly down to his knees. His back cried out as if it were on fire. He lowered himself slowly onto his stomach, the smell of fresh hay filling his nostrils and soon fell asleep.
Editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids(ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6(Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bryanthomass?ref=hl.
Recently, I had a first, when my humorous Science Fiction story, Duncan Derring & The Call Of The Lady Luck, was picked up by Triumph Over Tragedy, R.T. Kaelin’s brilliant project to raise funds for the Red Cross’ Hurricane Sandy. Featuring stories from the likes of Robert Silverberg, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Michael Stackpole, Timothy Zahn, Elizabeth Bear and many more, it’s an honor to have my name included. The e-anthology will release near the end of 2012 and be available for a limited time. All stories are donated and so is editing time by Kaelin, Sarah Chorn, Rob Bedford and myself. The goal is to raise $10,000 for the Red Cross. You can participate and get a copy of this fine anthology for just $7 here. For a full list of contributors, see the Goodreads listing here. While some writers offered reprints, many of the stories are brand new. I highly recommend getting a copy. You can learn more on Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat Wednesday, December 27th at 9 p.m. ET, when Kaelin, Chorn and others come on to talk about the project.
Meanwhile, I thought I’d give you a preview of my story. This tale also appeared in print in Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation edited by Frances Pauli & Jaleta Clegg. You can read about that on Goodreads here. Besides it being the first time I’ve shared a Table Of Contents with my favorite writer of all time, Silverberg, and had a story in a charity anthology, it’s also the first time one of my stories has been published twice, and I’m glad Duncan gets a chance to reach a wider audience, as I’m hoping this is the first in a series of adventures for him.
I hope you enjoy this snippet of Duncan’s first adventure. Inspired by love of pulp characters and Mike Resnick’s Catostrophe Baker and Lucifer Jones tales. And please support Triumph Over Tragedy.
DUNCAN DERRING AND THE CALL OF THE LADY LUCK by
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
he mission sounded simple: head out to the edge of the solar system and save the Princess Line’s Lady Luck from the Andromedan tumbleweeds. It was the sort of mission I was made for, and I fully expected to wrap her up in less than a day and be on my way. For once, my expectations were wildly out of synch with reality. Happens to everyone sometime, I suppose.
Duncan Derring, weapons and demolitions expert—what do you mean you never heard of me? Where have you been? It wasn’t exactly the kind of profession you’d expect tourism ventures to call upon, I know, but the galaxy held all kinds of odd dangers for these passenger ships. They weren’t outfitted with any weapons and only the barest sorts of shields. In fact, if I’d been the one hired to approve the design, they never would have made it out of concept. But no one asked me.
The Lady Luck was one of the newer liners, “a five star resort amongst the stars,” the brochures said, and they weren’t talking about the kind of stars you see in movies. She could carry a load of up to five thousand passengers, not counting certain odd-sized alien species, and provided all the dining and entertainment options anyone could imagine. She contained twenty-seven restaurants, eighteen bars, ten nightclubs, eight ballrooms, thirty-five shops, fifteen cinemas, and any number of other recreational and entertainment facilities. If I hadn’t been aboard a liner once myself, I’d have thought it absurd, but Princess Ltd. specialized in making absurdities reality.
I’d never seen the Andromedan Tumbleweeds, although I’d heard a lot about them, of course. Kinda goes without saying that, in my profession, you stay abreast of the latest developments. Floating in deep space between Neptune and Uranus, the tumbleweeds were freshly arrived from Andromeda, where the locals tired of the toll they took on ships and planets and used a fleet’s worth of force fields to drag them to the edge of their solar system and push them off on us. How nice of them, you might think, and you’d be right, but then you don’t know the Andromedans. No one ever called the Andromedans nice.
It took about two days at full on ultra-light engines to make the journey from my previous assignment, Ganymede Colony just off Jupiter. Why anyone had wanted to build resort towns in the Galileans was beyond me, but some people like looking at cool, gaseous masses, I guess. I certainly prefer them to some warm gaseous masses I’ve known. I was able to set the nav computer to auto for much of the route and catch some much-needed sleep. Despite my distaste for the location, the Ganymede Colony was a busy place and sleep had been more of a rarity than I’m used to. The custom-made feather mattress I’d installed in my quarters molded itself to the contours of my body as I slept. It took three tries and its sexiest feminine voice for the nav computer to awaken me. I warmed quickly as the heaters in my sleep pod brought my body temperature to normal and the blood raced through my veins again.
