SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author/Editor Jaleta Clegg

The final profile in our ongoing series features Jaleta Clegg. Jaleta set her Space Battles tale in the world of her eleven novel series, which started with Nexus Point and continues soon in Priestess Of The Eggstone. With a science degree and a day job as a science teacher, including helping run Space Camps, author/editor Jaleta Clegg seems uniquely qualified to write science fiction. Her short stories can be found in publications like Abandoned Towers and Bewildering Stories magazines and anthologies like How The West Was WickedThe Last Man Anthology and Wretched Moments and in the zine Tales Of The Talisman, edited by co-Space Battles contributor David Lee Summers. An active social media user, she can be found on Twitter as @jaleta_clegg, on Facebook and through her website/blog atwww.jaletac.com. Information on her novels can be found at www.nexuspoint.info. She’s coeditor with Frances Pauli of Hall Brothers Entertainment’s forthcoming anthology Wandering Weeds: Tales of Rabid Vegetation wherein her own story will once again play lead in to a story by myself as it does in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Jaleta Clegg: I saw the call for subs and thought, “I love space battles. I need to write one.” I had a great idea, too, that just needed some time to finish fermenting so I could write it.

BTS: This is not your first anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “Bait & Switch.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

JC: Oh, no, definitely not my first. I’ve got over twenty different short stories in anthologies all over the place that have come out in the last two years. Most of them are silly horror. Writing those keeps my inner demons quiet. Writing the SF and Fantasy shorts keeps my inner geek happy. The full list is on my website: www.jaletac.com 

The main character in “Bait & Switch” is a cadet named Tayvis. He features prominently in my SF adventure series. I thought it would be great fun to peek into his past and find out a bit more about him. In the story, he’s a cadet on his first training flight. He gets sent to the gunnery section as an observer. When the ship is attacked and the point gunner knocked out, Tayvis takes his place even though he’s had almost no training.

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

JC: I’ve always loved stories. I taught myself to read when I was four. This leads naturally to wanting to tell my own stories. I didn’t actually finish anything until years later. We had just moved to a new neighborhood, it was early summer, I had four kids ages 2-7, and I knew no one. I wrote my first novel out of desperation. It snowballed from there.  Or I could say that I finally found an outlet for the voices in my head. If I let them play on paper, they don’t bother me as much.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

JC: Definitely. The universe is a very large place. I’ve got lots of story ideas and lots of characters to play with.

BTS: You have a novel series with the first book out from Cyberwizard. Tell us about that, please?

JC: Nexus Point (www.nexuspoint.info) is my first published novel. It’s set in the same universe as “Bait & Switch”. Tayvis is an undercover Patrol agent on a low-tech world looking for drug smugglers. He finds Dace instead. She’s not what he expected. The book is told from her point of view, though. He’s not what she expected either. Yes, there is a teensy bit of romance in the book, but also lots of explosions and fights and chase scenes and action.

BTS: How’d that idea come about?

JC: I had several story ideas I wanted to play with and in a stroke of genius or insanity, realized they were all about the same character – Dace. I started writing one, realized it was book three, backtracked to write the other two, and watched the storyline change. Tayvis was originally supposed to be a throw-away character in the first book. I’m glad he stuck around for the rest of them.

BTS: How many books are planned for the series?

JC: I’ve got eleven books written. I don’t think there will be more about these characters. Once you save the universe, there isn’t much story left to tell.

BTS: When do you expect more books to come out?

JC: I recently signed a contract with Journalstone for the next book – Priestess of the Eggstone. It is tentatively scheduled to be released in August 2012. I loved working with Cyberwizard, but the economy caused a lot of things to change. Cyberwizard is still publishing, but they had to cut their list of pending manuscripts. I’m very happy Journalstone has offered me a contract. We haven’t discussed the rest of the series, but it’s definitely on the table for the future.

BTS: You also edited your first anthology, Wandering Weeds. Tell us about that and when it is expected to be released.

JC: My hat is off to any editor who tackles anthologies. It’s hard work! Writing rejection letters was very difficult. I know how bad it can sting to get one. But, we couldn’t take all the stories that were submitted. The ones we have are fantastic. I’m excited to see this project come together. The idea came from a writing challenge in our writers’ group. Someone mentioned tumbleweeds, someone else mentioned radiation, and the idea of mutant tumbleweeds was born. We wrote stories, loved them, but had no idea where to submit them. So we decided to put together an anthology. Hall Brothers Entertainment is publishing it for us. We’re just about ready to send them the files. I can give you a sneak peek at the cover. Wandering Weeds: Tales of Rabid Vegetation should hit the shelves sometime late this spring.

BTS: Where’d your love of SF come from?

Jaleta's Wookie

JC: I’ve always been fascinated by the night sky. Astronomy is one of my loves. When I discovered that people wrote books about space and aliens, I was head-over-heels. I remember reading a much-battered copy of The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet when I was eight, A Wrinkle in Time when I was nine, and my first Andre Norton when I was ten. I devoured all the books by Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Niven, and any others I could find. I’m still looking for copies of Jack L. Chalker’s Well of Souls series. I want to read them again. Watching Star Trek whenever my dad wasn’t making me weed our enormous garden also helped fuel my love of space. But, confession time, it was always Scotty and Chekov for me. I saw Star Wars when I was twelve. I wanted my own Millenium Falcon so bad it hurt. I still do. I’ve got a Wookie, now I just need a starship.

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

JC: I’m up to my elbows in steampunk fairyland elves right now, working on a new novel. We’ll see where that one goes. I’ve also got a lot more silly horror short stories cooking. And some dabbling in other genres. I’ve got more story ideas than I have time. I’m playing with the idea of opening an etsy store to adopt my cutesy cthulhu items. I’ve got crocheted cthulhu toilet paper cozies and Sunbonnet Cthulhu pillows, based on an old applique quilt pattern. There’s always something to keep me busy.

Thanks so much, Bryan, for letting me stop by the blog. And thanks for the opportunity to be part of Space Battles. From what I’ve read, it’s a great collection of stories. With lots of explosions. My kind of chick lit.

Speaking of chick lit, here’s an excerpt from Jaleta’s decidedly non-chick lit Space Battles story “Bait & Switch”:

Bait and Switch

Jaleta Clegg

“Buckle up, kids, battle drill time.” Lonnis flipped his station to live. The lights in the tiny room glowed red.

Tayvis fumbled with the restraint in the jump seat next to the door, excitement making his hands shake. Cadets rarely got the chance to see the weapons in action on a Patrol cruiser. Lonnis sat to his right, straddling the control console, both hands seated in the gloves that controlled the ship’s weapons. Tish, his spotter, sat to his left, her face green in the glow of her targeting screens.

Lonnis rolled his shoulders, settling into his controls. “Watch closely, kid. This is more complicated than those simulators. No matter how good the programming is, it will never match the real thing. Comm, port forward is live.”

“Target-firing commencing in five.” Hedrik, the voice of comm control, crackled from the speakers.

“Let’s break our old records,” Lonnis said as the screens came alive with multi-colored traces.

Tayvis tried to keep track of the screens. Each object near them appeared on Tish’s screens. She marked targets with red, other objects turned gray under her rapid touches. Colored lines spread from each target, green for projected course, blue for last known heading. Lonnis twisted, firing weapons at the targets. Lights flickered and died across his screen, replaced by new targets, new tracings. Their ship position and heading, thruster settings, and other information scrolled across the bottom of his screen.

The tracings disappeared. No new ones replaced those eliminated.
Lonnis’ screen flashed once as the last target disappeared. He slipped
his hands from the control gloves. “Targets eliminated. Port forward,
locked.” His hands flipped the safety switches on. The control screens
faded to silver, the lights changed from red to normal. “How’s my
time, Hedrik?”

“You’re getting slow, old man. Three point four seconds longer
than your record.”

Lonnis grinned. “That’s because you reprogrammed the spinners
again. I wasn’t expecting that sharp spiral.”

“Keeps you on your toes, Lonnis. You’re buying the drinks next
port. Comm out.”

Lonnis stretched his arms over his head. “We should work on the
projected courses. You were off your mark today, Tish.”

“Right, blame me because you can’t shoot straight.” Tish unbuckled
her restraint. “Not as exciting as you thought, Tayvis? Real battle is
more chaotic.”

“It’s a game of prediction and anticipation,” Lonnis said. “You
figure out where the target will be and lay down a trap. Mines and
missiles.”

“Pulse beams are better,” Tayvis answered. “Mines and missiles
can be detected and detonated by counter-measures.”

“True, but not if you place them right. If you fire a pulse beam
inside your shields, the energy reflects back and blows your own ship
to kingdom come. You have to leave the weapon port outside the field,
making it vulnerable. Pulse beams are for close range combat only. Or
for salvage work.” Lonnis leaned on the doorframe. “Mines and missiles
are more effective and safer for distance combat between ships.
Of course, whether you hit them or not depends on the skill of your
spotter.”

Tish leaned back in her seat, crossing her long legs. “I’m the best
and you know it, Lonnis.”

Lonnis dropped his hand to Tayvis’ shoulder. “You’ll be a decent
point someday, if you can get past the theory. That’s what the Patrol
Academy is good for, beating the nonsense out of you before you get
yourself killed.”

The lights blinked red, on and off before settling on a steady glow.
An alarm shrilled.

“Proximity alert,” Tish said, flipping her screens on. “Incoming
missiles!”

“Another drill?” Lonnis reached for his controls.

The ship rocked. Smoke and explosions filled the air. The door
to the gunnery pod slammed shut as more alarms sounded. Tayvis
gripped the restraints as the ship’s gravity field flickered off. Lonnis
slammed into the doorframe.

“This isn’t a drill.” Tish tapped rapidly on her screen, scanning for
information. “Lonnis, we’re under attack. Lonnis?”

“He’s out,” Tayvis said, checking the older man for a pulse. Blood
trickled through Lonnis’ white hair.

Another round of projectiles slammed into the ship. Smoke poured
through the air vents.

“Central comm!” Tish hit buttons. “Nobody’s answering.

Nobody’s shooting back. I’ve got a ship out there, and more missiles
incoming. Three minutes to impact, unless someone does something.”
She waved at the gunner’s seat. “There’s a comm link to the bridge.
Activate it.”

Tayvis rose to his feet. Half the systems in the pod were dark, unresponsive,
but the gunner’s seat still showed lights. Observe only, the
captain had said. Was this a test?

“The red button to your left. Press it.” Tish tapped her screens, then
swore. “We’re rotating. I lost the ship. Starboard Aft, you hear me?”

Tayvis flexed his hands. He’d never touched a live station before.
Would they have staged real smoke and blood for a drill?

Tish slammed her fist into the side of the weapons screen. “Hey,
stupid. Get the bridge on the line, now!”

It wasn’t live weapons, it was only a comm button. Tayvis slid
into the seat, straddling the controls. He tapped the red button. The
control gloves hung empty, inviting. He slid his hands inside. The firing
screen lit up.

Speakers crackled to life. “This is Hedrik. Port Forward, what is
your status?”

“Lonnis is down, but the cadet and I are fine,” Tish answered.

“What’s going on?”

“Thank the stars someone is still down there. We got ambushed by
a Fellucian marauder. The shields are holding at thirty-seven percent.
For now.”

“The other weapons stations? I picked up another salvo headed
our way before the ship drifted. I’m on the blind side now.”

“No one else is responding. The marauder knew just when to hit
us. End of drill and we had most of the systems resetting.”

Tish frowned. “Our weapons are still live.”

“We have no engines,” Hedrik answered. “We have thrusters, but
I don’t know how much good they’ll do us.”

Tayvis flexed his fingers in the gloves. Anticipation and prediction,
he could do this. “I can shoot.”

“Cadet, you are ordered to stand down.” Hedrik’s voice crackled
over the speakers. “You have no training or authorization to use those
weapons.”

“I’ve got enough, and you don’t have anyone else. Tish, can you
track those incoming missiles?”

“Cadet, stand down. That is a direct order.”

Tayvis punched the button, shutting off comm control.

Tish stared at Tayvis. She licked her lip, a dart of red tongue.

“We’re dead if we don’t do something.” Tayvis tapped the buttons at
the end of the gloves, mentally reviewing what weapons each released.

“Hedrik gave you a direct order.”

“The comm line must have cut out. I didn’t hear anything. Give
me targets, Tish.”

Tish tapped her screens. “We’re turning to face the ship. Targeting
systems online. Incoming missiles. Impact in thirty seconds.”

“Not if I can help it.” Tayvis released a cloud of reflective debris
on a trajectory to intercept the nearest.

“That will get the lead one, but miss the other two. Drop a few
mines on a starboard curve to pick those up. And do it soon or you
won’t catch them in time.”

Tayvis tapped the buttons in sequence, launching mines on a
curving course towards the two missiles.

“Mines to port, and more missiles.” Tish spoke in a clipped voice
devoid of emotion. “Painted red and gold.”

Colored dots sprang to life on his screens. He dropped more chaff
and several mines of his own, blue dots glittering on the screen. He
launched a shrapnel missile towards the enemy minefield, hoping to
detonate the mines.

“Let’s hope the bridge detects that one,” Tish said. “And changes
vectors before we blow ourselves up with our own missiles. I’ve got
the marauder targeted.”

A red dot, with a blue line tracing its last course and a green line
tracing its predicted course appeared on Tayvis’ screen.

“They’ll use the explosions as cover and change course. It’s what
I would do.” Tayvis flicked through his options.

“And you’re an expert now?”

He fired missiles at the ship. Think of it as a game and he wouldn’t
panic. “They’re moving into that radiation cloud so they can change
vectors without us detecting it.” He launched a salvo of mines to the
left of the nebula cloud, scattering them across the far edge.

Tish swore as she scanned for new targets. “You’re wasting mines.
We have a limited supply, cadet.”

“They’ll come out the way they went in.” Tayvis launched
another round.

“Is that what you think? They’re stupid if they come out the way
they went in, and their attack proves they aren’t stupid.”

The thrusters fired, the ship veered onto a new vector. The Fellucian
marauder screamed across the screen, almost close enough to touch.

“Mines!” Tish shouted as a new round of explosions rocked the
Exeter. They grabbed their consoles as the ship shuddered and rolled.
The stream of damage reports across the bottom of his screen.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author Selene O’Rourke

One of the delights of editing an anthology is the chance to invite new writer friends whom you respect. Canadian writer Selene O’Rourke makes her published fiction debut in Space Battles with her story “Final Defense.” Selene lives in the great white north of Calgary, Canada, and is well connected with the Canadian Science Fiction community. She has several stories floating about and is in progress on a few novels as well. She is active on Twitter as @LenaOR but avoids Facebook like the plague. Don’t even ask. Below, we talk about her story, her writing, her projects and her future and then share an excerpt of her story.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Selene O’Rourke: It’s a little embarrassing, but the first time I knew any details about the anthology was when I received an invitation to submit from the editor. We’d had several conversations over Twitter, some of which discussed our shared writing experiences. A while later, there was this email in my inbox. I knew I had to submit something. When someone goes to the trouble to reach out, and extend an invitation, it’s not something to be readily refused (especially from a newer author on the scene!) The question, of course, was what to write for it…

BTS: This is your first sale, correct? Tell us a little about “Final Defense.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

SO: I’m so pleased that Space Battles is my first sale! Every new landmark I reach is so encouraging. “Final Defense” is the story of how a lone military vessel is pulled away from patrol duties to face a formidable foe. Of course they’re going to need a little bit of help, which is where the miner Forent Nahn comes in. I don’t want to give too much away, but I have a few surprises waiting.

Identifying the ideas from a story is always a tricky part. For this one, it began with me racking my brain about the battle, and how I could do something unique enough to stand out, but not so far as to no longer fit. After thinking about it, I knew I wanted my protagonists to use Solar Sails as the primary means of propulsion. Then the trick became the story. It took me a bit of time, but I had two concepts that I had choose between: space miners, or pod people fighter “pilots.” Eventually I decided to combine the two ideas, and the Nacre space miner Forent Nahn was born. Once that decision was made, the story started coming together, and it was time to get words on the page.

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

SO: So…this guy I knew on Twitter invited me to– Wrong “start,” eh? Sorry about that. Seriously, writing’s been that bug that keeps coming back to me, even when I try to ignore it. When I was much younger, I wanted to be the next H. G. Wells or the next Asimov–so much so that my work was extremely derivative of those greats. Teachers kept encouraging me, (some in more obvious ways than others,) and I kept at it until we reached today’s point.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this story’s universe?

SO: Most of the short stories I write are generally intended as stand-alone works. That said, there’s enough of a backdrop in place that if the right opportunity came along, and the right kind of story came to mind, I could revisit the universe found in “Final Defense.”

BTS: Where’d your interest in SFF come from?

SO: I think I’d have to say it was a combination of factors. You start with a voracious young reader, surround her with the stories of classic Trek, Doctor Who, and Star Wars–some of it’s bound to rub off. As I grew older, my interest in science grew, especially computers. With that there was a bit of stigma, which pushed me even further into being a reader, and eventually, a writer. The Science Fiction side came easy. It took the combined efforts of the late Anne McCaffery, Monica Hughes, a certain Hobbit, and the Chicken Pox to kick me out of my Science Fiction only snobbery.

BTS: What are your writing goals? Career? Hobby? Novelist? Short story writer?

