My First Print Zine Short Story Sale Is Out

It took several attempts and some polishing but I finally found a home for one of my more unique, non-space opera science fiction shorts, the third ever short story I wrote. It’s in the latest issue of Tales Of The Talismanbought actually last summer but too big for that summer issue, David Lee Summers held it for this year’s issue with my consent. It’s great to not only have it out but have made the cover list. Here’s the full TOC:

Table of Contents for Tales of the Talisman Volume 8, Issue 1

    • Sol Crystalis Miracalis
      Story by Quincy Allen
      Illustration by Teresa Tunaley


    • Silicon Searchers
      Poem by Richard H. Fay


    • Dear Cthulhu
      Article by Patrick Thomas


    • Through a Lens Brightly
      Story by Brock Marie Moore
      Illustration by Tom Kelly


    • Frontier Adventure
      Poem by L.B. Sedlacek


    • Touch of Silence
      Story by Simon Bleaken
      Illustration by Jim Collins


    • The Day That the Screens All Died
      Poem by Ann K. Schwader


    • Steam-Truckin’
      Story by C.J. Killmer
      Illustration by Teresa Tunaley


    • What Voids Are These
      Poem by Anna Sykora


    • End Run
      Story by Robert Collins
      Illustration by Russell Morgan


    • How to Construct a Human
      Poem by Lauren McBride


    • La Migra
      Story by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
      Illustration by Paul Niemiec


    • Shooting Star
      Poem by Louise Webster


    • Listening
      Poem by Larry Hammer


    • The Devil You Know
      Story by M.E. Brines
      Illustration by Jag Lall


    • Tempest
      Story by Neil Leckman
      Illustration by Paul Niemiec


    • Mission Stardust
      Poem by Ann K. Schwader


    • The Elemental Just Can’t Explain Himself
      Poem by CEE


    • The Ultimate Astronaut
      Story by K.S. Hardy
      Illustration by Laura Givens


    • A Conflicted Soul
      Poem by Lauren McBride


    • Streaming Light
      Story by Kelly Dillon
      Illustration by Morland Gonsoulin


    • Obolusless
      Poem by Neal Wilgus
      Illustration by Filo Martinez


    • The Reaper’s Scythe
      Story by Bruce Markuson
      Illustration by Jag Lall


    • Misdirection
      Story by Scott Allen Abfalter
      Illustration by Erika McGinnis


    • Power Of Littleness
      Poem by Alessio Zanelli


    • The Forbidden
      Poem by W.C. Roberts


    • Portal
      Story by Glynn Barrass
      Illustration by Tom Kelly


    • Book Reviews
      Reviews by David Lee Summers and Shawn Oetzel


    • About the Contributors


Happy International Fiction Day! Free Fiction: Amelie’s Guardian (Fantasy)

Well, since it’s International Fiction Day, and it’s also about a year since my first short story was published in an anthology, I thought I’d share something fictional with you. This is my first sold fantasy short story. It’s written like a modern fairy tale and focuses around a dragon’s friendship with a young girl. The story was inspired by an open call for submissions of stories about dragons, cats, or both. My friend Dana Bell edited the anthology and it also features Andre Norton and many other talented writers and poets. So I hope you enjoy this tale. It’s named after my dog, Amelie, yes. And Glendon is from my mom’s name, Glenda. And Ramon is my father’s name. Just a little trivia. I have fun tuckerizing. Anyway, I hope you enjoy:

Amelie’s Guardian

by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

© copyright 2011 by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. All Rights Reserved. Duplication without permission except under fair use prohibited.

Published April 2011 in “Of Fur And Fire,” an anthology from DreamZion Publications, Denver, CO.


ong ago in a land known as Glendon, there lived a young girl, whose name was Amélie. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a soldier, a Captain in the Kingdom Guard, who’d been seven moons at war. They lived in a small village on the banks of the mighty River Rhi, surrounded by woods. They led  a quiet life of farming and simple trades, far from the capitol.

Her mother’s name was Mara, and her father’s name was Ramon. Mara and Amélie had huddled together as Ramon and his men rode out one fate-ful day, straight down the main street, amidst the straw roofed cottages. Their horses whinnied with excitement as the villagers felt the vibration of their pounding hooves, and choking clouds of dust rose up, carried on the Autumn breeze.

Amélie buried her face in her mother’s well-worn apron, her shoulder rising and falling to the rhythm of her sobs. Her mother kept a brave face, but Amélie knew she was worried, too. Late at night, as she lay restless, Amélie heard her mother’s own sobs through the thin walls of their cottage.

The village itself, Tallerive, had not known conflict in many years and the surrounding woods were known to be safe and quiet.  To keep her daughter occupied and avoid her sitting around worrying, Mara sent Amélie out each morning on a daily quest. One day might be to gather berries in the near-by woods, another to pick up freshly fallen apples. Amélie delivered eggs to the inn and gathered cloth from the weaver’s. All the while Mara stayed home to feed the chickens, work on her sewing, and kept the cottage clean.

On one of these quests I met Amélie. I’d been watching her for a long while and found her intriguing. Her blonde curls bounced as she walked which was a kind of rhythmic loping with a bounce in her steps. Her demeanor was one of curiosity and playfulness, yet I detected a sadness beneath it, echoed in her brown eyes. It touched me. She looked lonely, and that was something I understood well.