Yawning, I sat up, rubbing at the aches in my neck as I put my feet on the cold deck. The sensation got me moving faster as I slid out of my sleep jumpsuit and began strapping on my demolitions gear. At least as much of it as I could and still move around with speed and conduct ship’s business. You have to be ready to jump at a moment’s notice in this business, for both economic and literal survival, and the better prepared you were, the more successful you’d be.
As the Trini, short for Trinitrotoluene—aka TNT—slipped out of hyperspace, I found myself immediately at the heart of the problem. Until I’d encountered her, I would have never thought a nav computer could be programmed with a sense of humor. I figured a jealous woman of some sort must be behind her, because she was always pulling this sort of thing on me, and for once, I wasn’t in the mood. As accustomed as I am to dangerous situations, the sight of three tumbleweeds rotating seeming inches from my cockpit view screen stopped my heart.
I requested a location on the Lady Luck herself and found her frozen in space just inside the edge of the field. The report said she’d come upon the tumbleweeds unexpectedly and figured staying put and keeping pace was her only chance. Given the tumbleweeds’ propensity for random changes in direction with the slightest shift in gravitation, I’d say the Lady Luck lived up to her name. The readings my computer took upon arrival showed little influence from planetary gravitation at that particular moment. It was enough to make me relax again, which would turn out to be a regrettable mistake.
As I rotated the Trini and took in the view, I noted damages on the Lady Luck’s hull from unlucky encounters with a few of the surrounding tumbleweeds. The fact the liner was still functional and in one piece indicated the impacts had deflected the offending tumbleweeds away without disturbing any others. Such a disturbance would probably have caused a sizable enough chain reaction that my mission would have been pointless.
The Lady Luck hailed me as soon as I arrived. “Lady Luck Liner calling craft Trini,” the comm officer said in that annoying formal style they have.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I responded. “Just checking out the damages.”
“None necessitating more than a change of five thousand shorts so far,” she said. The Lady Luck had full on laundry facilities, too, so I figured that didn’t pose them much of a problem.
“How is it you came to be inside the field?” I asked, thinking only an idiot could have made such a colossal blunder.
“We were at full stop, under night crew. The weeds came upon us faster than we could bring her up to full and take evasives,” the Captain answered. “Our nav computer malfunctioned and the scanners read them as small debris.”
Given my own experience with nav computers, I didn’t bother to delve any further. When they weren’t in motion, the tumbleweeds always appeared smaller than their actual size to scanners. Pilots relied on nav charts and computers to pinpoint their location when they travelled this part of the system. But they always verified their presence with human eyes.
“Can you back her out the way you came in?”
“It’s not so easy to move a one hundred thousand ton liner,” the Captain said. “It’s a bit like backing Saturn through one of her rings. We don’t have the maneuverability. Backing up’s rarely called for.”
I checked my computer’s readings again. “For the moment, it appears you got lucky, but when the field reaches the influence of Neptune’s gravity, it could change in a hurry.”
“Can you try and have us out before then?” the Captain replied, as if I needed some amateur questioning my competence for the mission. But the thought of four thousand five hundred passengers suffering for the ignorance of their crew wasn’t something I could live with, so I set about my calculations for clearing them a path.
As I flew along the field’s edge, it became obvious I’d have to go in manually and set the explosives. My jetpack was quicker and I a far smaller target than my ship. The odds I would avoid entanglements with any of the weeds would greatly increase if I went alone. The catch was that I hadn’t used my pack in over a year and never in a situation rife with the risks I’d face here. All it would take is one wrong move, one wrong placement of an explosive, or one disturbance of the field to send the weeds into chaos, haphazardly spinning like their Earthen namesakes across space, colliding with each other or anything else in their way.
To complicate things further, Neptune’s gravitation was coming into range. Planetary gravity started influencing objects millions of kilometers out. On paper, the figures looked ridiculous but this wasn’t on paper. Even a slight gravitational pull could send the tumbleweeds into chaotic motion, which would be the end of the Lady Luck, the Trini, and me.