SO: I aim to make a career of writing Speculative Fiction. It’s a challenge I look forward to achieving, even if it takes a while. Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of teachers along the way. I started off as a novelist, but I seem to be doing more short work. The prophetic joke I heard when I joined my writers group (the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association) was that they’d break me of being a “primarily a novelist.” I think they may have succeeded. (Even though I have about a half dozen novel ideas in various states floating around…)

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

SO: I have several stories sitting in the hands of editors at the moment. I have my fingers crossed for them, but there’s nothing absolutely solid quite yet. In fact, a lot of my stories are looking for homes. It could be a story about two kinds of vampires on a space elevator, or the story of a blood sorceress whose skin becomes like steel. Or it could be my novel, looking at how Arthur C. Clarke was really right about Magic and Science being indistinguishable at certain levels of advancement. Or the urban fantasy journeys of a woman and her car. (Almost like an UF Knight Rider.) I’ve also opened discussions with a publisher about an anthology (or three) idea. You haven’t seen the last of me, coppers! Err…sorry. Eventually my inner mad scientist gets the better of me. It’s so early in my career, the possibilities are truly stellar.

Here’s an excerpt from “Final Defense”:

Final Defense

Selene O’Rourke

The emergency message indicator flashed at the helmsman.

“Sir? Incoming—”

The beleaguered Captain sighed before barking at the helm. “Tell those entitled ninnies to keep their comms to the proper channels! We need these frequencies for real emergencies, not their thrice-bedamned imagined crises.”

“Aye, Captain. Sending—”

The SWSS Symphony of the Spheres exploded in a brief corona of multi-colored light.

***
In Chatspace, Forent Nahn thought, no one can tell which branch of humanity you’re from: nacre or flesh. Minute adjustments of its sails kept the Chatspace signal strong as Forent let itself drift in the solar winds.

Forent pointed its laser-bearing arm toward a nearby asteroid and slic ed a mineral snack from the hunk of rock. It grasped the small rock in its dominant arm, clutching the stone firmly—perhaps too firmly—as one of the flesh chatters began to rant.

“We should’ve taken them to far orbit and jettisoned the blasted
pods. The things’re just a waste of our DNA.”

“Have you ever actually met a nacre, friend?” Forent tried to calm
the surge of adrenaline pulsing through its veins.

“I ain’t your friend, pod-lover. Don’t need to meet one to know
they’re ugly as sin.”

Ugly? Nahn thought, Fleshie’s never seen a nacre carapace
scintillate in the sun, I’ll bet.

“Sub-human. Not a man in the bunch.”

Not a woman, either—the genetic engineers who made us figured
brains in a pod didn’t need genders. Nahn was about to shoot its
response into the ether when the emergency channel flared to life.

“Mayday! Mayday! Man down! Asteroid 238-Williams-PS! All
available to rescue duties!”

Forent unfurled its sails completely, sending the trigger signal
to its asteroid-based maneuvering laser. “Forent Nahn responding.
Making best speed. You have axes for me?”

“Rotation too heavy to give you sun or ecliptic axes. Thanks, Nahn.”

Don’t thank me yet. “Still en route to Williams. Any other
responders?”

“Not yet. You might be the closest.”

As it tacked to catch the laser’s thrust, Forent checked its heads-up
display. “Hitting maximum thrust, Williams. ETA two minutes, fortyone
seconds. Can you hold?”

“We’ll try, Nahn. Switching transmission to Rescue.”

Forent switched its focus to the Rescue frequency, transmitting
“Roger” to Rescue, while instructing Chatspace to mark it as “Busy.”

238-Williams-PS slowly grew to Nahn’s vision as it approached
the site of the neighbor asteroid. The once spheroid rock was pocked
with symmetric craters, a freckled oblong visibly spinning on an arbitrary
axis. Forent spotted a white, segmented dome hugging the surface—
a flesh miner’s habitat module. Technically the competition,
but an emergency meant all hands were to respond.

“We’ve got an incoming nacre, Nahn. You getting close?”

“Uh, Williams? I am the incoming nacre.”

“Oh.” Silence engulfed the Rescue frequency.

Well, that’s dandy, isn’t it? Forent thought as the pause grew longer.
“Williams? What’s the situation? What am I looking for?”

No answer.

“Williams. Respond.”

Nahn ran its comms through diagnostics, testing the signal.
Chatspace was still up, waiting for a status change. Time frequency
still chimed its regular interval. Forent transmitted a ping to Rescue,
the reply as instantaneous as radio would allow.

Fine. “You want your man rescued or not, Williams? It’ll be a lot
easier for me to get there on time if you tell me where I’m going.”

Several seconds later, a data transmission responded. Designate
Largest Habitat Entry North. 26.3 kilometers 98 degrees.

The nacre pulled away from the navigational laser with a shift of
its sails, letting the solar wind slow its approach. As it closed with the
asteroid, Forent altered course to let the rock pull it into a high orbit,
scanning the surface as it did.

An irregular blackened crater caught Nahn’s attention first, marred
by the pure white suit hanging limply over a stone, midway up the
bowl of the deep depression. Asteroid dust drifted slowly from the
edges, a dark cloud building above the overturned rover at the base
of the pit.

Forent’s second orbit leeched enough speed away that it could
make finer maneuvers. Nahn magnified the view from its HUD, focusing
on the other miner as it circled the emergency site. With the magnification,
it could read the lifesigns tattlers on the flesh’s suit—the
lights were amber, but the air supply was nearing dangerous levels.

The nacre withdrew its sails, letting itself fall toward the injured
miner. It activated the drill in its dominant arm, chewing into the rock
near the victim to keep itself in place. It paused, then released a single
shot from its laser arm to get a feel for the stone.

Forent spread its sails, holding them ready. Flexing its dominant
arm, the nacre drew itself close to its flesh counterpart. Its laser crawled
along the asteroid fragment, steadily cutting at the mineral prison.

The stone snapped, descending lazily downward. Nahn cradled
the patient along its opalescent body, supporting the miner as it thrust
against the crater wall with its laser arm, and rose from the pit, sails
flaring to full span. As it gained altitude, Forent spun about, catching
sight of the approaching crawler.

The large-wheeled vehicle trundled forward, shielding its occupants
from raw vacuum with its multi-segmented body. A single portal on
that body lay open, a maw that stood ready to accept whatever offering
Forent had for it. Nahn floated carefully through the opening, and gently
lay the injured miner upon the platform.

As it pushed itself through the trembling portal, Forent Nahn
signaled for its maneuvering laser, its shimmering nacre pod fading
into the depth of space.

***
“They can’t be serious!” Captain Breen Zynt slapped the e-printed
orders back to the desk in her ready room.

“Ma’am?” Commander Gavin Roberts’ stoic expression stood
counter to his captain’s ire.

“Recon! For a pleasure cruiser, no less! Second-rate captain
probably took a micro-asteroid to his sails and lost his bearings!”

Roberts took a long, deep breath, his dark eyes fixed on his
commanding officer. “We are the closest military vessel, Captain.”

“No, Gavin. We’re the only military vessel in the Final system.
Just when we were gaining ground on the pirates in the Belt, they
send us to search for a civvie who needs his hand held to get back to
mommy.”

“Captain…” Gavin’s tone was cool.

Breen slouched in her chair, running her fingers over the back of her
prematurely gray hair. “Why do you put up with me, dear friend?”

The Commander smirked. “Tenure. It’d be too much trouble
breaking in a new Captain.”

Zynt’s gentle laugh echoed through her office. “Too true,
Gavin. Besides, how else would you get someone you went to the
Academy with?”

Roberts nodded, his smile emphasizing the contrast between his
teeth and his dark skin.

“You want to tell the crew, Gavin? Or shall I?”

“I got this one, Breen.”

***
The HMWSS Wakerunner was running night shift as it decelerated
for planetary approach. Scan indicators flared to life as the naval
vessel surged along its course.

“Duty stations ready! Captain to the bridge!” The duty officer’s
voice shook as he called the crew to heightened awareness.

Breen groaned when the announcement interrupted her sleep, but
rolled out of bed, duty pulling her to action.

The squeal of the bulkhead door, followed by firm steps upon the
bridge deck, proclaimed the captain’s arrival before she spoke.

“Status.”

“Debris field dead ahead, Captain. Preliminary signals suggest it
was the Symphony, Ma’am.”

Zynt waited for her duty officer to continue.

“But we have an anomaly. Three, really.” He indicated the main
tactical display, which was surging to life with a low hum.

The image slowly clarified, interpolating details at maximum
magnification. Upon the screen were three massive ships in formation—
each half the size of Final VII’s smallest moon.

“Get us a little closer, Helm. I’d like a closer look at those ships.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Wakerunner pulled forward on the solar winds, closing with the
foreign vessels.

“Weapons fire aft of unknowns, Captain!”

“Stand ready for evasive action. All hands to battle stations!”

“Ma’am?” The duty officer’s voice sounded hesitant.

“Yes?”

“Weapons are continuing aft. Orders?”

“Why—” Breen’s thoughts were interrupted by the duty officer.

“Explosion registered! Unknown vessel has started moving
toward us!”

“Come about! Keep us away.”

“Ma’am! EMP—” Electricity leaped from the duty panel, blinding
the young officer.

“Comms! Get a line out to Command!”

“Negative, Captain! Communications went down in the EMP.”

“Get us out of range, Helm!”

“Switching to backups, Captain. Adjusting sails…” A loud pop
emerged from the system. “Backups shot, Captain. We’re drifting.”

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author Anthony R. Cardno

Anthony R. Cardno’s family holiday tale The Firflake has already introduced him to readers. His author interview series for his blog Rambling On has also brought him notice and enabled him to build a network of writing industry friends. He’s a fan of not just science fiction and fantasy but many genres. Because his job as a corporate trainer requires regular travel, he frequents used and new bookstores all over the country.  As such, he’s gradually tracking down a complete collection of Doc Savage books and other pulp tales. He can be found online at his blog, on Facebook, at his website www.anthonycardno.com and on Twitter as @talekyn. “A Battle For Parantwer” is his first published science fiction story and is set in a universe he’s been playing with for years. Other stories he’s written have been published in Willow and Maple and online. He has another Christmas tale and a mystery novel in the works. Anthony and Space Battles editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt have been accused of being brothers, but they swear they’re only brothers in pen crime.

He sat down for an interview about Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 with Flying Pen Press:

FPP: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Anthony R. Cardno: A lot of the good writing-related things that have happened to me lately can be traced back to Twitter. In this case, it was somehow becoming connected to Bryan Thomas Schmidt and starting to take part in the weekly #sffwrtcht sessions. Space Battles was an invitation-only call, and Bryan invited me to participate. I was flattered to be invited, but wasn’t sure I’d submit anything. Other than playing around with loose sf ideas for a print amateur press alliance (who remembers those!) I’ve been a part of since the 80’s, I haven’t written any hard-SF since high school. In the end, I decided that I needed to stretch myself and at least attempt a submission.

FPP: This is your first anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “A Battle For Parantwer.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

ARC: Honestly, not only is this my first anthology sale, it was my first anthology attempt. I’ve submitted short stories to magazines, but this was my first try at an anthology of any kind. Once I’d decided to take Bryan up on the invitation, I realized I actually had to write something that had a chance of fitting. But I’ve never, in my own opinion, been very good at military/battle type writing. My first attempt, part of which survived into the version of “Battle” you’ll see in the anthology, was to tell the story from the point of view of a captive on a ship under attack – the intent was to show the effects of a space battle on someone who can’t even see what is going on. That didn’t quite click, so I shifted POV. “Battle” is about the Denthen System Ship Parantwer doing battle with a pirate ship they’ve been pursuing for quite some time, and it’s also about the ship’s captain, Marijen Parantwer, living up to the legend of the ancestor her ship is named for. The POV character is an experienced system Ambassador, through whose eyes we see both struggles.

FPP: You have written other stories in this world, correct? Tell us about those. 

ARC:  The Denthen star system, comprised of the planets Tarasque, Gemin, Adon and the remains of the planet Refarael, have been bouncing around in my head for several decades. The characters started out as a costumed super-team of aliens who visit Earth. I had the concept, but never really did much with the characters. This story introduces two of those original characters, sans costumes and super-heroic code-names, and two of the original supporting characters. I’m excited to actually be working in this world, though, after all the world-building I’ve done for it. I’m knee-deep in two other Denthen System stories at the moment. Both stories are un-named, because I’m horrible at naming my stories. Both stories take place on the planet Tarasque and fill out some of the social structure of the system and, in one case, some of the history.

FPP: How’d you get started as a writer?

ARC:  I started out writing stories about my favorite super-heroes when I was in 6th or 7th grade. Batgirl, the Teen Titans, those characters. Those stories, as well as the hard SF novel I wrote in 10th grade, have long-since disappeared. High school was also when I joined the Super-Team Amateur Press Alliance (STAPA) and started creating my own super-heroes instead of writing about DC or Marvel characters, doing more serious writing to actual deadlines.

Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

ARC:  Oh, absolutely. I’ve always intended to, and now seems like the right time to pursue it, at least in short story forms. I do have a novel idea, something I tried working on for NaNoWriMo two years ago that just didn’t click at the time.

You have had other stories published, right? And a Christmas story. Tell us about those.

ARC: My short story “Invisible Me” was published by Willard & Maple magazine in 2005, and is now available to be read for free on my website. My short story “Canopus” is also on my site. The first is more of a character piece, the latter a nice little slice of light horror.

My Christmas novella “The Firflake” is available from iUniverse in print and ebook formats. It’s the legend of the First Snowflake (“firflake”) of winter, and the story of one family’s traditions which hinge on the arrival of that first snowflake. It’s also the story of how the elves met Santa. Each chapter includes an illustration by my good friend Don Cornue.

Where’d your love of SF come from?

ARC: Friends and television, mostly. My parents were not big readers. I was hooked on Star Trek reruns from the first time I saw an episode (it probably helps that the episode in question was “City At The Edge of  Forever”). I always credit my friend Terry Wynne, though, for really hooking me on SF and fantasy. He’s the one who got me watching the English-dubbed Star Blazers and Battle of the Planets cartoons; he’s the one who got me hooked on the space opera of Perry Rhodan, on Niven & Pournelle (Lucifer’s Hammer), Tolkein, Silverberg, Farmer and so many others. Although in 6th grade I discovered Robert Silverberg’s To Open The Sky all on my own, and it remains my favorite SF novel of all time.

What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

ARC: I’m inching slowly closer to completing my mystery novel Ambergrin Hall, in which a student’s death threatens to reveal aspects of Croton College’s history that some would prefer forever remain hidden. I also have a second Christmas book in the works, Christmas Ghosts, which will be longer than The Firflake and aimed at a slightly older (MG/YA) audience.

And of course, every week I feature interviews with various creative folks (writers, editors, actors, singers and more) on my website www.anthonycardno.com

Finally, I’d really like to thank Bryan for the opportunity to appear in Space Battles, and thus for re-igniting my love of writing short stories.

Here’s an excerpt from “A Battle For Parantwer.” Note, Parantwer is both the name of the ship and her Captain:

A Battle for Parantwer

Anthony R. Cardno

Jespeth slammed against the bulkhead she could barely see as the ship shuddered under another direct impact. She was already bruised across a good portion of her body, so one more swelling spot was the least of her concerns. The impact reopened the cut above her right eye and warm blood trickled down. Had it been light enough to see, her vision might have been impaired by the blood; in the dark it didn’t matter.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been wandering around the bowels of the ship and she wasn’t really surprised that her captors weren’t looking for her yet. The attack on the ship was surely keeping them distracted, but even if it hadn’t been under attack they’d probably not bother looking for her. It’s not like she could go anywhere. The ship simply wasn’t that large, and she had no access to whatever lifeboats might be available.

She was torn between hoping the attack on the ship would cease so she could stop slamming into walls in the dark, and hoping that the attack would be successful and blow them out of the sky. Either way, her life as she’d known it was over. She only wished she’d had time to say goodbye to her brother. He’d be alone now, the last surviving member of the family.

The ship lurched again but this one felt different—not an attack, but a jump to hyperspace. They were running once more. Attack or jump, the effect was the same: Jespeth was thrown off her feet. She sailed through the short space to the opposite wall of this small passage she’d hidden in. Being an internal wall, it was slightly more forgiving than the bulkhead. But only slightly. She hit face-first. The last sound she heard as she slipped into merciful oblivion was a high-pitched squeaking. She allowed herself to imagine she was falling asleep under a nest of hectets somewhere on Tarasque.

***
The barrage started seconds after the Parantwer dropped out of warp.
Ambassador Kcaj Opul was glad he’d hesitated that extra moment
before unbuckling himself to stand and stretch—the momentum of the
first blasts glancing off the ship’s shields would have sent him sailing
right past most of the bridge crew and the captain and directly into the
hulking mass that was Revanian i’Matoth. Opul and Revanian were
both guests on this ship, and they had a history; slamming into the
man from behind in the midst of an attack would not help tender their
dislike for each other.

“Where in Denthen’s Name are they?”

The question, barked as it was, was not tense. It came not from
Revanian but from the Parantwer’s captain. Captain Marijen Parantwer
had what could be either described as a blessing or a curse: commanding
the ship named after her own illustrious ancestor. Ilgallen
Parantwer had been one of the most famous military leaders in the
known history of Tarasque, and not a generation had gone by in several
centuries without some member of the family being in the military.
Not many had been able to live up to Ilgallen’s legend. Marijen
Parantwer, in Ambassador Opul’s humble opinion, was well on her
way to matching, and possibly surpassing, her kinsman. She kept a
cool head in tense situations.

