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