Finishing my calculations with due speed but proper care, I slipped into my suit and jetted out the Trini’s passenger airlock, making my way into the field. The tumbleweeds were even more intimidating up close than they had been through the Trini’s ports. The temperature inside my suit rose as adrenaline coursed through my veins. Spying my first target, I used the suit’s jets to swing left and approach, taking care not to lose control or come in too fast.
I reversed my jets’ thrust, slowing my momentum as I reached each tumbleweed’s surface. Then I could set each charge and use my boots to push free before jetting off to the next target. Firing the jets too close might start the weeds spinning. The Trini’s calculations determined it would take twenty-two charges to both clear a path for the liner and deflect nearby tumbleweeds away from the Lady Luck. My plan included setting five more just in case something went wrong.
Thanks to my experience and skill, the execution came off without a hitch. As I released the last charge and clicked the activation button, ready to push off and head back to my ship, a motion over my right shoulder drew my attention. A door was opening on the Lady Luck. It appeared to be a garbage chute.
I punched the button on my radio. “Captain, don’t jettison anything, until you’ve cleared the field!”
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends(forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.
Well, since it’s International Fiction Day, and it’s also about a year since my first short story was published in an anthology, I thought I’d share something fictional with you. This is my first sold fantasy short story. It’s written like a modern fairy tale and focuses around a dragon’s friendship with a young girl. The story was inspired by an open call for submissions of stories about dragons, cats, or both. My friend Dana Bell edited the anthology and it also features Andre Norton and many other talented writers and poets. So I hope you enjoy this tale. It’s named after my dog, Amelie, yes. And Glendon is from my mom’s name, Glenda. And Ramon is my father’s name. Just a little trivia. I have fun tuckerizing. Anyway, I hope you enjoy:
Published April 2011 in “Of Fur And Fire,” an anthology from DreamZion Publications, Denver, CO.
ong ago in a land known as Glendon, there lived a young girl, whose name was Amélie. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a soldier, a Captain in the Kingdom Guard, who’d been seven moons at war. They lived in a small village on the banks of the mighty River Rhi, surrounded by woods. They led a quiet life of farming and simple trades, far from the capitol.
Her mother’s name was Mara, and her father’s name was Ramon. Mara and Amélie had huddled together as Ramon and his men rode out one fate-ful day, straight down the main street, amidst the straw roofed cottages. Their horses whinnied with excitement as the villagers felt the vibration of their pounding hooves, and choking clouds of dust rose up, carried on the Autumn breeze.
Amélie buried her face in her mother’s well-worn apron, her shoulder rising and falling to the rhythm of her sobs. Her mother kept a brave face, but Amélie knew she was worried, too. Late at night, as she lay restless, Amélie heard her mother’s own sobs through the thin walls of their cottage.
The village itself, Tallerive, had not known conflict in many years and the surrounding woods were known to be safe and quiet. To keep her daughter occupied and avoid her sitting around worrying, Mara sent Amélie out each morning on a daily quest. One day might be to gather berries in the near-by woods, another to pick up freshly fallen apples. Amélie delivered eggs to the inn and gathered cloth from the weaver’s. All the while Mara stayed home to feed the chickens, work on her sewing, and kept the cottage clean.
On one of these quests I met Amélie. I’d been watching her for a long while and found her intriguing. Her blonde curls bounced as she walked which was a kind of rhythmic loping with a bounce in her steps. Her demeanor was one of curiosity and playfulness, yet I detected a sadness beneath it, echoed in her brown eyes. It touched me. She looked lonely, and that was something I understood well.
For years, I had occupied a mountain-top near the village, but because I nev-er bothered the village, the humans never came to trouble me. I rarely ap-proached humans because of their reaction. Adult humans would scream and hurl rocks or spears when I got too close.
But Amélie was a wee child, and ex-cept for worry about her father, she seemed quite fearless. My heart ached for her on the times I glimpsed her sobbing beneath the apple trees. Other times she talked or sang to herself as she gathered the fruit. Her lilting voice was a delight to my ears.
I chose to meet her one day atop a hill beside the apple trees. I went early, for Amélie always came mid-morning, and I wanted time to prepare so I could present myself well. I heard her singing first as she approached. The gentle wind seemed to amplify it somehow through the woods. I could make out every syllable long before I heard her feet rustling in the fallen leaves and brush.
In a few moments, she bounced into view. I saw her golden locks first, then her silky white skin and red cheeks. She began gathering the apples lying at the base of the trees. She seemed in better spirits than I’d seen her previously.