How many other current ship captains, military or not, could have
stayed on the trail of a pirate vessel of unknown origin outfitted with
advanced tech through six—or was this seven?—warp jumps and
three—or was this four?—actual confrontations?

A member of the ship’s tactical operations crew called out some
coordinates as a second spray of fire hit the Parantwer’s shields. The
ship rocked again, and to Opul it felt like the fire had come from
the same direction and hit the Parantwer in the same place. He was
no expert, of course, and his sense of direction had been thrown off
thanks to the six—no, seven, he was sure of it—warp jumps the ship
had made. Most diplomatic missions consisted of two jumps at the
most, with fair warning ahead of time for those whose systems were
adversely affected by the sudden change in motion.

Opul had spent most of this last jump seated, belted in, and feeling
more than a bit queasy. In point of fact, he had left queasy behind
at least three jumps ago and progressed to outright, if controllable,
nausea. These missions are for younger men, he thought, with stronger
constitutions.

“Hard about,” Captain Parantwer ordered, following the order
with a string of coordinates the Ambassador knew better than to try
to comprehend. Opul could follow the most byzantine social behaviors
to get to the root of a political problem, but spacial vectoring and
astro-navigation made him feel like an illiterate child.

Before the captain had even finished speaking, the Parantwer
was moving in what felt like three directions at once: up, sideways
and about-face. As the ship moved, the image on the front viewscreen
moved with it. Stars swung by. Opul caught and then lost sight of a
large planet with a debris field ringing the equator.

As the planet fell behind them, another object came into view—
the pirate ship.

This pirate ship looked nothing like any ship built in the Denthen
system.

As the senior Far-Range Ambassador of the Denthen planetary
system, Kcaj Opul had made it a point to learn to recognize every
space-faring ship built under Tarasquen and Geminid control, which
accounted for the majority of the fleet. There were a small handful of
Refaraelian ships remaining since the destruction of that planet, but
none of those had ever been intended to be extra-system fleet-worthy
and Opul would have recognized them as well. And of course Adon
had no ship-building capability, nor did it need it.

The fact that the ship on the viewscreen was slightly smaller than
most of the pirate vessels operating in Denthen or any of the neighboring
systems was not what set it apart in Opul’s mind. No, that wasn’t
unusual at all. But there was something about the design; even to a
man accustomed to dealing with other societies’ aesthetics, this ship
felt alien.

Which made it all the stranger that the crew controlling it were
absolutely from the Denthen system. Like the Parantwer itself, what
they’d seen of the unnamed pirate ship’s crew had been a mix of all
of the races found on Tarasque and Gemin; the captain—or, at least,
the captain’s spokesman—was an Uda from Gemin, and behind
him had stood a female F’ren from Gemin and behind her a small
complement of Tarasquens of every skin color. A home-grown pirate
crew who had been caught smuggling off of Tarasque, among other
things, a colony of hectets—a highly endangered species. There was
also the possibility of human cargo other than the crew itself.

Every jump the pirates made with their alien tech allowed the
opportunity for complete escape or at the very least for a vast outdistancing
of the Parantwer. Opul’s mission was to determine which
of their allied or enemy systems the ship originated from. They had
not yet lost the pirates because Captain Parantwer had made all the
right battlefield snap judgments, just as her ancestor had been known
to do. There was more than just luck involved in so consistently
predicting where the enemy was going, and even more so when they
were going.

She seemed to be making another of those snap judgments right
now. Her command crew fed her a constant stream of information, a
non-stop chatter that had increased in overall sound level, but not in
urgency, since the drop from warp and the first barrage of fire. She
responded with coordinate changes and weapons commands in an
even, crisp tone that said exactly what she needed it to: based on your
information, this is what we are going to do. Not a face among the
command crew showed any doubt as they carried out her orders and
fed her fresh information.

The pirates had fired immediately as the Parantwer dropped out
of warp, from a vantage point on a slightly higher plane. They continued
firing at the exact same spot on the Parantwer’s protective shields
until the ship began its convoluted spin-and-dodge maneuver.
This was a classic move among the pirates who operated near the
Denthen system: take a ship by surprise, hammer the shields in one
spot until you blow them—possibly doing some serious damage to the
target’s hull as well—and put the target in a position where they cannot
run and must be boarded. It was no surprise that they were finally
trying that tactic on the Parantwer, despite the fact that it was not a
poorly-armed merchant vessel but an actual fighter of the Fleet. The
question that mattered was: what would the pirates do now that their
classic move hadn’t worked?

For the moment, the pirate ship sat silently in front of them.

“This has gone on long enough.”

Captain Parantwer seemed to be talking to herself but Opul could tell that
despite the soft-spoken  nature of the statement, it was intended to be heard
by everyone on the bridge: crew and guest alike. As a younger, greener
diplomat, Opul might have tried to impose some sort of authority
inherent in his title in order to force the Captain to action. He knew better,
especially having met Marijen Parantwer and aligning rumor to reality
about her. He, like everyone else on the bridge, waited for her to continue.

“We cannot keep jumping around known and unknown space in
pursuit of these pirates.” Her voice was louder now, to be sure it carried
throughout the bridge. “Tactical, prepare Maneuver Eighty-Seven for
deployment. Engines and Helm be prepared to initiate fast pursuit.”

A quarter of the bridge staff began tapping on their station consoles.
Opul had no idea what Maneuver Eighty-Seven was, but he noticed
Revanian nodding in approval. If the Refaraelian representative of
Denthen’s Gladiators approved of a tactical decision, chances were
good it was more than sound. Especially considering the Gladiator’s
possible personal stake in this operation.

If the F’ren helmswoman was suddenly more alert or tense, her
posture didn’t show it. Like her captain, the helmswoman’s body radiated
a sense of calm readiness. It was highly unlikely that she would
jump the gun and initiate pursuit too soon, or have any lag in reaction
once the order for pursuit was given.

“What is Maneuver Eighty-Seven?”

The question came from the seat to Opul’s right, which held the
only other person on the bridge actually strapped into a seat: Gepyg
Liborel. Liborel was a scientist from Tarasque, that world’s foremost
expert on hectets. She was here simply to aid in the safe return of
the smuggled colony, should the Parantwer succeed in its mission.
Captain Parantwer turned slightly in her seat, so that she could see the
scientist.

“We have reached the point where all reasonable attempts to
capture that craft have failed. We’re lucky, in fact, that we have not
suffered worse damage while trying to capture without inflicting
unnecessary damage on ourselves. Maneuver Eighty-Seven will, ideally,
stop that ship in its tracks. There may be some collateral damage, but
it will prevent them from jumping again.”

“Collateral damage?” Liborel’s voice pitched slightly higher. Not
in hysteria, as Opul expected, but in a tone of righteous indignation.
“Is that what you call the hectet colony? If that’s the case, then why
am I here?”

“You are here,” the captain said firmly but not unkindly, “because
our intent is to get all, or barring that some, of the colony back alive,
along with any other living contraband that the pirates may have …
taken. We will do what we can to bring this mission to a successful
close, but we cannot allow the tech that ship possesses to get away.
The next time they strike, it may be more than hectets they take, and it
may not be simple black-market piracy they intend to perpetrate.”

“And you approve?” Liborel had turned her attention to
Revanian.

“I do.” Revanian barely spared the scientist a glance. In Tarasquen
society, that would be an incredible slight. For surviving Refaraelians
like Revanian, it was simply an indication that Liborel was as important
as whatever else Revanian was thinking about. No response at all
would have been a slight.

Even though her back was still completely to him, Ambassador
Opul could read the captain’s body language. Her posture implied that
she was mainly paying attention to the forward viewscreen, but that
she had at least half an eye and a certain amount of her attention on
the data streaming across her console. She seemed to be studying the
pirate ship’s current behavior.

In each of the three—not four, he was sure of this now—encounters,
the pirates had not acted at all unusually. While they had waited until
this current confrontation to trot out the old standard “bore a hole in
the shields” attack, it wasn’t like they had done anything at all out of character
for Denthenian pirates during the previous encounters.

“Full power to forward shields,” Captain Parantwer quietly
commanded. Again, hands flew across control panels.

Almost before they were done, a burst of bright green energy,
the same as they’d seen in earlier encounters, flashed from what
they’d determined was the prow of the pirate ship.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.

 

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author Sarah Hendrix

“The Gammi Expriment,” Sarah Hendrix’s Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 story was her third anthology sale but wound up being her first SF story published.  She does a little bit of everything from publicist work for Apex Publications to slush reading for Dagan Books and co-hosting #sffwrtcht on Twitter. She staves off insanity by untangling her kitten from yarn and working with tiny beads. Despite her heavy workload, she still finds time to write and edit her own stories and game with her fiancé. Her stories can be found in the In Situ and FISH anthologies, both from Dagan Books. You can follow her on her blog at http://shadowflame1974.wordpress.com.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Sarah Hendrix: You invited me to submit,

BTS: Oh yeah, I forgot. *winks* This is your first SF sale, correct? Tell us a little about “The Gammi Experiment.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

SH: First space themed sale. The other two sales are SF related. When I was first invited to the anthology I tossed around several ideas, but they weren’t going anywhere.  Then one evening I was listening to my fiance play EVE Online. His corp was getting ready to fight a battle. They were discussing the advantage of small ships doing bombing runs. It got me to thinking.  Where would smaller ships have the advantage over a large fleet?  What kind of people would have these ships? Why would they want to fight if they were so outnumbered.  The ideas for “The Gammi Experiment” was born though it took a few drafts to hammer everything out.

“The Gammi Experiment” is about a former Federation pilot who is asked to be a liaison between some hard headed space miners and a General who desperately needs their assistance against the Ukra pirates.

BTS: You’ve had other stories published. Tell us about those.

SH: I have two other sold stories: “Rachel’s Journal” will be in the upcomming In Situ anthology from Dagan Books. The anthology features artifacts found on other worlds. “Rachel’s Journal” is a story about a dying world. “Never to Return” will be in the FISH anthology, again from Dagan Books. In this book, a girl goes to visit her grandmother. She assists with a team of scientists trying to bring stability back to our poisoned world.

BTS: You also are involved with SFFWRTCHT and do an Urban Fantasy Column, Edge Of The City. Tell us about those please.

SH: I got involved with #SFFWRTCHT in its beginning. I had already been participating in #UFChat and we’re friends. Hopefully, my suggestions at the very beginning have helped the #sffwrtcht gain a following and become as large as it is now. Once  the #sffwrtcht blog, I volunteered to do some posts. One of my favorite sub-genres is Urban Fantasy so it was natural to want to do those. I feel that UF has a very broad range of readers and potential story lines.  I mean, where else can you get action, adventure, a bit of romance, self reflection, character development and kick (tail) story lines?

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

SH: I’ve been writing since I was young. I still have my very first story I wrote in 1st grade. My first stories were of course FanFiction, but I don’t think anyone saw those. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to get serious. I’ve still got a way to go, but enjoying it every step of the way.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this story’s universe?

SH: Actually I do, the Gammi universe deserves some exploration and I intend on doing that sometime.

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

SH: Well, right now, I’ve got a lot of work to do with the stories I have.  After taking some great classes with Cat Rambo, I’ve got a better idea of where I need work.  It’s going to take some time, but I’ll have more out there in the world soon. *grin*

Here’s an excerpt from “The Gammi Experiment”:

The Gammi Experiment

Sarah Hendrix

As he reached the door of the General’s office, Naz Othran straightened his flightsuit. It was general distribution, grey and didn’t fit well around his shoulders. He would have preferred the worn jumpsuit he used on his own ship, but General Akinda insisted that all the pilots wear what her crews wore. He ran a hand through his dark hair acutely aware that it was longer than normal and wished he had enough time for a quick shower. After nearly fifteen years, he never thought he would be flying under an actual commander again. Not after the court-martial even if he had been acquitted of all charges. After his discharge, he’d thought Gammi Sector would be a good place to make a new life, to hide what he had once been. It was an outlying system, out of the way, and no one asked questions so long as he completed the jobs he was hired to do. He paused a moment outside the door, feeling he was going to be asked to do the impossible.

He stepped through the door and closed it, standing at attention before the older woman behind the desk. “You wanted to see me?” Even though he wasn’t a part of the Federation Fleet he knew about General Akinda. One of the few females to make it through the harshest officer training and command a battle fleet, her face was featured on the news vids often enough for her to be recognizable.

She didn’t look at him as she paced in the shadows. “Seven fights in the past two days. Hard headed, sub-space idiots the lot of ’em.”

Unsure if she was speaking to herself or to him, Naz remained silent.

She paused and spun on her heels. Her wrinkled face was furrowed into a tight frown, making it seem much older than her sixty years. “This isn’t working. I can’t make miners into battleship captains in a few weeks. No one can.” She waited for Naz to reply as she glared at him.

Finally he shook his head. “They aren’t Academy recruits, sir. They aren’t disciplined.” Before he’d left the core system, he hadn’t heard of Akinda often but, in those fifteen years, he hadn’t thought much about the Federation fleet except for the war against the Ukra pirates. When her ships arrived in system, he’d done a bit of research and was pleased to find she was at least a competent commander. Tough but in his opinion fair. Still even the best commanders made mistakes.

Akinda sighed and moved to her desk. In the brighter light, her skin was darker than he expected and the streaks of grey hair more pronounced. Naz had a touch of nostalgia as he remembered his grandmother. Akinda shared the same skin tone, a warm brown with a slight build. He almost chuckled at the thought of comparing the two women. One kindly and soft, the other hard and demanding. But even his grandmother had a streak of stubbornness that could not be denied.

“I know that.” Her answer startled him. She sounded tired, defeated, though the fight hadn’t even started. Sitting on the high back chair, she picked up a small stack of papers. “I’ve looked over your file. You were quite a pilot once.”

He couldn’t stop the flinch in his shoulders. “I’m still a pilot.”

Her eyes flicked up to him then back down. “Captain Othran, I’ll be frank. We don’t have a lot of time. The Ukra fleet will probably arrive here in this sector within the next few lunar cycles. And without some sort of defense, all of those hard headed sub-space idiots out there are going to be slaved to their ships until the ores are played out or they burn up.”

His lips pressed harder together with every word the General said. “In the past three weeks, I can’t get anything resembling a squad together let alone a fleet. They agreed,” she paused and pointed at him, “you agreed, to work with us. Yet all I’ve had is trouble.”

“It isn’t like we had much of a choice.” The snarl escaped before he could hold it back.

Akinda’s eyes narrowed. “What did you say Captain?”

He slowly released the fists he had clenched. “You come into the system unannounced, claiming that the Ukra are coming here. You claim we can’t stand against those pirates. They’ve ignored us until now, at least until we opened the Adrian belts. And if it weren’t for the Utobian you wouldn’t be here either.”

“The Federation protects…”

Naz slammed his hand down on the table. “The Federation protects only what it has to. Akinda, you aren’t talking to one of those sub-space idiots here. I spent most of my life in the Academy and in the Federal Fleet. I saw what your Federation protects and doesn’t protect.”

Before she could protest, he continued. “The Ukra build ships faster than the Federation. For every ship taken out, the Ukra supply three more. I’m not stupid and neither are most of those pilots out there. You didn’t just come here to protect the Utobian; you came here to make a point.”

Akinda slowly leaned back and crossed her arms. “What makes you think that, Captain?”

“Why else would you bring in equipment and supplies to refit our ships?”

“Have a seat Othran.” She gestured to the chair opposite her. As soon as he was comfortable, she leaned forward. “You’re right, the Federation doesn’t have enough ships to defend this or any other outlying sector. However we can’t let the Ukra fly in where it wants and take resources. If we don’t have enough ships, we’ll have to find them somewhere. The best option is to use what’s here. Your mining ships. The Federation sends you the equipment and gives the sectors some training. And we are paying you well.”

He couldn’t argue, seven hundred Federal credits a day was a better rate than a day’s haul in the belts. Safer too, at least until the Ukra showed up. “The Council agreed?”

She tried to avoid his gaze. “Let’s just say you are the first experiment. If it works out well, we’ll leave you the equipment, station, and a few ships here in the sector to protect it on your own.”

He knew how the Council worked. Unofficial tests held in out of the way corners gave enough feedback for the Council to make a definite decision. Naz Othran nodded. “How long until they reach us?”

She shrugged. “Another full lunar cycle at least. Maybe more. Since there are no available warp gates, we will know before they reach the system. The Ukra will have to rely on their subspace drives to travel this far. We should have a few days’ warning before they arrive.”

Nervous, he ran a hand through his hair. “It’s not enough time.”

“Captain, it’s all we have. That’s why I need your help.”

“My help, General?”

Akinda leaned forward and put her elbows on the desk. “You know these people, their ships, this system. There isn’t enough on the uplinks for us to even guess about how the asteroid belts flow. Our ships cannot use short distance warps, they’re too large. But your ships can, and do. I want to make use of that advantage. I’ve wasted enough time trying to train them. The ships are almost ready. We need to be flying drills, not sitting in simulations. You’re the only pilot here with officer training. My crews like you. I want you to serve as liaison between my
fleet and the Gammi pilots.”

Naz shook his head. “You read my file?”

The General nodded. “I don’t care about that court-marshal. In fact, I think your commanding officer was a fool to order you to fly against those ships. You saved lives, Captain.”

“I’m not going back.”

Akinda shook her head. “I don’t need you as a member of my fleet. I need you to help me train these pilots so we can break the Ukra.”

He was silent for a very long time. Leaning against the chair, he arched his back and looked at the ceiling. “Don’t treat them like recruits.” He shook his head as he leaned forward again. “The miners pride themselves on being able to work alone. Break them up into smaller groups. Make them compete.”

Akinda nodded as she listened.

***
The sirens didn’t even make her jump anymore. Once the lights began to flash and the howling started, Akinda simply dropped what she was doing like every other pilot and made her way to the ship. Things were more organized now; pilots and crews broken up into squads. With Captain Othran’s help, she’d chosen five pilots to serve as alphas for each squad. Fewer fights, fewer complaints, even if it meant she had less control.

Her ship wasn’t the first out, so she took just a bit longer getting into the command seat. “Everything ready?” she asked her crew.

Her second gave her the all clear signal.

She motioned to her captain. “Rendezvous point.”

In moments they were sliding through space at warp toward where the rest of her fleet waited. She switched comms as soon as they came within range.

“They’ve been training on the sims, but let’s see how this goes,” she said to the captains of her regular fleet, then listened as various affirmatives answered her.

She was taking a huge risk by having the Gammi fleet practice with the few ships that had been able to keep up with her command vessel. The rest of her fleet—slower, larger ships— would arrive behind the Ukra fleet, days perhaps even weeks. Half of the Federation Council felt this was a joke and a waste of time, but the other half saw the need to protect the valuable resources here. If she lost any ships, even the half-rusted frigates the Gammi pilots flew, it would be one less ship in the air.

But she didn’t see any other option. Sims weren’t enough. The pilots needed real-time practice in their own ships.

As the ships in her own fleet moved into a typical Ukra formation, she watched the local scan carefully. It didn’t take long for the first blip to appear.

“Mouser on scan, sir,” her navigator reported.

Akinda nodded as the fast moving ship sped in their direction before suddenly darting off into the asteroid belt nearby. Hopefully the Ukra would think the Mouser was a lone ship out on patrol, not a scout sending coordinates back to a fleet. As the three-man ship disappeared from the scans, her screen blipped indicating her fleet was in place.

“Remember, only light pulses, no weapons. We want to give them a taste of what this fight is going to be like, not scare them into the next cycle.”

Her fleet had seen the Ukra fleet up close more than once and knew the basic attack formation by heart—command ships in the center of the fleet, battleships to the front and sides, tech and repair ships to the rear. As the battleships received damage, they would fall back, allowing fresh, undamaged ships to the fore. It was that constant cascade of relatively undamaged ships that made the Ukra fleets so difficult to defeat. Using standard tactics, she’d never be able to hold them off for more than a few minutes with the half fleet she had.

The Gammi ships had the advantage in the scenario she wanted to fight. Able to warp short distances, the miner’s fleet could assemble just out of sensor range and jump into the battle at any time. Because of their smaller size, they were more maneuverable and able to make quick attacks before warping out of range again.

“Five ships on scan,” her navigator said interrupting her thoughts.

“All ships, full shields,” she commanded, hoping to at least save her fleet ships from damage if anything went wrong.

“Yes, General.”

She felt the faint vibration as the shield generators came up to full power. The blips on the screen scattered and disappeared. Leaning forward, she watched carefully as the local scan remained clear. Her heart beat, counting time.

“We have torpedoes on the starboard side,” one of her battleship commanders reported from the front of the formation.

“Hold steady,” she replied as the torpedoes, light pulses, sped towards the battleships. Two more salvos appeared on the scans before the ships uncloaked and warped away.

Told to react like a Ukra fleet, the head battleship began maneuvering to align with where the five ships first came out of warp. The light pulses exploded harmlessly against three of the frontmost ships of the formation.

Working quickly, she signaled those three ships. “React as though you have been neuted.” In battle, the Gammi ships would be carrying torpedoes that carried electrical charges. The ships in range of the blast would at least be temporarily crippled as electrical systems such as navigation and weapons went off line. If they got lucky, there would be one less Ukra ship to worry about.

Not waiting for a reply, she watched on her vidscreen as the three crippled ships started to drift. Expecting the next wave of ships to warp in at the same point the rest of the fleet turned away from the drifting battleships. Her ships attempted to align to the coordinates from which the Gammi ships warped in, as the disabled ships drifted, causing confusion.

Akinda knew the Ukra counted on the repeated actions of the Academy trained pilots. Many of the fleet commanders had less imagination than her pinky finger. It was no wonder the Ukra had decimated ship numbers greater than their own. But the more she studied their actions, the more convinced she became that even the Ukra had become complacent.

Her fleet completed maneuvers, aligning to the proper coordinates.

Pulse engines engaged, they began to close the distance.

“Port side, incoming!” another ship relayed moments before five more blasts hit several of the ships.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author-Editor-Publisher Grace Bridges

Our next author is Grace Bridges whose Space Battles story “Never Look Back” is about two sisters alone on a ship in the aftermath of a battle. In addition to writing, Grace is the editor and publisher of Splashdown Books, a leading Christian speculative fiction publisher in New Zealand. Her novels, Faith Awakened and Legendary Space Pilgrims are out from Splashdown as well as several anthologies. Her  short story serial “Comet Born” is currently ongoing at Digital Dragon Magazine. Grace can be found online via http://www.splashdownbooks.com/, on Facebook, or via her blog at http://blog.splashdownbooks.com/. She’s @gracebridges on Twitter and does occasional book reviews at http://reviews.splashdownbooks.com/.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Grace Bridges: Well, that would be you, Bryan, who sent me an invite. I had this story I’d written some time before without a particular purpose in mind, and the theme fitted so it was definitely worth a try.

BTS: You’ve had stories in several anthologies, correct? Tell us a little about “Never Look Back.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

GB: I am in a couple of anthologies so far: Underground Rising (ed. Frank Creed) and Forever Friends (ed. Shelagh Watkins) as well as a few where the “sale” happened some time ago, but the books are yet to appear: The Book of Sylvari (ed. Chila Woychik), Year of the Dragon (ed. Randy Streu/T. & J. Ambrose) and The Cross and Cosmos, Year 1 (ed. Glyn Shull/Frank Luke) which are all three due out this year. However, Space Battles was wrapped up the fastest of any – well done! “Never Look Back” was initially my attempt to deal with a very hard time in my life, at a point where I wanted to stay in a particular place, for my own reasons, but had to accept the effect of this on the people around me. So the emotions are very real, although I sent them into space.

BTS: You’ve also had a couple of novels published. Please tell us a little about those.

GB: Faith Awakened (2007): A computer technician gets more than she bargains for when she plunges herself and her companions into virtual reality cryogenic stasis to escape a raging plague. Cyberpunk dystopia, set in a future Ireland. Legendary Space Pilgrims (2010): If Pilgrim’s Progress happened in space, this is what it might look like. A pair of freedom-seekers escape the mind-controlled slavery of Planet Monday and follow the Voice to unknown worlds where wonders and challenges await.

BTS: You also are the publisher of Splashdown Books in New Zealand. Tell us about Splashdown please.

GB: Too many great manuscripts and not enough publishers led to the conclusion that I should use my publishing knowledge for their benefit. It’s been a great ride over the last three years – we now have 19 titles (18 books and one CD) with 8 more coming this year, plus the shared storyworld ezine AvenirEclectia.com. Splashdown has a different workflow to most publishers – our authors join the team and contribute collectively to everyone’s edits, design, marketing and more. You can get a taste of all our authors to the end of 2011 in the group anthology Aquasynthesis (http://www.splashdownbooks.com/anthologies/aquasynthesis).  [A Transcript From a Chat with Grace and Aquasynthesis authors Fred Warren and Rick Copple on SFFWRTCHT can be found here.]

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

GB: I was homeschooled, and one day when I was eight or so, my Dad gave me a one-word story starter and said “go for it!” The word was Zebra… and even then I managed to twist it into a science fiction tale full of planetary colonists and convertible rocketships. Homeschooling for me also meant lots and lots of reading, mostly fiction, adding to my arsenal of words and styles, which has been a huge influence on my writing.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

GB: Not at this point, but I’m certainly always open to new ideas hitting me!

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

 GB: I recently completed the sequel to Faith Awakened and a prequel series is also underway. There are the other upcoming anthologies mentioned above, plus I’ll soon be editing an Avenir Eclectia anthology which will have a few of my pieces in it. Four of my short stories are available as Kindle Singles and I will be adding more to that collection as well as making them all available on Smashwords and B&N.

BTS: Anything else you’d like to say?

GB: I recently got started on Pinterest and I’m really enjoying it: http://pinterest.com/splashdown/ Seems like a great way to collect links to the things I like as well as showcase my own work. I’m always happy to meet new people on Facebook and Twitter, too!

Here’s an excerpt from Grace’s Space Battles story ” Never Look Back”:

Never Look Back

Grace Bridges

I have heard tell of the battle frenzy, from times of old, but I never experienced it until now. Out here in the reaches of space, there may not be much comparison to Arthurian wars on muddy plains—but surely as heck, I feel the same righteous anger against my unjustified opponent. My blood boils at the thought of his attacks, even as I clutch at the arms of my chair to keep from being thrown around the room. I could attach the harness … if the ship stopped shaking for a moment. Something’s wrong with that design.

My companion, bending over her console, turns to look up at me. “He’s swinging round again! Coming straight at us—like he wants to ram us!”

“Hold her steady. He won’t do that. He’d be dead too.”

We become still and watch the displays. Closer and closer
the dark ship comes. At the last second he veers away. I
breathe again.

“What did he do that for?”

“Just trying to scare us. Cat and mouse.” Harrumph. “But I won’t
be the mouse in his trap.” We. I should have said we. But she appears
not to have noticed. It may be my battle, but now I have drawn her into
it, never ever what I wanted.

He shoots. A split second later, the ship bucks under us. My last
thought: I forgot the harness again…

I gazed at the star-encrusted universe and the huge curve of
Neptune, with its vivid blue bands and posse of tiny moons. I had seen
it countless times through a telescope in earlier days, but now it was so
close, it felt as if I could reach out and touch the shimmering surface. I
held out my gloved hand and watched the soft swirls of condensation
drift between my fingers like soap suds in a basin.

Somewhere out there was my enemy … dying or adrift? I
hoped we had incapacitated him enough that he wouldn’t return.
Somewhere, too, was the repair ship Kasif, coming to fix us. But she
was days away yet.

One last look, then I entered the airlock and activated it. Its hiss
roared in my ears after the silence of the vacuum. I glanced at the toolkit
I dragged with me, its pieces worn with the extreme strain I’d had
to place on them. I prayed it was enough. After twenty hours spacewalking
to mend the deadly puncture, all I wanted was to get out of
this suit. The airlock light moved to orange, and then after an age, to
green. I hauled on the handle and swung the thick inner door open.

The main hallway of the starship loomed before me, still lit only
by emergency panels. That wasn’t good. Things should have gone
back to normal once I’d repaired the damage.

Stars spin around us as we pitch end over end through space …
away from the scene of the battle, never to return. Why did he give up
now?

I shook the images from my mind. The Namaste was my home.
The only place ever worthy of the name. I sighed inside my helmet,
and the faceplate fogged a little more. Stepping over to the nearest
wall computer, I checked the oxygen level. It was almost normal, so I
flipped the catch on my helmet and yanked it off, my hair escaping its
ties to cascade down my back.

Never look back, that’s what I’d told myself after my last big
failure, back at the Explorers’ base on Mars. My personal vow was
to keep travelling outwards from Earth till old age got to me. Never
look back. Only forward. Get away.

Flash. Boom. The ship swaying madly. I don’t want to die…

Think forward, girl. You’re alive. Breathe.

The lights came back up just then and I smiled. One small victory.
I made for the bridge, letting myself bounce and feel the all-but-flying
sensation of low gravity. I’d keep it minimal to conserve power, just in
case the repair crew took longer to get here than we hoped.

I landed on my toes, slipped through the door, and commanded
a systems check to begin. Another minute and I’d be peeling off the
sweaty clothes under my spacesuit, once everything came up green.

“Marit! They’re coming about … their weapons are coming online
again. Incoming!”

The ship reported all systems marginally functional, except
propulsion. I’d managed to reduce the dizzying tumble to a torpid roll
right after the attack, but then we’d lost power. We would be stranded
until the rescue ship arrived. I sent off a brief message requesting full
towage—the base bosses mightn’t be happy about that, but the shipmonkeys
would be glad of the technical challenge. I strode back into
the hallway. Where was Lauren? I stretched my neck after the long
day in confinement. Piano music sounded from the central area, and I
hurried to unzip my outer suit. It fell to the ground and I stepped out,
leaving it where it lay. What was that odd smell?

Fear, then hope, in my colleague’s eyes. I think we got ’em!
High-five.

I shook out my clothing and entered the room. No one was there,
but the music player was illuminated. I peered at it. Bach’s Sinfonia
No. 4. Set on repeat. My eyes flicked here and there in the dim light
reflected from the hallway.

“Fire at will, kid!” Beams streak out from our ship’s bow.

“Lauren?” She wasn’t here. Perhaps she was in the bathroom, or
in her cabin. But why would she leave the music playing? Something
was wrong. My heart began to thud in my chest just as it had when I’d
spilled a whole week’s milk ration on the way home from the store at
nine years of age. The memory of the silent disapproval on my stepmother’s
face sent a chill down my back even now. To this day I was
determined to be the best at everything I set my hand to. I’d certainly
messed that up bigtime.

Lauren’s voice sounds in my helmet. “Weapons are back online. I
have no idea how, but they are!”

I moved back into the hallway in light bounds that hardly touched
the floor. “Hello?” No answer. I passed the open bathroom door. No
one inside. The smell grew stronger. I reached the row of cabins and
passed by the unoccupied ones.

The whump this time is deafening even through the helmet, the flash
steals sight, and it is all I can do to keep hold of the thrashing chair.

We weren’t set up to fight. We were explorers, and everyone knew
it. There shouldn’t even be anyone else in this sector of space. The
mission was dying, as all could see. Only Lauren and I remained, and
if either of us left, it would be closed down. We were in agreement to
decide together if it came to it, since one officer’s choice would mean
the departure of both in any case. But we were still here, clinging to the
spirit of adventure. After all, one never knew when new recruits would
come to us and restore the full potential of this ship. I lived in hope, and
in terror of having to return. But my worst fear had found me.

“He’s coming back! Quick, brace!”

A dim light burned in Lauren’s cabin. I wrinkled my nose. What
was that smell? It was almost like the heavy, sweat-tinged air you get
in a sealed room where someone has been sleeping a long time, only
it was even heavier, and made me feel tired just to breathe it. I pushed
the door all the way open and slipped inside.

I glance at the main viewscreen and remain transfixed at the sight
of a silhouette far too close for comfort.

A tall, fat candle burned on the nightstand, spent wax stalagtites
dripping off at odd angles. Lauren lay motionless on the bed, in her
spacesuit but without the helmet, arms and legs laid out ramrodstraight.
Mercy!

“Weapons are not responding.” Huh. Pitiful little defense lasers
that were only intended to deal with very minor asteroids in the ship’s
path. Like they’d help, even if they were working.

“Lauren!”

No reply. I perched on the edge of the bed and reached for her
hand. I pulled off her glove. Her fingers were cool to the touch, and I
rubbed them in both of mine. Still she did not move or wake. Her faint
breathing was steady. I poked her shoulder and my heart raced as she
showed no reaction.

They’re firing at us. Still! Can you imagine the nerve of them.

“Lauren, you wake up right now and tell me what you’ve done!” I
grabbed her by both shoulders and shook violently, continuing to yell
at her. She floated up off the bed as I rattled her, but she was as dumb
as a rag doll. I shook even harder, putting all my muscle into it. Lauren
must wake!

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author Matthew Cook

The seventh story in the anthology by Matthew Cook offers a unique take on the theme, much like Dana Bell‘s did.  Cook lives and works in central Ohio, in a city known forits mad cows, microbrews, and a sports team named for a poisonous nut of no commercial value. He is the author of the Kirin Widowmaker series (2007’s Blood Magic, and 2008’s Nights of Sin), as well as several science fiction stories. His debut science fiction story, “The Shoe Factory”, was nominated by the British Science Fiction Association for “Year’s Best” consideration in 2010, as was his next story, “Insha’Allah” in 2011. His most recent work, “Railriders”—a prequel tale of the Seventeen Systems universe where “The Book of Enoch” is also set—appeared in March of 2012 in Interzone Magazine #239. When not writing about ray guns, alien invasions, or undead apocalypses, Matt works as an online security specialist and Product Manager for a Silicone Valley startup. He blogs (occasionally) at: http://bloodmagicbooks.blogspot.com/, encouraged by his loving wife, Amy, as well as a supporting cast of eternally-patient family and friends.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Matthew Cook: I heard about the anthology through fellow writer Mike Resnick and, after hearing the idea behind the collection, decided to rework an old story of mine for submission.  I was so thrilled to be accepted into a collection featuring so many talented writers!