As she worked her way through the trees, I considered again how best to make my presence known. My kind are not known for their subtlety, of course, but at the same time, startling her didn’t seem wise. So, as she continued singing and gathering, I decided to join her song. I’d heard her repeat the refrain several times already, so I waited until she finished the verse she was on, cleared my throat as softly as I could, and joined her on the refrain.
My voice, I’ll admit, was rough from disuse. I lived alone atop a mountain, after all. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the to-tal disaster I’d feared. It took a few moments for her to realize she was no longer singing alone. As soon as she did, she stopped and whirled around, her eyes searching, until finally they found their way to the top of the hill.
Finishing the refrain’s last line alone,I curved my lips into smile, taking care not show my sharp teeth lest I frighten her. I didn’t speak, wanting to be sure I said the right thing. I feared she would run away, but her eyes never showed the fear which was most hu-man’s normal reaction. Instead, her head tilted slightly as her eyes took me in, and she set down her basket, She stepped closer to get a better view.
“You’re a dragon, aren’t you?”
I nodded, the smile frozen on my long narrow snout.
“Are you going to eat me?”
I shook my large head. “No.”
“In my uncle’s stories, dragons either eat you or burn you,” Amélie said, her face twisting in a quizzical way as she thought. “You don’t look so scary to me.”
I laughed, relieved. I couldn’t help my-self, but the sheer volume made her step back toward the woods, looking as if she might run. “No, I won’t eat you, I promise. I came here to meet you.”
“Meet me?” She stepped forward again, clearly intrigued. “Why?”
“I’ve been watching you for some time now. You’re quite fascinating.”
She shook her head, an amused smile crossing her face. “I’m just a little girl.”
“Yes, and I’m just an old dragon, but still, I find you interesting.”
Amélie laughed, a charming high pitched sound which warmed my heart. The sound was filled with joy and a sense of freedom I longed to know, as if she had not a care in the world. Oh to know such freedom! I was rapt with fascination.
“What’s your name?” Amélie started slowly climbing the grassy hillside toward me.
“My name is hard to translate into human,” I told her, trying to come up with something she could understand. “You can call me whatever you’d like,” I finally said.
She smiled as she stopped beside me, then moved slowly around, examining me without fear. “You’re very green, you know. And very big, too.” She crinkled her nose. “You smell funny, too.”
“I smell like all dragons, I suppose.” I tried not to be offended, reminding myself she meant no harm. Besides, she smelled odd to me, too.
“Perhaps I should name you some-thing grand.” She put a finger on her mouth thinking.
I smiled, liking the sound of it. I was-n’t familiar with human names, but I hoped it was grand. “I like that.”
Amélie giggled. Her face took on a serious look. “I think I shall name you Johannes. Okay? ”
“Johannes?” I thought it over, trying it on for size. It did sound somewhat re-gal to me, very formal and proper it seemed. “Okay, Johannes it is.”
She nodded with approval and smiled again. “My name is Amélie. I’m from Tallerive. Do you know it?”
I nodded and smiled back. “Indeed. I live atop the Mount to the East.”
So that’s what the humans called it! As I considered the meaning I remem-bered it did cast shadows over their village in late morning, before the sun rose to its afternoon peak and started its descent. “Shadow Mount, yes.” I nodded.
“Is it scary? Father and Mother told me stories of large creatures and people who disappeared there long ago.” She shuddered at the memory of them.
My mind raced to find words I could tell her which wouldn’t make her fear me. Dangerous creatures dwelled there—direwolves and bats and trolls—and the few human adventurers who’d tried to climb it usually died at the hands of one or the other. Only one had made it to the top and confronted me but that had been long in the past. I’d meant to spare him but he came at me with a sword, and I’d had to defend myself. The stench of burning flesh haunted my memory causing me to cringe. I’d always tried to live in peace with the world around me. It gave me no pleasure watching him die.
“It’s been my home for many gener-ations,” I explained. “It’s not scary to me, but there are creatures about who might do harm to someone like you.”
Her lower lip curled up over its com-panion a moment, then she shook her head and spread her legs in a defiant stance. “I’m not afraid. My daddy would protect me.” She paused, her eyes turning sad and looked at her feet. “If he were here.”
My heart melted at seeing her pain. I wanted to reach out and comfort her, but one of my hands was twice her size and I feared crushing her by accident, so I sat where I was.