BTS: This is your first anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “The Book Of Enoch.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

MC: The initial story idea, a civilian space freighter crew-member who has to fend off an alien attack using her ship as an improvised weapon, came from a piece I did several years ago that never really came together and which I never submitted. When I learned about Space Battles, I dusted the old piece off and worked in some ideas I’d been batting around in my head for an Amish space trucker named Enoch. The idea of putting a character sworn by his faith to nonviolence into the middle of a space war was the centerpiece of the story more than the actual battle itself, since it let me show the character’s internal struggle alongside the external conflict raging all around him.

BTS: Another story set in this universe came out in Interzone. Which came first and how do they tie together?

MC: “Insha’Allah” appeared in Interzone #235 in July of 2011. Like “The Book of Enoch”, it’s set in my Seventeen Systems universe, a future world where humanity has spread out through the galaxy and has established many different colonies. Each colony is loosely based on different cultures and religions that exist today.  In “Insha’Allah” (which is set roughly concurrent with “The Book of Enoch”), a world settled primarily by Muslims watches the battle raging at the edge of their world’s atmosphere, then zooms in to focus on the life of Shaomi, who is a Washer of the Dead (a woman tasked with preparing bodies for proper Muslim burial).  When another woman, an offworld pilot, is brought to her, badly wounded and desperately in need of medical attention, Shaomi must choose between the dogma of her religion and the core beliefs of her true faith.  Like “The Book of Enoch”, matters of faith and hope in the midst of war play a central role, albeit with a different outcome.  Another story of the Seventeen Systems, “Railriders”, was published in March of 2012, also in Interzone.

BTS: What’s the second story about?

MC: “Railriders” is a prequel story that follows the lives of a band of intergalactic hobos as they move from cargo ship to livestock hauler, evading the agents of the shipping companies, all the while praying that their air isn’t cut off by accident (or malice).  It’s very much a character story, one intended to show that even in the future, when humanity has accomplished so much and has started truly reaching the stars, for the most underprivileged, some things, unfortunately, never change.

BTS: You’ve also had a couple of novels published. Please tell us a little about those.

MC: My first novel, the dark fantasy Blood Magic, was published by Juno Books in 2007. A sequel, Nights of Sin, followed in 2008. Both books follow the life of Kirin, a woman who, after the murder of her twin sister, seeks out the power of necromancy to bring back the dead as her unliving champions.  The true tragedy, however, lies in the fact that Kirin thinks that she cannot ever have children, a misconception that leads her to view her terrible zombie-like minions as her “sweetling” children. When Kirin’s society is attacked by the Mor, a subterranean race that humans had thought long-defeated, Kirin must use her powers in defense of a society that thinks of her as a monster.  Both books recently went out of print in mass-market paperback but a few copies exist here and there, both in the new and second-hand markets, and a shift to e-book will hopefully see them back in print for Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers soon.  A third book is also outlined and may one day be released…

BTS: You recently got married and went on a honeymoon. Congrats. Did you find the cross cultural experience inspiring creatively? Will those experiences influence your work?  

MC: Definitely.  We honeymooned in Budapest and Prague, and already those cities, with their centuries-old cathedrals and cobbled streets, have begun creeping into my work.  I’ve already finished the first draft of a novella, tentatively titled “Tej” (the Hungarian word for “Milk”), which can only be described as a “post-apocalyptic zombie story… without the zombies”.  It’s definitely a strange piece, but then again so are most of them…

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

MC: I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember. My grandfather, Roy Durling, was my first official “fan”, and always read my grade-school and jr. high efforts, followed by encouragement to “always keep writing!”.  In high school I published a few stories in the school literary magazine, including “On The Bottom” (my first, stumbling attempt at sci-fi).  High school is also where I discovered role-playing games, and for years I fed my storytelling jag with endless hours of Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, and a host of others. In college I did a little work for FASA (the game company responsible for Battletech, Shadowrun, and a number of other great games) – just a little fill-in flavor text writing and stuff, but it definitely gave me the desire to tell stories for a living one day. While I still haven’t reached that goal (most writers, unfortunately, never do and even authors with many, many published books still usually have to keep their “day jobs” to pay the rent), I feel like I’m getting closer every day.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

MC: I definitely have more stories to tell in the Seventeen Systems – they are in the middle of an intersteller war with the E’k, after all…

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

MC: I’m currently working on a series of linked novella-length pieces set in the Middle East and Africa of the near-future. It’s inspired by the research I’ve been doing on reach-back and drone technology, artificial limb development, recent advances in cyber security and cyber fraud, and the impact of all these technologies on society.  No publisher yet, but I’m hopeful.  I also am almost finished with the initial draft of a contemporary fantasy novel, tentatively titled “The Circus of Night”.  No publisher for either yet, but I’m almost ready to begin my search – wish me luck!

 Here’s an excerpt from Matt’s tale of Amish truckers in space:

 

The Book of Enoch

Matthew Cook

He blinks and his tears drift free, floating in the stale, moist air inside the helmet, saltwater spheres glittering in the starlight. One strikes the faceplate, smears itself flat, blurring the graceless lines of the ship and the pinpoints of diamond-chip stars. Only the black, all around and in-between, the color of deepest mourning, is unchanged.

Enoch can’t feel his feet. The cold’s gotten into them, thanks to the busted suit-heater coil he’s been meaning to fix. Soon he’ll need to go back inside and warm up, before the black claims another piece of him. Soon, but not just yet.

At his feet, fixer-bots scurry around the open access cover, tools probing, lights swiveling. They can probably do the job without him, but supervising them gives him a convenient excuse to go outside. To be away from the endless, well-meaning condolences. From bible verse and assurances that they’re in a better place, now. With Him.

He shakes his head and peers out through the smeared visor. The Lancaster’s not a pretty ship, God knows. Built neither for comfort nor for speed, but for the grueling unglamorous job of hauling cargo between the worlds of the Seventeen Systems. From Enoch’s vantage, the ship is a miniature world. A tiny, close-horizoned landscape of ducts and struts overlayed with slabs of pitted radiation shielding. It’s not much, but it’s all he has.

The lead ’bot, a lime-and-orange HG0-790 that he calls “Hugo”, withdraws its armature from the hole, the busted fitting clasped in its claw. Enoch glances up and left at the menu painted in laser light on the inside of the faceplate, opening a comms channel to the bridge. “Got it, Cap,” he says. “Can’t fix it out here. I’ll need to bring it back inside, so’s I can fab up a replacement.”

“What about the heat exchanger?” Cap asks.

“Backup’s’ll cover the load for another day,” Enoch reassures
him. Cap’s competent, and always looks out for them, but sometimes
he’s such a hen.

“Whatever’s best,” the captain replies. “Nice job. First round’s on
me tonight.”

It’s an old joke, not really meant to be funny, almost scandalous,
really, but Cap’s like that. Full of little bits and pieces from the life he
lived before his conversion. All Enoch had was six months of misery
during his brief rumspringa, confused and dazzled by the lights and
noise and baffling speed of everything around him as he wandered
through sprawling port cities on Prospero and New Constantinople.
Six months of struggle, leading to that terrible, drunken night. The
alley behind the nameless bar, blood on his hands and police lights in
his eyes. Cages after that, each one worse than the last.

Enoch grunts and closes the channel. He orders the ’bots back
inside and clomps off across the hull, towards the airlock. By the
time the whistle of returning pressure fades, Enoch is ready to face
the crew.

The red vac-warning light cycles to green, automatically releasing
the clamps on his helmet seal. He pulls off the plastic dome and scrubs
at his face with his bandanna, like he’s just wiping away good, honest
sweat, obliterating any last trace of his sorrow.

He combs this thin, sandy-blond hair away from his face with
stubby fingers, smoothing it down over the stumps where his ears
once were. That was his first trip out, the time his helmet seal failed
because he’d neglected to check it. He’d almost died, and counted the
loss as a useful reminder to always double-check.

It’s not for my vanity, Lord, he thinks, the same way he does every
time. It’s for everyone else who has to look at me.

When everything is stowed, he shuffles off, eyes fixed on the deck,
hands clasped over the hard swell of his belly. He does not meet the
eyes of his fellow shipmates, nor speak on the infrequent occasions
when others call his name.

By the time he reaches the machine shop his shoulders and neck
are trembling. Hugo’s waiting for him, patient, amber ready light
glowing like an ember. It says nothing, offers no words of awkward
sympathy. It, like Enoch, is all work, all the time, just the way he likes
it. The way he needs it to be.

He dogs the hatch shut, spinning the manual wheel around and
around until the green light goes on. It’s supposed to seal and unseal
all by itself, but he doesn’t have the parts he needs to fix the finicky
pressure sensor. The Captain is a frugal man. He makes do, and asks
them all to do the same.

The wheel stops turning. Enoch is locked in. Finally. This is one
place, other than outside, that he can be alone. His parole says he’s to
be monitored at all times by the captain or another flight officer, but
Cap gave him the tiny room for his use alone. He trusts him.

He looks at his tiny cell: metal cot bolted to the wall, thin
blanket stretched drumhead tight; steel workbench hung with an
array of well-worn tools. Everything in the room is brown and
black and gray, the only colors Hugo’s garish, striped carapace
and a small picture clipped to the air cycling grille above the bed.
He forces himself not too look at the photo.

Enoch sighs and strokes his beard, tugging it gently. He was so
proud when he’d stopped shaving on the day after his wedding night.
Now it’s just another reminder of all the things he’s lost.

Enoch bends and removes the broken fitting from Hugo’s claw.
Behind him, the woman and the child in the photo smile in brilliant
sunshine, unaware of the future calamity that awaits them.

***
“We can’t afford to play hide-and seek any more!” one of the
passengers says, a thin man, dressed in the snug-fitting jumpsuit of
the aerospace lancer corps. “The E’k took out Port Saint Arthur and
Havonskaal, then they bombed New Mecca. And we all remember
what happened on Solace.”

Many voices mumble agreement as Enoch twitches, the word
stinging, sharp as a slap. He hunches over his tray, eyes downcast,
hoping that nobody has seen his reaction.

“Now I just heard that scout ships been spotted coming through
the jump gate near Mathura-quila,” the pilot continues. “How many
more have to die before we hit back? I say we should take the fight
to them!”

“Damn right,” one of the others says, a female heavy-worlder
Marine in wrinkled gray battle dress. The uniform stretches tight
across her bulging biceps and flat, man-like chest as she hammers
a ham-sized fist on the table. “Straight-up fight, say me. Crush ’em.
Shoot ’em. Blow alien asses to hell!”

The mess echoes with agreement as pilots and soldiers and
scattered support personnel call out agreement. Enoch watches
from his seat at the last table as men and women raise clenched
fists and shout for blood. The call stirs something in him, a hot, red
pulse that he can feel behind his eyes.

The animal. He’d thought it was gone, asleep or dead. But that
was before Solace. Now it’s awake, all the time, pacing in his head.
Making his heart pound and his hands clench.

He takes a deep breath, eyes fixed on his food, struggling to ignore
it. Wrath, his own personal devil, has been God’s test of his faith for as
long as he can remember.

“I’m certainly no soldier,” Cap says from his place at the high
table, “but facing the enemy directly seems like a rash choice.
Doesn’t it, Major?”

The question, asked lightly, cuts through the din. The officers and
soldiers fall silent, heads turning as one to look at their commanding
officer.

Major la Romano raises his cup and takes a long swallow. His
black eyes twinkle with amusement as he dabs at the corner of his thin
lips with a napkin. He has the pencil-thin beard and pale facial scars—
legacy of the honor duels they fight in the streets over the smallest
insult, Enoch’s heard—that all men from Paradiso seem to have.
Now his narrow shoulders rise and fall in an elegant shrug. “It is
true,” la Romano says, “that the enemy has, so far at least, defeated
us in every stand-up fight. The Concordance navy is in tatters. Our
ground forces are badly shaken, and demoralized.”

The silence in the room thickens. Enoch looks up from beneath
lowered brows and sees the scowls of disappointment, the far-away
looks of remembered defeats. The Major puts his cup down on the table.
“However,” he continues, “that does not mean that we will not
fight back. That’s why we’re here shipmates, on this fine, fine ship.
Why we’re traveling in secret, like cargo, without our proud flags or
insignia. To assemble where the enemy won’t find us. To rebuild our
strength, and share our stories, and, of course, to plan our revenge.”
Mutters of agreement ripple through the room. “We must do all we
can to throw back this shameful and unprovoked attack,” la Romano
continues, his voice ringing now, full of almost sermon-like intensity.

He stares out at the assembled officers and crew, his black eyes hard
as obsidian. “And we will, comrades, rest assured. We will show them
that humanity does not bend the knee. We will fight. We will resist.
And we will win.”

All around, scowls turn to grim smiles. The captain nods, but
Enoch can see the tension in the set of his shoulders, the stiffness in
his neck. “As I said, I’m no soldier,” Cap replies. “But doesn’t God tell
us to not take our own revenge, but to leave room for His wrath?”

“Oh, there’s plenty of room, sir,” la Romano replies with a
chuckle. “Room enough for those who have lost family and friends
to help Him with this great task, yes?”

Cap frowns, his disagreement plain for all to see. He scowls into
his cup, and says nothing.

The Major chuckles again, and rests a slender hand on the Cap’s
shoulder. “You’re Amish, are you not, sir?”

“Neo-anabaptist. As are most of my crew.”

“And God… He’s sworn you to pursue a path of nonviolence, yes?”

“It’s so.”

“That’s honorable, truly,” la Romano says, his tone giving lie to
the polite words. “I, however, follow a different code, laid down by an
altogether different interpretation of God’s holy scripture.

“I am a soldier, you see,” the Major continues, addressing the
soldiers and officers. “A warrior of God, commissioned by the Holy
Church and dedicated to His service. I am His sword, and His shield,
as are all these brave men and women you see here. We do what must
be done to honor that charge. For as Samson said: ‘Though ye have
done this, yet I will be avenged of you.’ And we will be avenged,
won’t we shipmates? Won’t we?”

The room explodes with shouts and cheers, not just the soldiers,
but some of the crew this time as well. Enoch feels his breath catch in
his chest as the red hunger swells, the desire to hit, to cut, to lash out.
He thinks of the picture back in his cell, the image of Ruth and Miriam
that he holds in his heart when the animal bays for blood.

Usually the memory of his family is a cooling rain, soothing his
rage, but this time the vision serves only to inflame him further, feeding
his fury like gasoline poured onto still-glowing embers. Enoch
hunches in his seat, fists clenched beneath the table, shoulders shaking
as raucous shouts echo through the room, fading slowly as the soldiers
file out, returning to the improvised bunks set up in the cargo hold.

The Major nods to his host and joins the officers, no doubt headed
for one of the staterooms, there to drink toasts of contraband spirits to
their inevitable success.

He’s still sitting there, food forgotten, when the room finally
empties. A few scattered soldiers, in groups of two or three, sit and
chat quietly. Luke, the skinny mess attendant, clears dishes and
wipes tables.

“What you doing there, say me?” someone asks, cutting through
Enoch’s haze of pain. “Praying, you?”

He looks up, into the heavy-worlder’s wide face. The Marine’s
eyes are close-set, brown and orange like a dog’s, framed with a scattering
of freckles. Her dark hair is shaved close to the scalp, short
enough that he can see the lines and swirls of old tattoos, murky blue
and brown. They cut off all their hair, he thinks, so it will not interfere
with the armor and machines they wear to war.

Enoch shrugs, and returns his gaze to the metal table.

“Praying no good,” the big woman says emphatically. “God don’t
care, say me. Wants people to stand and fight. Respects strength. Don’t
want begging for help, Him. Yar!”

He hears her come up behind him, rocks in his seat as she slaps her
hand down on his shoulder.

“Remind me of someone, you. Big hands, honest grease under
nails, yar. Likes, me does.” She bends, thrusting her moon face into
his, lips split in a broad, gap-toothed smile, all pale pink gums and
yellowed teeth. The hand strokes, trails up along his neck and over his
stubbled cheek. Her rough-nailed fingers stir his hair, lifting it away
from his amputated ears. He flinches away. “It not look bad. No worry,
you. Like some scars, me.

“Come,” she says, low and soft, her breath warm against the ruin
where his ear once was. “Go someplace private, we. Make some noise.
Understand? Be gentle, me. Yar!”

“No,” he mumbles. “…m-married.”

“Married don’t matter. Not here, she. Needs have we. Come. Make
noise. God understand.” The hand is grasping now, insistent, pulling
with a heavy-worlder’s unsubtle strength.

“Stop,” he whispers, all his effort focused on controlling his anger.

“Don’t worry,” the Marine laughs. “Know good tricks, me. Make
you forget all about her.”

Enoch closes his eyes, the red rage uncoiling at the sound of
the Marine’s braying laughter. Blossoming, huge, more than he can
hold onto.

Then he’s on his feet, not sure how he got there, hand stinging,
knuckles burning. The Marine lies sprawled on the deck, bright blood
on her lips. Echoes of her clattering fall chase themselves through the
mess. The steward and the remaining soldiers stare, eyes wide.

“Leave. Me. Alone,” Enoch says softly, holding onto the beast’s
tail with all his will, refusing to let it lead him into further temptation.
He turns on his heel and stomps off, fists clenching hard enough
to cramp, but not before he hears her ask the mess attendant, “What
wrong, he?”

“His wife and daughter were on Solace,” Luke says.

Enoch does not wait to hear her reply.

The klaxon shrieks, splitting the stillness of third watch.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.


SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author-Editor Dana Bell

Although she got her start in fanfic, which she continues to produce, Dana Bell has authored a number of short stories and her debut novel, Winter Awakening, released from Wolfsinger last year. Her stories and poems have appeared in Space Horrors: Full Throttle Space Tales #4 and Tales Of The Talisman, edited by David Lee Summers,  Lorelei Signal, All About Eve, Throw Down Your Dead: An Anthology of Western Horror, Frost Bitten Fantasies and Zombified: An Anthology Of All Things Zombie, amongst others.  She has a number of stories forthcoming in anthologies besides her Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 appearance and edited Of Fur And Fire, an anthology of cat and dragon stories and poems last year as well for Dreamzion in 2011 and is editing two anthologies for Wolfsinger at present, Time Traveling Coffers and Different Dragons. Her space opera tale, “Isis,” features a ship as alive as her crew. You can find her blog at http://dragonlotsma.blogspot.com.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Dana Bell: It’s amazing what you can find out about on Facebook, but then I hear about many submission opportunities there. Not to mention I’d met the editor at ConQuest a couple of years back and enjoyed working with him as a writer when he submitted a story to an anthology I edited called Of Fur and Fire.

I’m a writer who likes to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Much of today’s publishing world is about ‘branding’ yourself, I’ve recently read a blog by an agent who said the more diverse a writer can be the more sales they can make. ‘Isis’ stretched me because I’d never attempted a battle story, outside of Fan Fiction, and wasn’t sure I could do it. My first anthology sale was for ‘All About Eve’ when the editor, Carol Hightshoe, asked me at MileHiCon to send her a story. I also had a story in FTST#4 Space Horrors. Both were about cats. I have quite a few stories in several different anthologies.

BTS: Tell us a little about “Isis.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

DB: ‘Isis’ is about the relationship between a Spacer and his/her sentient ship as they transport a group of refugees from a missionary camp after a recent attack. They’re pursued by the Buton who are unable to produce their own young and take human children captive for purposes that are not really explained, but hinted at.

The idea for this story came from many sources. I borrowed a couple of ideas from Alan E. Nourse, whom I dedicated the story to, from his book ‘Raiders from the Rings’. In Raiders the men who lived in space could only produce male children due to radiation damage and they made regular raids on Earth for supplies and women. Their main base is protected by an asteroid maze which can only be safely traversed with the correct course.

I also do a great deal of research on the Old West. In South Dakota there’s an area called the Badlands, which I’ve visited, and where the bad guys hid regularly. It’s absolutely beautiful and dangerous if you stray from the marked paths.

Some of the other concepts in the story are ‘old school’ and have been used quite a bit by writers like Anne McCaffrey in ‘The Ship Who Sang’, except in her story it was a human who was placed in the ship to run it, or the twist used in the new BattleStar Galactica and Caprica about where the Cyclons came from and why the Colonials developed the absolute terror of interconnected computer technology.

BTS: You’ve also had a novel published and edited an anthology. Please tell us a little about those.

DB: My first novel Winter Awakening was released in 2011. It took me six years to write between the in depth research and field work I needed in order to complete the book. It follows Word Warrior, a cat who leads the others to the next level of evolution by learning to read the human language. He breaks tradition by protecting his females and helping to raise and educate his kittens. It is also the story of Mute or Snow Fur as he’s called who loses his mother as a kitten. He is rescued by wolves who take him to a Spotted Ghost, who fosters him. He too, learns to read despite his disability. He also adds writing to the new skills cats are acquiring along with learning how to use a computer. The lurking danger is the constant snow and ice with the continual threat of the two legs returning, who just might be the ancient humans the cat elders tell stories of.

I edited an anthology called Of Fur and Fire for Dreamzion Publishing, along with a couple of co-editors. It’s a mix of stories about dragons and cats, sometimes in the same story. Most of the pieces were Fantasy. Seems writers can’t think of dragons in any other setting. I did get a couple of good stories using them in Horror and Science Fiction. It was an interesting and a good learning experience for me. Not to mention working with several already published writers and a couple of newcomers. I’m not an easy editor. As I warn people, I’m your worst nightmare English teacher.

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

DB: *chuckle* I wrote a play in third grade that the teacher allowed me to rehearse with my classmates and present. Thinking back, I suspect it was because it was the last day of school and she wanted to keep the class entertained. I’ve also had encouragement from various writing teachers and a wonderful long time fanzine editor I worked with.

BTS: You got your start in fan fiction. How has that experience formed your writing or helped your craft?

DB: Years ago, writing Fan Fiction was a black mark on a pro writer’s record. Still is depending on the publisher. However, writing in other people’s universes was a great learning experience for me and taught me the following.

  1. How to work with an editor. As I mentioned earlier I worked with a wonderful long time zine editor whose edits I always looked forward to. She taught me some wonderful tricks on how to mix description with conversation, something many other writers don’t seem to know how to do. She never accepted a bad story and always justified the changes she wanted made. I learned to work with her instead of against and this will help me in my pro career.
  2. World building. Yes, there is world building in Fan Fiction even if it’s already created. The writer has to know the show well so the story, plot line and characters don’t seem unbelievable and it could be an episode. My story ‘New Hope’, a post Serenity/Firefly tale, was nominated for the Fan Quality award. My editor said, ‘You really know the show.’ I presented the characters realistically saying, doing and wearing clothes they really would. Since I tend to use regional locations, there are very few I haven’t experimented with in a FF story before doing an original piece.
  3. How to write fast and practice. I’ve talked to other pros and am amazed at how slowly they all write. I spent thirteen years writing Fan Fiction both for zines and online. I learned to write an entire story in one sitting or a chapter with an average of ten pages in about two to three hours. I call it the splat. Get the story out. The real writing is in the rewrite, which I also learned from my zine editor. It also gives me a place to try ideas to see if they’ll work before writing an original story using the same concept. An interesting note here. My first novel took me six years to write. The Second three years and the third one. One Fan Fiction novel of 100,000 words took five months.
  4. Feedback and developing an audience. My online stories get feedback from readers all the time. Sometimes they’re just ‘thanks for the update’ and other times they’re more in depth telling me what they liked or maybe didn’t like about a story. It helped me learn to handle bad reviews as well. And since Fanficition.net has a tracking system for hits, visitors, etc. these are figures I can approach an editor, agent or publisher with because it shows I have an established audience. Blogs can be used the same way I recently found out. It will also give my readers a place to read more of my fiction while I’m working on my next novel.
  5. Crossovers. I have a very hard time staying in one universe in Fan Fiction. I have a few where I do, like Planet of the Apes and Firefly, but I tend to cross them with something else just to see what would happen. An example would be a story that mixed Dr. Who, Highlander, and Babylon 5 told from the viewpoint of a cat. By the same token, I have a hard time confining by novels and short stories to one genre. It’s not uncommon for me to cross a Post Apocalyptic with Animorphic with Christian Speculative.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

DB: Currently I don’t have any plans to write more in this universe but one can never tell what future opportunities may present themselves.

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

DB: I will have stories in several anthologies this year: ‘Darkness in the Heartland’ will be in Ultimate Angels from KnightWatch Press. It features tiger angels who are assigned to stop a crazy cult leader. ‘Smothered’ told by a narrator who wanders off topic about how the Earth drowned in a dust bowl will be in Earth’s End: An Apocalyptic Anthology from Open Casket Press. ‘Keeping the Tradition’ accepted for The Mystical Cat from Sky Warrior books. Tells the story about a light house keeper in space complete with her cat and a ghost, all part of traditional lighthouse lore. ‘Tumbling Tumble Weeds’ a funny little tale about tumbleweeds attacking and overwhelming a house while two children are left at home alone will be in the Fall edition of Tales of the Talisman. ‘Justice’ is a fictionalized true life horror story based on the Sand Creek massacre. None of the gory details are made up. They’re all part of the historic record. It will be published in the Dead Rush anthology from Wicked East Press.

I’m currently editing and taking submissions through May 31st, 2012 for Time Traveling Coffers with WolfSinger Publications and will be editing Different Dragons. Guidelines are on the publisher’s site. I may be editing an anthology for Open Casket Press in 2013. My next two books have been submitted and I’m waiting to hear back from the publishers. God’s Gift is currently at WolfSinger Publications. My pitch line: ‘“God told us you were coming. Tell us about His son,” were the first words the aliens spoke to the human settlers.’ Possible prequel to my Winter trilogy with the cats, wolves and spotted ghosts. Titles are Winter Emergence mostly about the surviving humans, and Winter Moon, introducing the mother of two cats whose name is, oddly enough, Moon. My first romance Worth the Wait I’ve submitted a query letter to the Love Inspired Suspense line at Harlequin. I already have another small press who has expressed interest in the event Harlequin says no. Features two characters in their fifties who fall in love after a fatal shooting in a parking garage leaving four security agents dead and endangering my heroine’s life or else her senator cousin’s.

So here’s an excerpt of “Isis”:

Isis

Dana Bell

Dedicated to Alan E. Nourse

Explosions sounded, their vibrations rocking Isis in her launch cradle. I sensed her desire to flee and reached up a hand to glide my fingers across her pearl and ebony wing. “Easy,” I reassured her. “Just a few more minutes.”

Screams sounded beyond the wired gates. Women and children, many dressed in gray jumpsuits, trickled through the opening, scattering to whatever safety they could find. The men fired weapons to cover the retreat. Sometimes, I heard a shout as someone died.

Some of the needle-nosed ships vanished in flares of orange and blue. The fleeing refugees changed course, charging toward another.

One of the missionaries ran toward me. In her charge were about a half dozen children. “Please,” she pleaded, “please.”

I nodded, like I’d really ignore her plea. We spacers aren’t as heartless as the whispered tales the humans tell of us. Isis opened her
hatch and I motioned the group inside.

Another group came and we took them onboard. Nearby a neighboring ship erupted in a storm of fire and raining metal.
I noticed the enemy was careful only to destroy the empty vessels. Any with passengers aboard were spared. That didn’t surprise me. They were desperate to take the children alive.

“I’m full,” Isis told me.

“Time to leave then.” I stepped up the ramp and Isis closed her
door behind me. I glanced into the storage hold now full of frightened
children and their sparse caretakers. “Hang onto something.” The
adults nodded instructing the children to grab the railing along the
glittering blue walls.

My steps echoed hollowly as I went down the pastel corridor to the
control room. Not that Isis actually needed a pilot. She could launch
on her own. Still, her designers thought it better to give her limited
intelligence so she could be controlled. They didn’t want a repeat of
what had happened on Earth in years past.

I shook my head. No need to think about that.

Slipping into the gray seat that curved to accommodate my long
limbs, my fingers immersed themselves into the spiky tendrils and
watched as they wrapped around my hands. The sensation still bothered
me. It was like holding warm slimy worms.

“Go now?” she asked.

“Yes, you can launch now.”

I sensed her bunch her strength and launch her bulk into the night
sky. On the overhead holo-vid I could see the ground below. Several
spike-nosed ships barreled up as the invading troops poured through
the gates, overrunning the defenders. The soldiers scattered, gathering
up those unfortunate enough not to escape. I turned my attention away.
There was no way to help the captives now.

Deep blue changed to a ruddy purple before we reached the blackness
of space. Isis hummed to herself as she “shook” her wings and darted to
freedom.

On the vid I could see the enemy cruisers as they concentrated on
capturing any who tried to escape. They netted one ship while another
barely managed to slip past them.

They didn’t see us. I’d counted on that. Isis’ dark colors caused
her to blend into the star-studded jet. She also glided on the solar and
planetary winds. No output to be tracked.

“Where?”

“The Badlands.”

She “questioned” but didn’t argue. The Badlands were tricky
and unpredictable. Still, they’d be the safest place. The big battle
cruisers couldn’t navigate them. Neither could most other pilots.
Too many uncharted asteroid fields and many—more than could be
counted—had died.

“Are we safe?”

I turned to look at the woman who had asked. Her dark hair was
askew, framing her face in an almost lion-like mask. Her gray robes
showed traces of dirt. She clutched one end as if to anchor herself or
perhaps as a way to deal with her fear.

“They haven’t seen us.”

“I’ve heard about this ship.” She bit her lip. I think she was afraid.
There’s a deep seeded fear of AI’s in our culture. Ever since … I
stopped my train of thought. No need to upset my ship.

“We’re headed for the Badlands.” I glanced at the vid. There was
a dark dot trailing behind. I frowned.

Her voice crept up a notch. “They’re following us?”

“I doubt it. There’s no way for them to.” Or at least I hoped not.
“We need food and bedding.” Practical as always, despite a hovering
threat. Most of the nuns were like that.

“In the lockers outside the hold.” I gently removed my fingers and
wiped them on a towel I hung nearby. They weren’t really wet but they
felt like it. “I’m Captain Blair M’Tok.”

“Sister Sharon Louis.” Her brown eyes frankly took in my lean
form as I stood up. I stretched, aware yet not envious of the obvious
differences. My people are all the same; tall, slender, and with a bulky
upper torso. Most of us cropped our hair short. I’d done the same with
my dull black mop.

“You’re a Spacer,” the sister said.

I nodded not ashamed. I was among the few who understood why
the Buton’s wanted our children. There was a price to be paid to roam
the stars. We spacers had paid it gladly.

“I’d appreciate it if you kept to the hold as much as possible,” I
said. “Latrine and sonic showers are right next door.” They weren’t
standard in ships but I’d insisted. I didn’t always just carry cargo.
Settlers paid well to be transported for a possible new start on another
planet. I had no idea how many actually succeeded and didn’t really
care. Their credits paid docking fees and other supplies I needed.
The Sister glanced nervously at me before her eyes found the
deck. “Do we need to worry…?” She didn’t finish her question. She
didn’t need to.

“No. You won’t be aboard long enough.”

“But there’s nowhere to go in the Badlands.” I could hear the
bewilderment in her voice.

“Nowhere official.” I grinned.

She frowned and her expression turned to anger. “You’d take us to
be with the scum of the galaxy?”

“They’re good people.” I should know. I’d sheltered with them
more than once. “And they’ll take you in. Besides,” I pointed at the
dot, “where else are you going to go?”

“Humpf.” She finally released the edge of her robe. Her frightened
gaze darted to the dot and she straightened as if to show no fear. “Thank
you, Captain.” She stomped away.

I shook my head. I could hear the sounds of several children
laughing and a few crying. Their guardians murmured quietly trying
to reassure or quiet them.

“Going to be a long trip.” Or so it would seem. The Badlands
were only a few light years away. My over-large yellow—green eyes
drifted to the dot. It had crept closer. “I know you can’t see us.” At
least I hoped not.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here starting now (preorders end April 17).

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Patrick Hester

Every Tuesday night, a new episode of the Functional Nerds podcast is posted at www.functionalnerds.com with hosts Patrick Hester and John Anealio chatting with authors like Blake Charlton, James Enge, L.E. Modesitt, and more. In addition to running the podcast, Patrick edits and records podcasts for www.sfsignal.com (for which he was just nominated for a Hugo) and author Mur Lafferty and can be found at www.atfmb.com. But beyond podcasting, he recently signed with Agent Bob Mecoy and is marketing his first science fiction series to publishers. His Space Battles story, “First Contact,” is his first SF short story sale and has a lighter, more humorous flair than many of the others.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Patrick Hester: You contacted me about the anthology.  At first, I was flattered but uninterested; I’ve had a hard time with short fiction.  I think I’m wired for novels.  It wasn’t until a second message that I thought I should at least give it a try.  Now, I’m glad that I did.

BTS: This is your first anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “First Contact.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

PH: Yes, this is my first anthology sale.  I like an adventure, and this anthology lent itself to the kind of story I wanted to tell.  “First Contact” has a pilot and his navigator out on the rim looking for the enemy.  They’re at war, and what they find is more than they bargained for.  Where this came from is complicated.  I had two ideas for a long time and neither one worked right until I decided to put them together.  In this case, a fighter jockey on the rim was one half-written story, and the second part, what they find, was actually a different, earlier story.

BTS: Does it tie into any of the other fiction you’ve written?

 PH: I have two universes that I write in.  Yes, this ties to one of them.  If I sell more stories, you’ll get to see more of this universe.  🙂

BTS: Yours is one of the more humorous stories in this collection. What’s the trick/challenge to writing humor successfully?

PH: Oh, boy.  It has to be natural.  You can’t force it.  I know writers who try to force it and you can tell.

BTS: You recently signed with an agent and have some novel series in the works. What can you tell us about those?

PH: Yep, I have an urban fantasy series, set in Denver (where I live).  First two books are written and currently being shopped by my agent, Bob Mecoy (http://www.bobmecoy.com/).  My pitch for the first book is: SAMANTHA KANE: INTO THE FIRE is a 95,000 word, fast-paced, first-person detective story, full of adventure, magic and flagrant smart-assery.  The book follows a week in the life of my protagonist, Samantha Kane, as she tries to hold her family together while learning to control a new power growing inside of her.  Before it kills her.

BTS: You are also a master podcaster, constantly busy. How’d you get involved with that and where can we find and listen to your work?