“He’s gone to war,” she told me, not knowing I already knew. Sadness dark-ened her face like a shadow. “But he’s coming back to visit soon. My Mother got a letter today.” At the mention of it, her smile returned and she did a little dance, sending her brown skirt fluttering around her long, skinny legs.
I laughed as I watched her. Such a delightful sight to behold. “You miss him a lot.”
She nodded, glancing back at her apples. “I have to go back soon. My Mother will worry. She’s waiting to make fresh apple pie.” Her tongue slid quickly across her lips at the mention of it .From her face I could see it was something delicious. “But I enjoyed meeting you, Johannes.”
“I enjoyed meeting you, too, Amélie.”
“Will I see you again?”
“I hope so,” I said as I watched her turn and bounce back down the hill the way she’d come. She went straight to her basket and picked it up, glanc-ing back at me with a smile before re-turning to her gathering.
We visited daily from then on. I land-ed in a glen near the berry bushes or a brook near the path to the weaver’s; somewhere close to wherever she was headed for the day. I made sure to avoid other villagers or their animals. Drawing too much attention would put an end to our visits, and Amélie appeared to enjoy them as much as I did. In fact, since we’d met, I hadn’t seen her sob in the woods once. It was as if somehow my companionship made her feel less alone. I know my time with her had that effect on me. Both of us enjoyed each other’s com-pany, the only difficulty being the times she begged me to take her for a flight.
“What’s it like to fly?”
“It’s freeing.” It was all I could think of.
“I wish I could fly.” She looked up toward the puffy white clouds with a dreamy look. “It must be wonderful.”
“It is until…” I stopped. Perhaps she was too young to know the dark truth of her people’s relations with my kind.
“Until what?” Her eyes held the sense of wonder common to all younglings. Wide and brown, they looked at me as if I were the core of wisdom. It was im-possible to resist them, as much as I tried.
“Sometimes people see me and they become afraid.” I watched her for a re-action. “They try and attack me.”
Her eyes watered and she ran toward me, wrapping her arms around my lower arm. It was so large her out-stretched arms could only stretch part way around. “Why would anyone want to hurt you? You’re so kind.”
I closed my eyes at the warmth of her body pressed against mine. She softly stroked my scales.
“Your scales are soft,” she said in won-der. “They look so hard.”
I smiled. “They’re my protection a-gainst enemies. They hold up very well when I need them, but they’re like my skin, Amélie.”
She smiled as she caressed them. “I like them.” She stepped back so our eyes met. “Take me flying with you, Johannes!”
Fearing she might fall, I politely re-fused her. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“I’ll be careful, I promise. Just a little flight. Not even very high. I want to know what it’s like.”
Each time I refused from then on, she had the same sad eyed expression she’d had whenever she spoke of her father. After several tries, she turned away and looked back down the hill to-ward her village. “Friends do things for each other,” she half accused.
My heart ached to fulfill her wish, but how would she hold on? I couldn’t risk it. I didn’t know what to say, and, after a few heartbeats, she simply started her bouncing lope down the hill, not looking back at me, as she usually did when we parted.
The next day, she returned to her old self, running to hug me when she saw me in the glen near the berries. She chased me as I hopped and skipped just out of reach, using my wings for short bursts of flight, making her laugh and laugh as she kept trying to out-smart me. In the end, I let her catch me, and the joy on her face gave me a happiness I had never known. My life as a dragon had been so lonely. Amélie was the first true friend I’d had since I was a youngling, and had other drag-ons as my companions. I thought of her like family, although I tried to guard my heart.
As the day approached for her father’s expected arrival, the energy radiating from Amélie grew more and more joyful. It felt as if all her cares had suddenly vanished. She spoke often of her father—how he used to tell her stories as he tucked her in at night, stories of knights and castles and princesses and battles. She knew her daddy was as brave as the men in those stories. She spoke of him as gentle and kind and wise and honorable. Hearing her describe him, I wished I could meet him, but then I remembered my previous encounters with human adults Which hadn’t turned out well.
It made me sad to only share a small part of her world. I’d grown quite fond of her and she of me. But Amélie her-self seemed to enjoy our secret friendship. It was something of her own she didn’t have to share with anyone, she said once. She called me her best friend, her guardian, making me promise I would look out for her until her father came home. I always promised when she said it, although I started worrying her father’s arrival might bring an end to our encounters.