PH: A few years back, I became aware of the idea of an author platform; essentially, this comes down to your visibility, online presence, marketability and networking.  I was already blogging and dipping my toes into the burgeoning social media platforms, and podcasting felt like a natural progression, so I did a little research and started producing my own podcast at www.atfmb.com.  This got the attention of John DeNardo from SFSignal, who was talking about a musician named John Anealio.  Anealio and I started chatting.  He was doing his own podcast and we decided to meld the two, creating the Functional Nerds podcast (www.functionalnerds.com).  About twenty or twenty-five episodes in, we approached DeNardo about producing a podcast for SFSignal.com as well.  He liked the idea.  Today, Functional Nerds puts out a new episode every Tuesday (we’re nearly at a hundred), and SFSignal.com has two episodes a week, Mondays and Thursdays (we have passed a hundred episodes!). And we just got nominated for a Hugo for that.

BTS: Congratulations! What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

PH: There are some things on the horizon for Functional Nerds, but John and I are still in the planning stages so I probably shouldn’t say too much just yet.  I have a space opera I hope to add to my agent’s plate soon.  Also, I’ve been working on a space western series, a throwback to the old-time serials I used to watch with my grandmother years ago.  But I want to get the novels published first.

patrick@thenewuniverse.com

My blog, All Things From My Brain: http://www.atfmb.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/atfmb
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/atfmb
The Functional Nerds Podcast: http://www.functionalnerds.com
The SFSignal Podcast: http://www.sfsignal.com

Webcomic: ShadowBytes.com
Skype: guitarbluesman

Here’s a sneak peek at Patrick’s Space Battles story, “First Contact:”

First Contact

Patrick Hester

“I hate this.”

“Know what? I love it.”

Xyn banked hard to port to let the chunk of rock in front of them pass by harmlessly. The asteroid belt before them was full of such natural missiles whizzing past, and this had been a little stray rock breaking away from the rest of the group. The nav deflectors would take care of the smallest bits, but he’d need to keep his eyes open for
the larger rogues. Seated behind him, Zian manned the scopes and watched for League ships. “Best hit the shields, Z. We’re getting close now.”

“You would love this,” Zian replied sourly. “All alone on the Edge. Two hours from the nearest help and looking, actually looking, for League ships. It’s madness!”

“It happens to be our job to look for League ships. We signed on for this when we joined up in the first place. Besides, it’s fun! We’re actually on the Edge, Z. On the other side of these rocks is the Great Unknown! Billions of worlds could—no, should, be out there just waiting to be discovered. When this war is over, we’ll be able to go out there with the fleet. We’ll be explorers, not fighter jocks.”

“Why do they always hide in asteroid fields anyway?”

“No clue. Maybe they’re looking for something.”

“Like what?”

“Who knows? Shields in place?”

“Yep.”

“Good. Keep your eyes peeled for—”

Alarms started squealing and the HUD lit up with fireflies seconds before the ship shuddered and shook violently.

“What the hell?” Xyn banked hard, kicking the thrusters up to max and spiraling away from the attack.

“Where’d they come from?”

“No idea! They just appeared—the scope was clean and then they were just there!”

“Some sort of cloak…?” The ship shuddered again, and again Xyn took her into a spin, trying to come around and bring his own weapons
to bear on the enemy fighter. “I can’t shake em…”

The forward view flared and popped as the fire from the enemy pulse cannons impacted the shields and lit up the debris from the asteroid field. There was something different about the fire, coming in faster than he was used to with League ships. He needed to get them away from that fire if they were going to make it out alive.
Staring out the view, he got the craziest idea he’d ever considered. Throwing the engines into full, he tucked his tail and flew for cover.

“What are you doing? You can’t go into an asteroid field!”

“I can, I just shouldn’t. There’s a difference.”

Setting his course for the biggest asteroid he could see, Xyn made a beeline for it while the cannon fire intensified behind him.

“They really don’t want us going in there,” Zian commented. “Huh.”

“What?”

“The ship is different. Computer can’t identify it.”

“Great. That’s what we need, the League with new ships. Intelligence should’ve warned us.”

“Maybe they don’t know?”

“Dump the power from the forward shields into the aft. I won’t be able to avoid all the fire if I want to keep us on course. Too many asteroids, not enough room to maneuver.”

“You do realize that you’re insane, right?”

“I’m a pilot. Part of the job description.”

“If you get me killed, I will haunt you.”

The ship lurched as the League fighter found its mark. Xyn let them hit the aft shields, then pulled back on his speed just enough to make it seem, he hoped, like he’d been damaged. Behind him, Zian was muttering about energy signatures. “What was that?” he asked.

“The energy signature is all wrong.”

“New ships and a new energy source? Intelligence my ass. Kobo will lose her mind.”

Kobo was Fleet Commander, Third Division, and Xian’s mother. She never wanted him to enlist, but the war kept dragging on with mounting casualties and fewer pilots. Convincing her to let him sign on became easier over time. Now he was one of the best pilots around, according to his direct superior.

Waiting for the League fighter to close the distance between them, Xyn kept his eye on the giant asteroid looming before them and the fighter behind them. When the computer told him he was in trouble, he counted to five, then fired his aft torpedo. The torpedo shot out and shattered into a thousand pieces halfway between his ship and the enemy, each bit of what looked like shrapnel glittering with energy. Arcs jumped between them, dancing along to build strength and intensity. The energy web expanded. The enemy fighter altered course, trying to avoid collision, but the net formed too fast. As soon as the fighter struck the corner of the web, it contracted,
wrapping the fighter in crackling energy, rippling across the hull.

Momentum kept the ship moving forward, but the pilot would not be able to navigate or fire weapons for a few seconds.

“Got ’em!” Zian whooped.

“Only slowed ’em. We still need the cover of the asteroid field to turn this whole thing around. Put the forward shields back up.”

“Aye.”

Xyn turned hard to port, already feeling the pull of the giant asteroid before him.

“Um,” Zian said. “We’re pretty close.”

“Hush,” Xyn ordered. The ship shuddered violently. He guided her around without crashing, but it was closer than he would’ve liked. Diving to put the asteroid between him and the enemy, Xyn started firing torpedoes at seemingly random targets. Each torpedo impacted after they passed, shredding the rocks, scattering debris behind them.

“Why blow up the rocks?”

“Makes it harder for the enemy to follow us, all that garbage flying at ’em. Hold on to something.”

The sleek ship curved, banked, and spun to avoid the chunks of rock that could easily destroy it. Xyn charted his course by relying on his sight alone, what the old-timers called ‘seat of the pants’ flying.

The only path he saw open to them was to pass through the asteroid belt. Rocks of all sizes zipped along; most he avoided, some landed blows that shook the ship. The trip was shorter than it felt, then they were staring out at open space and into the Great Unknown.

“Um.”

“Calm down, I know what I’m doing.”

As he stared out at the deep, dark nothingness between galaxies, Xyn wasn’t actually sure he believed that statement. Keep it together, he thought.

“Contact aft!”

“Already?”

Xyn kicked the engines back into maximum, trying to build up a little speed and bring his weapons to bear. The League pilot was better than he gave him credit for. He expected to have more time. The shields flared and popped.

“What in Fel is that?”

“What?” Xyn launched an aft torpedo, but the League pilot shot it down before it could even arm. New coordinates popped up on his HUD. He blinked. “That…what is that?”

“I don’t know. Something big out here where there isn’t supposed to be anything.”

“No wonder he’s trying so hard to kill us. We better have a look.”

“Can we kill the enemy first?”

“Don’t rush me.” Xyn spared a glance at the shields. “We have forty percent left on the shields. That buys us time.”

“Great. I will haunt you. I’m not kidding about that.”

The League ship’s fire intensified. Xyn cut his engines, spun the ship and started firing wide of the League fighter, driving it to bank starboard. Trailing it with fire, he landed a few blows, but not enough to do any real damage. Kicking his own engines back up to full, Xyn shot towards the asteroid belt. Angling his course, he skirted the edge, cutting a zig-zag pattern in and out, heading towards the coordinates Zian fed to the HUD.

“I—What? The computer doesn’t even know what that is.” Zian breathed.

Through the forward port, he saw a massive ring, wider in diameter than any ship of the line. Lights pulsated all along the rim, bits of energy arcing along the surface. Xyn found his eyes fixed on the armada of League ships assembled before the ring. More ships than he’d ever seen together in one place before. The reports he had seen said the League couldn’t pull a fleet like this together. Obviously, they were wrong.

“That,” he said to Zian, “is the end of this war.”

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here starting now (preorders end April 17).

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet David Lee Summers

The anthology’s fourth tale comes from the man who edited two others in the Full Throttle Space Tales series and helped launch it: Professional astronomer David Lee Summers. He spends his nights assisting scientists on staff bi-weekly at Kitt Peak Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. On his off weeks and daylight hours, he edits and publishes Tales Of The Talisman, a quarterly print magazine of SF, F and Horror. He´s also edited anthologies like Space Pirates and Space Horrorsfor Flying Pen Press. His seven novels include Owl DanceThe Solar Sea and Vampires Of The Scarlet Order. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies and magazines such as Realms Of FantasyHuman Tales and 2020 Visions, along with the Full Throttle Space Tales anthology series. He also was the editor who gave me my [Bryan’s] first story sale. His lives with his wife and two daughters in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Find David online at http://t.co/CLubgQwm and http://t.co/7ZFubl99 , also on Facebook and Twitter as @davidleesummers. You can also  follow his blogs:  http://davidleesummers.wordpress.com, a general fiction blog, and  http://dlsummers.wordpress.com, a vampire fiction blog.  My novel The Pirates of Sufiro is available absolutely free as an ebook from both Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com

BTS: David, you helped start the Full Throttle Space Tales series and have edited two of the anthologies so far. How did all of that come about?

David Lee Summers: Author David Boop and publisher David Rozansky had been meeting during the summer of 2007 and came up with the idea of putting together an anthology about space pirates.  David Boop told me about the idea at CopperCon in Phoenix that year and asked if I’d like to be the editor.  I gave it some thought and I started talking to David Rozansky.  Both Davids live in Denver and I met with them at MileHiCon about two months after that.  That was the point where Space Pirates was formalized.  Over dinner with some other authors, we came up with the idea that Space Pirates would be the first of a series of anthologies.  That was the birth of the Full-Throttle Space Tales series.

BTS: You’ve also had stories in most of the anthologies related to Captain Firebrandt and his pirates. Did that concept develop for FTST or out of the novels you’ve done with the same characters and settings?

DLS: Captain Firebrandt is a character that’s been kicking around my brain since about 1987.  He was the protagonist of my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro.  That novel opens with Firebrandt, and his crewmembers Suki Mori and Carter Roberts being marooned on a distant planet.  They end up civilizing the planet and then getting involved in a conflict that shifts the whole galaxy’s balance of power.  That story is played out in the novels Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth.  My stories in the FTST series are all set before The Pirates of Sufiro and tell the story of Firebrandt’s career in piracy before he was marooned  I’m hoping to collect Captain Firebrandt’s pirate stories into one volume sometime in the next couple of years.

BTS: Tell us a little about “Jump Point Blockade.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

DLS: In the Old Star/New Earth universe, jump points are the places where gravitational currents come together and allow space vessels to jump from system to system.  In this story, one Earth colony has blockaded another Earth colony’s jump point.  Meanwhile Ellison Firebrandt and his crew are taking advantage of this fact and raiding a mining facility operated by one of the governments.  The problem is they’re caught and some of Firebrandt’s crew are trapped in the mining facility.  Firebrandt makes a bargain to join the blockade rather than allow his crew to perish.  The story was inspired by Jean Lafitte’s role in the Battle of New Orleans.

BTS: Do the shorts follow a storyline tied to the novels or are they standalones?

DLS: Although each of the stories is a standalone, “Jump Point Blockade” pits Firebrandt and his crew against Captain William R. Stewart who they first met in the story “Hijacking the Legacy” that appears in Full-Throttle Space Tales #2: Space Sirens. 

BTS: How many novels have you written about these characters?

DLS: Ellison Firebrandt and Carter Roberts appear in three novels: The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth.  There is one more novel in the Old Star/New Earth universe called The Solar Sea, but that one is set before they’re born.   At this point, I have five prequel stories featuring Firebrandt and his crew—about 23,000 words of material in all.

BTS: You also edit Tales Of The Talisman and have written a number of novels. How did you get started as an editor?

DLS: In many ways my beginnings as an editor are tied to The Pirates of Sufiro.  When I first wrote the novel, my wife was in graduate school and was looking for a master’s project.  What she decided was to create an audio small press called Hadrosaur Productions.  The Pirates of Sufiro was to be the first book published.  We had started talking to some other authors and created a small anthology called Hadrosaur Tales as a way to showcase those people plus a few others who we hoped to lure to the press.  Eventually, the audio press went by the wayside and Hadrosaur Tales became a magazine in its own right.  After editing the magazine for ten years, we went through some format changes and renamed it Tales of the Talisman.  After starting the magazine, other publishers I worked with saw that I was an editor and have contracted my services and I’ve done some novel editing.  In addition to Hadrosaur Tales/Tales of the Talisman, I’ve edited a small literary magazine called Voces and I was layout designer for El Paso Community College’s magazine Chrysalis.

BTS: Has the FTST series been a success? What do you think is the appeal of these anthologies?

DLS: The books have attracted some “name” authors such as Neal Asher, Robert E. Vardeman, Sarah and Dan Hoyt, Selina Rosen, Dayton Ward and, of course, Mike Resnick.  Also, reviews have been generally positive, and the books seem to sell well for me and the other contributing authors I’ve spoken to.  That and the fact we’re on volume 6 all speak to the success of the books.  I think the appeal is the premise, these are meant to be fun, action-packed collections of science fiction tales.  Even within that definition, there is room for everything from serious, thoughtful stories to humor.  I think the variety of stories, the variety of authors, and the variety of themes all appeal to readers.

BTS: Who would you recommend them to as readers?

DLS: I would recommend them to anyone who likes a good, fun action-oriented science fiction tale.  The stories have humor, romance, strong science fiction ideas and fun.  If you like science fiction at all, it’s worth trying out this series.  I’m betting you’ll find several stories you like and maybe even some new favorite authors.

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

DLS: My story “The Pirates of Baja” will be in the anthology Gears and Levers, due at the beginning of April from Sky Warrior Publishing.  My story “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife” is in Cemetery Dance Issue 66 which is hitting the newsstands as we speak.  Further down the road, look for my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order from Lachesis Publishing.  This novel tells about the formation of a band of vampire mercenaries.  In the meantime, I’m working on Wolf Posse, the sequel to my Wild West/Steampunk novel Owl Dance which is currently out from Flying Pen Press.

Here’s an excerpt from “Jump Point Blockade:” 

Jump Point Blockade

David Lee Summers

The privateer Legacy hung a short distance away from the asteroid designated MX-271. The asteroid was home to an automated mining operation owned by the Xerolith Corporation based on New Earth. The Legacy’s first mate, a sinewy, bald man named Carter Roberts, led the landing party. Roberts hacked into the mine’s computer network and unleashed a virus he hoped would knock out the defense grid.

A sturdy woman with close-cropped hair called Nicole Lowry piloted the craft. She checked the scanners. “The asteroid’s shields are disabled. I
see no indication of weapons being powered up.”

Roberts nodded, acknowledging the report, but he did not relax. Instead, he double-checked the readings himself. When he was satisfied,
he looked over at the pilot. “Take us in, but be careful.”

Lowry pulled back on the joystick and activated the landing rockets. “Your virus programs haven’t let us down yet. I’m not worried.”

“Neither am I, but that’s no excuse to let our guard down.” The first mate kept his eyes on the scanner readouts.

A few minutes later, the pilot pushed the joystick forward and shut off the rockets.

“So far, so good,” said Roberts. He commanded the station’s docking tunnel to extend and mate with the launch’s airlock. Unbuckling his harness,
he turned around and faced the landing party. “Let’s see what goodies the New Earthers have left us.” He drew his sidearm and opened the hatch.
Cautiously, Roberts moved forward into the docking tunnel. His nose wrinkled at the still, stale air. The only sounds he heard were the footsteps of the landing party behind him.

When he entered the mine complex itself, he saw a lone defense robot, its weapons pointed impotently at the floor. The first mate remained silent, while his eyes roved the room. Occasionally mining complexes left a few defense robots unjacked from the network, to keep them immune from viruses. Such robots were usually sound
activated. Satisfied nothing was moving, Roberts indicated a door at the far end of the room with his hepler pistol. Nicole Lowry crept beside him
and peered down the corridor, then activated a handheld computer.

She nodded and gave a thumbs-up—the signal that the path was clear and that they were heading in the right direction. They proceeded down the corridor until they came to a gaping door that led into a vast, darkened space.

Lowry activated a button just inside the door and banks of overhead lights flickered to life revealing a warehouse-like space containing processed bars of erdonium ore neatly stacked on anti-graviton carts. Roberts looked around to make sure there were no defense robots in sight. Finally, he relaxed and holstered his hepler pistol. Turning to face the landing party, he smiled. “This should pay our salaries for a few months.”

“All right, you swabs,” called Lowry. “Start moving those anti-grav carts to the launch. Step to!”

Just as the Legacy’s crewmembers began to fan out, the door to the storeroom slammed shut.
***
On Legacy’s battle deck, a pale man with stringy hair called Computer stood against one wall. His eyes roved back and forth as he communicated with the ship’s computer revealed by the metal grating beneath his feet. A moment later, his eyes ceased their near-constant motion and he turned to face the ship’s captain, Ellison Firebrandt.
“A New Earth battleship has just entered the system,” reported Computer.

The captain—a tall man dressed all in black with long, red hair worn loose about his shoulders—spat a curse. “Contact Roberts. Tell him to get back to the ship as fast as he can.”

Computer’s eyes roved back and forth for a moment. “Sir, Mr. Roberts is calling us.”

“Put him on,” ordered the captain.

“Captain, something’s gone wrong.” Roberts’s voice came through the intercom. “We just located the processed erdonium when the doors
to the storage facility closed behind us. We’re locked in. I’ve double checked the computer here. The virus is still active and defense systems
are shut down.”

“Could they have been commanded from outside?” asked Firebrandt.

“I suppose it’s possible.” Roberts sounded uncertain.

“A New Earth battleship just jumped into the system.” Firebrandt stepped toward the front of the battle deck and looked into the holographic tank. He saw a three-dimensional representation of a nondescript black cylinder hovering near a gray potato-shaped rock—the Legacy next to the mining asteroid. Some distance away, a marble-sized blue sphere that indicated the position of the New Earth battleship moved toward them.

“How could they know about us?”

“I don’t know,” said the captain. “Hang tight. We’ll find a way to get you out of there.”

“Captain, you should leave. We’ll be okay till you get back.”

“I’m not leaving you, Mr. Roberts.”

A new voice cut in on the transmission. “This is Captain William R. Stewart of the Battleship New New Jersey calling the unidentified ship at MX-271. State your purpose in this sector.” In the holographic tank, the blue sphere morphed into a menacing black cylinder bristling with gun ports. Legacy’s scanners had obtained a clear reading of the ship.

Firebrandt took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He had tangled with Captain Stewart of the New New Jersey before. He looked at Computer
and instructed him to open a channel. A moment later, Computer nodded.

“This is the Earth vessel Dragonfly. We’ve sustained micrometeorite damage and sent a party down to the asteroid to look for repair parts.”
Firebrandt’s transmission was greeted with silence. He stepped back toward Computer and made a slashing motion across his throat,
then looked at the helmsman, Kheir el-Din who stood at an upright console in the center of the battle deck—the ship’s wheel. “What are
they up to?”

“Scanning us, I’ll wager,” said the helmsman. “Checking to see if we really are the good ship Dragonfly.”

“What are they even doing here?” Firebrandt’s eyebrows came together. “I thought the New Earthers were tied up with that stupid blockade of Alpha Coma Berenices’s jump point to Rd’dyggia.”

“The New Earthers say the Rd’dyggians are making weapons for the Alpha Comans.” Kheir el-Din toyed with a short string of beads strung in his long, black beard. “I thought you would support the blockade.”

The captain shrugged. “The Rd’dyggians make weapons for everyone. I have no objection to the blockade. I just don’t see how it will do any good.”

“MX-271 is on the jump path from the New New Jersey’s patrol sector to the blockaded jump point,” reported Computer.

The captain rubbed his bare chin. “They must have been summoned to the blockade.”

“The New New Jersey is powering up weapons,” said Computer.

In the holographic viewer, a translucent sphere appeared around the battleship indicating the range of its guns. Legacy was nearly within that sphere.

The captain pointed to the helmsman. “Prepare for emergency intrasystem jump.”

“Powering up the engines,” reported el-Din.

“This is Captain Stewart of the New New Jersey. We have scanned your vessel and determined that you are, in fact, the fugitive Gaean Privateer Legacy. Captain Firebrandt, I am authorized to destroy your vessel.”

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here starting now (preorders end April 17).

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Simon C. Larter

The third story in Space Battles is the third anthology sale for Author Simon C. Larter. A construction worker by day, who describes himself better than I ever could as: “Flash fiction specialist and writer of short stories that range from depressing to violent and depressing. Not a poet. Novelist-in-the-making. Tragic aesthete and lover of martinis. A tad ornery, most days.” He’s also a respected expert (at least in his own mind) on Vodka, of which he is an unabashed fan. Larter’s other stories can be found in the anthologies Notes From The Underground and Short Story America, Volume 1. A husband and father based in New Jersey, Larter can be found on Twitter as @simonclarter, at Facebook or via his blog/website at www.simonclarter.com.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Simon C. Larter: I found out about the Space Battles anthology through some guy I met on Twitter and then at World Fantasy Convention in 2010. He turned out to be the editor. Win!

 BTS: This is your first science fiction anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “Like So Much Refuse.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

SCL: Yes. “Like So Much Refuse” started out as a much longer story, but was mercilessly hacked down to meet the word count requirements of the antho. I’d wanted to tell a multiple-POV story that highlighted the senseless slaughter of war while avoiding the traditional “good” protagonist and “bad” antagonist trope. I lost a lot of dead bodies in the editing process, but still tried to maintain a kind of moral ambiguity when it came to the two main characters. Rarely is war about moral absolutes, and I wanted to explore that idea in a futuristic setting. Also, I just liked the idea of guerilla warfare in space.

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

SCL: I wrote for most of my life, up through high school, but got all practical in my first run of college and decided to get an engineering degree. (Something about being able to make a decent living really appealed to me, I guess.) It took a helluva long time, during which I wrote next to nothing, but I eventually got that degree. The last liberal arts class I took before graduating, though, was a fiction writing course. It lit the fire in me again, and I’ve been writing ever since.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

SCL: Nah. This was a one-shot deal. The Outworlders are just going to fall to squabbling amongst themselves after the fall of the Confederation anyway, and how much fun is it to write about squabbles?

BTS: Where’d your love of SF come from?

SCL: I would read anything and everything as a child, if it looked even remotely like fantasy or science fiction. Probably the first sci-fi I ever read was Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, but I’ve devoured everything from Brian Aldiss’s Helliconia series to Tad Williams’ Otherland books since then. Anything that lets me escape into another world for a while is okay in my book.

BTS: What are your writing goals? Full time? Novelist? Short story writer? All of the above?

SCL: I’d love to supplement the dayjob income with novel sales, and the occasional short story or flash fiction publication. Writing full time, of course, would be the ideal, but I’d be happy with enough extra money to keep me in vacations and vodka. You know how it is.

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

SCL: I’ve a spec-fic novella in the works for a friend’s micropress, and a noir novella that’s almost submission-ready. After those are loose in the world, it’s back to the full-length novels, with occasional forays into shorter fiction when the mood strikes me. Which I’m sure will be often. Apparently the ideas don’t stop just because you don’t have time to write them all. Why is that, anyway?

Here’s an excerpt from “Like So Much Refuse,” Simon’s thrilling adventure about a saboteur taking on an experienced Admiral and her crew: 

Like So Much Refuse

Simon C. Larter

Engel left the airlock at a dead run and leaped outward, snapping his body rigid as he plunged into open space. He felt the vibration in his chest as he engaged the thrustpack, the shift in direction. Below him, the Galaxy gleamed dully in the light from the distant star at the center of the system. Its exhaust cones, black and mountainous, bulged from its aftsection: his destination. He triggered the thrusters again, briefly, then settled into the drop, the only sound in his ears the mild hiss of his rebreather and the crackle of the propaganda transmission from the distant command ship.

Behind him, his shuttle’s autopilot engaged—flames flared in Engel’s peripheral vision—and then shut off, the tiny
Mark IV shorthopper drifting out and away from the planet’s
gravitational field and 
the starcruiser’s light guns. He’d watched
several of his comrades’ 
ships strobe space with their atoms as he
made his approach run.
Damn amateurs, he thought. Who trained
them, anyway?

But now there was nothing for him to do but plummet planetward,
watching as the Galaxy grew ever larger through the visor of his helmet.
His jaw tightened as he let his gaze glide across the gun batteries
and launch tubes ranked along the cruiser’s broad flanks. How many
lives had those weapons snuffed out? How many friends had tasted
vacuum because of them?

No more, he thought grimly. It ends tonight. If not me, another
will make it through.

Explosions winked in the darkness like static sparks as the Galaxy’s
flak guns opened fire in earnest. The city-sized exhaust cones loomed
closer. Engel grinned.

***
“It’s nothing but small craft, sir,” the scanner tech said. He turned
in his seat to regard the Admiral. “They come almost within flak range
then peel off or go adrift. Most of them are short-hop, single-man
shuttles, too. Not even interceptors.”

Admiral Johanna Stanche ran stiff fingers through her graying,
close-cropped hair and glared at the tactical projection at the far end
of the bridge. The threatening twinges that had been spiking the base
of her skull for the past two hours were coalescing into a serious headache.
She grimaced and kneaded the back of her neck. “Shuttles,” she
repeated.

“Yes, sir. The light cruisers and corvettes are keeping well back.”

“They’re testing our defenses,” Commander Martin Vandermeer
said. “Feeling us out.”

Stanche glanced toward him. A good man, she thought. Textbook
leader, but terminally lacking in imagination. For a moment, she
allowed herself to miss Marta’s sharp mind and ready grin, her
quiet support. But Vice-Admiral Marta Janowik had been killed three
months ago when the second to last remaining Confederation starcruiser
had been blasted to particles by the betrayers’ fusion bombs,
shredded and scattered like so much refuse. Now the Galaxy was the
last symbol of a dying dream, she the dream’s last line of defense.
Vandermeer’s stolid face was set in a scowl as he watched the
shuttles drifting in the TAC, an image winking out every so often as
the flak guns did their work. Beyond the swarm of small craft, hovering
at the edge of scanner range, the larger ships crouched, spider-like,
a promise of violence to come. And at the center of the projection,
the lifeless bulk of planet Arturus K-384 spun slowly on its axis, the
Galaxy a silver shard in its orbit.

“What’s the lower limit of our scanners?” the Admiral asked
suddenly.

“Sir?”

“Minimum energy signature. Craft size. What’s the smallest thing
they’re set to detect?”

The scanner tech turned to face her again. “Two meters, perhaps,
sir? Energy sig about half a kilowatt.”

“Dammit,” Stanche muttered. Then, “Dial it down. Fifty
centimeters and one hundred Watts. Do it now.” She turned to
Vandermeer. “And scramble the Falcons. All of them. Set the scanners
to rescue mode.”

“Admiral?”

“They’re jet-jockeying in, Vandermeer. Get those Falcons in the
mix, now!”

The Commander saluted crisply and turned to bark orders into the
nearest comm console. Stanche watched as the TAC image blurred,
then resolved into sharper focus once more. She clenched her jaw.
“There you are,” she said softly.

Between the ranks of light craft and the Galaxy, hundreds—perhaps
thousands—of small, humanoid shapes were closing on the starcruiser,
a diffuse, insidious wave.

“Recal the flak guns,” the Admiral said through her teeth. “Set the
bursts to go off closer. I want those jumpers vaporized.”

The bridge snapped into activity as her orders were relayed. On
the TAC, the slight, deadly shapes of the Falcon interceptors began
to appear, streaking out of the launch bays to chart a course for the
incoming enemy.

“Nice try, you sneaky bastards,” she said under her breath. “But
not good enough.”

***
Engel kept his arms tucked tight to his sides as he plummeted
toward the immense engine cowls at the rear of the cruiser—minimum
cross-section. Since his first jetbursts, he’d avoided using the
thrusters—minimum heat signature. With his right hand, he touched
the sleek bulk of the microfusion bomb strapped to his thigh and
grinned through gritted teeth—maximum damage.

The exhaust cones loomed large in his visor. The range numbers
in his HUD spun down so fast they blurred. He turned his head briefly
to watch pointillist flashes of strafe-fire rake through what he knew
was the main drop zone. The kill rate there had to be staggering. He
grimaced. “Requiem in pacem,” he murmured. “Poor bastards.” He
watched for a moment longer, then turned back to regard his target.
It expanded rapidly in front of him, a mountain of metal, coldwelded,
beaten and hardened to withstand the rigors of deep space and
warp travel. When the engines fired, the heat rippling from the metallic
skin would be enough to flash-fry human blood at a distance of a
quarter kilometer. But they were not firing now, and if all went well,
they would fire only once more: to end it. The technology that had enabled
the Confederation would be the means to its final destruction.

He engaged the thrusters, then executed a sustained burn that leadweighted
his body and sent him surging sideways. The blackened edge
of the exhaust cone shot past in his peripheral vision. Engel snapped
his torso forward, jackknifing to switch directions, and cranked the
thrustpack to full. The suddenness of the deceleration rattled his teeth
and tunneled his vision, but when the burn finished, he was floating
again, weightless, staring at a gigantic maw of blistered metal.
He feathered the thrusters once more, pushing himself into the
cavernous space. Tension he didn’t know he’d been retaining drained
from his shoulders as he drifted forward; there were no strafing batteries
in the exhausts. For the moment, he was safe—as safe as anyone could
be while hovering in front of something that produced sun-hot gas and
enough power to propel a million tons of metal death through space.
The deep dark of the exhaust cone swallowed Engel. He was a
glimmer, a speck against its immensity—a speck bearing death. The
bomb at his hip seemed to pulse with potential.

***
The muted buzz of proximity alarms and penetration alerts was
almost constant now, each one a spike in Admiral Stanche’s throbbing
skull. On the TAC, the rain of small craft and jumpers continued,
an unending wave of attackers. The Falcons were carving huge
swaths of destruction through the attack, wiping out jumpers in their
tens, hundreds, yet the assault continued.

And—more worrying—out beyond the thousand and one small
craft, the corvettes and light cruisers were beginning to edge closer.
It didn’t make sense, any way you cut it, she thought. The losses
were staggering on their part. Did they really have so many lives to
throw away? Even in the assault on the central planets they hadn’t
wasted soldiers like this. It was a distraction; it had to be. So what was
coming next?

“How many penetrations now?” she asked.

“One hundred and twelve,” Vandermeer responded without turning.

“All neutralized.”

“Check and recheck every error message in the system. Any other
anomalies, I want to know about them.”

The techs bent again to their work. The Admiral wiped the moisture
from the corners of her eyes with thumb and forefinger, wishing
her headache would subside. But the meds that took the edge off also
felt like they dulled her mind. She couldn’t afford that on a good day.
This was not a good day.

She walked over to lean down next to Vandermeer. “It’s a covering
maneuver,” she said, speaking for his ears alone. “Otherwise it’s
just throwing away lives.”

He glanced sideways at her. “Yes, sir.”

“I get the feeling we’re not going to like what they’re trying to
distract us from.”

“No, sir,” he said. Then, after a pause, “There’s some alerts from
the aft beam injectors. Channel integrity monitors are showing a break
or two. We get those regularly, though—those systems are touchy.”
Stanche didn’t hesitate. “Run a full scan anyway, and get teams on
the way there. Reroute the maintenance bots to those locations. I want
their camera feeds piped here directly.”

Vandermeer saluted. The Admiral nodded a brief acknowledgement
and returned to her station once more. Over a hundred hull penetrations,
she thought. They were getting through. She was going to start losing
people soon, if this went on—a further fraying of the Confederation’s
last tattered shreds. And they had no choice left but to continue fighting.
Every man and woman aboard knew what the PLM did with survivors.
Every channel in the galaxy had broadcast the fate of the Constellation.
She’d had friends on that ship.

“Nav,” she said, still staring at the TAC, “prep the mains. I want
those engines hot and ready.” There was a surprise coming, she knew
it. Perhaps it would be better if they didn’t stick around to find out
what it was. Live to fight another day, she thought wearily.

***
The glow of melting metal hummed in Engel’s peripheral vision
as he floated, weightless, near an injection port at the rear of the blast
chamber. If he engaged the zoom lens on his helmetcam and squinted
back the way he’d come, he could just see the tiny case of the microfusion
bomb where it hung in the chamber’s center, anchored by several
thousand meters of now-invisible fiber. The setup had been painstaking,
but he’d taken more than the necessary time, checking and doublechecking
the location, the connections. To come so far and fail due to
a foolish mistake would be inexcusable. He turned back to watch the
white-hot metal cool to red, the last shreds of his thermocord graying
and flaking to dust.

A circular chunk of alloy loosened and drifted away from the
exhaust cone wall. Engel batted it aside and leaned close, flicking
his miniflood to life. A beam of light pierced the darkness, hazed
by residual gas from the vaporized metal, and gleamed on the walls
of the injection port beyond. He played the floodlight over the blank,
metalloid walls for a moment, then reached forward and pulled himself
through the hole.

Reaching for the second thermocord coiled at his waist, Engel laid
it in place on the wall and retreated into the immense dark once more.
White heat lit the tunnel and triggered the autodim on his visor. When
it had subsided, he placed his palms on the melted metal edge of the
hole and drifted into the port again. Now the miniflood illuminated a
ragged, empty circle in the polished perfection of the injector—beyond
it a near impenetrable tangle of ducts, wiring, coolant hoses. He
slipped through the hole, twisting to avoid the thin traces of sensor
wire, and reached for the floating disc of metal set loose by the thermocord
burn through.

Turning, he replaced the disc in its hole and began to weld it back
in place. Wouldn’t be a perfect repair, he thought, but Command had
been clear: it only needed to hold for a few seconds. Once the subatomic
stream hit the burn chamber, the bomb he’d planted would do
its work in short order. The major portion of his job was complete.

And should the bombs fail to work as designed? There was
always plan B.

Through the dark plastic of his visor he watched the spitting,
sparking light of his welding arc trace its slow circle, a countdown
clockface, measuring the minutes until the end of it all.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here starting now (preorders end April 17).