Finally the week came for her father’s homecoming. I watched from the woods as she and her mother waited anxiously outside their cottage. Smoke rose from the chimney and I smelled the scent of fresh baked bread, a smell I always associated with the village.
Her mother kept busy sweeping and doing laundry, but Amélie sat patiently on a wooden bench, watching the road, her eyes anxious and excited. I sniffed the wind, searching for a scent of human sweat and approaching horses. For several daylight hours I kept vigil with her. But no one came.
Her mother’s face grew more and more concerned, her eyes darkening with worry as her face dropped into a frown. She went behind the house twice, wiping tears on her stained apron where Amélie couldn’t see her. And finally, as the sun arced overhead, preparing to start its descent in the west, she called Amélie to her, handed her a basket and motioned toward the woods.
I found her near the apple trees, land-ing on the hill where we’d first met. She paid me no attention, sniffling as she gathered apples, her shoulders drooping, her eyes fixed on the ground near her feet. I ached with all my heart to reach out and comfort her, but the trees kept me from drawing near, and it seemed obvious she wanted to be left alone.
As she returned to the village, the basket half-full, I made a decision and launched myself with a running start. I soared high amongst the clouds, following the road leading from the village, the route she’d told me her fa-ther would come. The wind caressed me as soared, a pleasant feeling I al-ways enjoyed. I flew what seemed like a long time, but, from the sun’s lack of movement, I could tell little had passed. I heard them before I saw them—the sharp clash of swords, the high screams of horses. I could smell their sweat and hear their shouting. I knew the sounds of battle and willed my wings to move more swiftly.
I found them at a crossroads, fighting face to face, dozens of companions dy-ing all around. Her father looked tired and older than I remembered him. I knew then their fighting had been long and terrible. He and one of his soldiers stood outnumbered by the en-emy, who had three archers on horse-back firing at them from a rise, while five others surrounded them with swords.
One of the enemies, who appeared to the leader, raised his arm and his men stopped waiting. “If you surrender now, your lives will be spared,” the leader shouted.
“If we surrender now, our lives are worthless,” Amélie’s father answered. “Honor and glory to the King!” He raised his sword and his companion did likewise.
The enemy soldiers laughed. “Your honor will be your end,” the enemy leader responded. He lowered his arm and his men moved in.
Swords clanged and men grunted. I could see Amélie’s father was ex-hausted and could barely lift his sword. His companion took a sword through the stomach and fell to his knees, his life’s blood watering the parched dirt.
They needed me! Swooping down from behind, I blasted the archers with fire from my mouth. They shrieked as their clothes caught fire and uselessly tried to escape into the woods. I con-tinued down toward the others. Spot-ting me, the enemy soldiers yelled and swung their swords over their heads in desperation, ducking as I flew past. I turned my head and blasted two of the enemies with flames. I then swung back up to circle around.
As I came in the second time, I saw some of the enemy mounting their horses. Apparently they’d done the damage they intended and had no desire to stick around and fight a dragon as well. Amélie’s father collapsed in a heap, as if his legs could no longer hold him. I dropped down and landed nearby. He turned his head toward me, his face showing resignation to whatever fate might bring.
“I have no strength left to fight you dragon,” he said. “I’m at your mercy.”
I looked him over, trying to decide what to do. Then I took a running start, reaching down to grab him with my talons I arched back up into the clouds, returning the way I’d come toward Tallerive where my sweet friend would be waiting. He relaxed in my grip, hanging there as if he’d fallen asleep, but I glanced down once and saw his eyes examining me.
As I flew, my mind raced, trying to decide how I could return him to Tallerive without raising alarms. If I left him in the woods, Amélie and her mother wouldn’t know to find him there. But if I took him to the village, the men might attack me on sight. In the end, I knew I had no choice, so I flew over the village once, before I came in for landing on the main road near his family’s cottage.
Two women removing clothes from a line screamed and ran as they saw me, calling for their husbands. I set Amélie’s father gently on the dirt and prepared to take off again as Amélie and her mother appeared in their doorway. Her mother’s face filled with fear as she saw me standing over her husband, but Amélie brightened, her face lighting up with a smile as she ran toward me. Her mother and father both called for her to stop, but she didn’t listen. She embraced her fallen father.
His arms wrapped around her. I heard men shouting as they came up the road. I had only moments before they’d arrive to engage me, so I smiled at Amélie as she hugged her father.
She looked up at me, tears streaming down her face. “Thank you, Johannes. I love you.”
I choked back my own tears as I nod-ded and ran up the road, launching myself into the air. I heard her father ask: “Who’s Johannes?” behind me as I disappeared over the trees into the woods, heading for my mountain home.
For the next week, I saw Amélie only from a distance. She did her usual chores, but I kept my distance for fear the adults might be nearby to protect her from me. It was always the same, in every town, with every race of hu-mans. Dragons were feared and hated—the enemy. No matter how she explained it, they’d never understand. I had to prepare myself for the loss of her companionship. I hoped I was wrong, but I had to be ready.
“Johannes! Where are you?”
Her voice echoed through the trees and cut through my fears like a sword through flesh. I circled down in an arc toward the glen near the berries. It sounded like her voice had come from there and my nose detected the scent of humans. I peered through the trees trying to spot those golden locks, but with the first snowfall, the canopy was layered in white, covering the gaps in the trees.
Setting aside my worry, I swung down and landed in the glen near my usual spot. As I turned toward the now bare trees, Amélie came racing toward me, a thick shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her curls bounced as bounded toward me and smiled with delight.
She swung her arms around my neck as she reached me, caressing my scales. “I missed you, Johannes!”
“I missed you, too.” And then I saw them. Her parents stepped out from behind the thick trunks to watch us cautiously.
Sensing my concern, Amélie stepped back to look me in the eye. “It’s all right. They came here to meet you. I told them all about us.” She patted my neck. “Don’t be afraid.”
As she waved at them, her parents approached with trepidation. “You save my life, dragon,” her father said as he drew near.
I nodded. “You family needs you.”
“We’re so grateful,” Amélie’s mother wiped moisture from her eyes.
“It is I who am grateful. For the friend-ship of your daughter.”
Her father smiled. “Dragons and humans are not known to be friends.”
“Johannes is a good dragon,” Amélie said. “He’s my guardian.” She smiled at us, as if dragons and humans should always have been friends
The adults and I laughed.
“We know that, dear.” Her mother tousled Amélie’s hair as she placed an arm around her shoulders.
“But he never let me fly with him.” Amélie frowned.
“It’s quite amazing,” her father teased.
Her parents and I shared a laugh again. “I don’t want you to fall and my talons might crush you.”
“I have an idea about that,” her father said. “Meet us here tomorrow.”
The next day, they returned with a leather horse harness her father had modified. It fit Amélie securely and had a handle where I could clasp on with my talons and carry her safely.
Their confidence amazed me. “You would trust me with her life?”
“You proved trustworthy with mine.” Her father nodded as he finished helping Amélie into the harness. Lov-ingly, he snapped the last fitting and made sure her shawl was secure around her. “Everything is fine,” he reassured Mara, who stood nearby, looking slightly worried.
Amélie smiled, then hurried over beside me, waving. “Come on! I’m ready!”
“As you wish, little one.”
And with that I lifted off, hovering just above the ground as her father rushed in, ducked underneath and held the harness handle up so I could grasp it. My talons closed tightly around it and I tugged gently. It moved with me.
With a nod from her father and wave from her mother, I took off, carrying Amélie into the clouds. She laughed with delight, pointing at the village as she saw it beneath us. She pointed at the mountain I called home, at the river, and the hill where we’d met. I told her stories about all of them, recollections from the hundreds of years I’d lived here. When she drew quiet, I guessed perhaps she was overwhelmed. I flew in silence, letting her ponder at what she’d heard and seen.
I returned her safely after a daylight hour to where her parents waited in the glen. Our daily visits resumed after that, and although she occasionally brought her parents, mostly she came alone.
Long ago in a land known as Glendon, there lived a girl, whose name was Amélie. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a soldier, and her best friend was a dragon.
She came to see him every day, intro-ducing him to her husband before they married, and bringing her child-ren to play with him. As she grew, their relationship transitioned from mere companionship to a sort of mentoring.
The loneliness which had once haunt-ed the dragon was never known again. Even the villagers welcomed him with open arms, calling him “Amélie’s Guardian.” Their friendship became legendary. He became part of the family, and he protected the girl and her village for all of his days.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.