For years, I had occupied a mountain-top near the village, but because I nev-er bothered the village, the humans never came to trouble me. I rarely ap-proached humans because of their reaction. Adult humans would scream and hurl rocks or spears when I got too close.

But Amélie was a wee child, and ex-cept for worry about her father, she seemed quite fearless. My heart ached for her on the times I glimpsed her sobbing beneath the apple trees. Other times she talked or sang to herself as she gathered the fruit.  Her lilting voice was a delight to my ears.

I chose to meet her one day atop a hill beside the apple trees. I went early, for Amélie always came mid-morning, and I wanted time to prepare so I could present myself well. I heard her singing first as she approached. The gentle wind seemed to amplify it somehow through the woods.  I could make out every syllable long before I heard her feet rustling in the fallen leaves and brush.

In a few moments, she bounced into view. I saw her golden locks first, then her silky white skin and red cheeks. She began gathering the apples lying at the base of the trees. She seemed in better spirits than I’d seen her previously.

As she worked her way through the trees, I considered again how best to make my presence known. My kind are not known for their subtlety, of course, but at the same time, startling her didn’t seem wise. So, as she continued singing and gathering, I decided to join her song. I’d heard her repeat the refrain several times already, so I waited until she finished the verse she was on, cleared my throat as softly as I could, and joined her on the refrain.

My voice, I’ll admit, was rough from disuse. I lived alone atop a mountain, after all. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the to-tal disaster I’d feared. It took a few moments for her to realize she was no longer singing alone. As soon as she did, she stopped and whirled around, her eyes searching, until finally they found their way to the top of the hill.

Finishing the refrain’s last line alone, I curved my lips into smile, taking care not show my sharp teeth lest I frighten her. I didn’t speak, wanting to be sure I said the right thing.  I feared she would run away, but her eyes never showed the fear which was most hu-man’s normal reaction. Instead, her head tilted slightly as her eyes took me in, and she set down her basket, She stepped closer to get a better view.

“You’re a dragon, aren’t you?”

I nodded, the smile frozen on my long narrow snout.

“Are you going to eat me?”

I shook my large head. “No.”

“In my uncle’s stories, dragons either eat you or burn you,” Amélie said, her face twisting in a quizzical way as she thought. “You don’t look so scary to me.”

I laughed, relieved. I couldn’t help my-self, but the sheer volume made her step back toward the woods, looking as if she might run. “No, I won’t eat you, I promise. I came here to meet you.”

“Meet me?” She stepped forward again, clearly intrigued. “Why?”

“I’ve been watching you for some time now. You’re quite fascinating.”

She shook her head, an amused smile crossing her face. “I’m just a little girl.”

“Yes, and I’m just an old dragon, but still, I find you interesting.”

Amélie laughed, a charming high pitched sound which warmed my heart. The sound was filled with joy and a sense of freedom I longed to know, as if she had not a care in the world. Oh to know such freedom! I was rapt with fascination.

“What’s your name?” Amélie started slowly climbing the grassy hillside toward me.

“My name is hard to translate into human,” I told her, trying to come up with something she could understand. “You can call me whatever you’d like,” I finally said.

She smiled as she stopped beside me, then moved slowly around, examining me without fear. “You’re very green, you know. And very big, too.” She crinkled her nose. “You smell funny, too.”

“I smell like all dragons, I suppose.” I tried not to be offended, reminding myself she meant no harm. Besides, she smelled odd to me, too.

“Perhaps I should name you some-thing grand.” She put a finger on her mouth thinking.

I smiled, liking the sound of it. I was-n’t familiar with human names, but I hoped it was grand. “I like that.”

Amélie giggled. Her face took on a serious look. “I think I shall name you Johannes. Okay? ”

“Johannes?” I thought it over, trying it on for size. It did sound somewhat re-gal to me, very formal and proper it seemed. “Okay, Johannes it is.”

She nodded with approval and smiled again. “My name is Amélie. I’m from Tallerive. Do you know it?”

I nodded and smiled back. “Indeed. I live atop the Mount to the East.”

“Shadow Mount?”

So that’s what the humans called it! As I considered the meaning  I remem-bered it did cast shadows over their village in late morning, before the sun rose to its afternoon peak and started its descent. “Shadow Mount, yes.” I nodded.

“Is it scary? Father and Mother told me stories of large creatures and people who disappeared there long ago.” She shuddered at the memory of them.

My mind raced to find words I could tell her which wouldn’t make her fear me. Dangerous creatures dwelled there—direwolves and bats and trolls—and the few human adventurers who’d tried to climb it usually died at the hands of one or the other. Only one had made it to the top and confronted me but that had been long in the past. I’d meant to spare him but he came at me with a sword, and I’d had to defend myself. The stench of burning flesh haunted my memory causing me to cringe. I’d always tried to live in peace with the world around me. It gave me no pleasure watching him die.

“It’s been my home for many gener-ations,” I explained. “It’s not scary to me, but there are creatures about who might do harm to someone like you.”

Her lower lip curled up over its com-panion a moment, then she shook her head and spread her legs in a defiant stance. “I’m not afraid. My daddy would protect me.” She paused, her eyes turning sad and looked at her feet. “If he were here.”

My heart melted at seeing her pain. I wanted to reach out and comfort her, but one of my hands was twice her size and I feared crushing her by accident, so I sat where I was.

“He’s gone to war,” she told me, not knowing I already knew. Sadness dark-ened her face like a shadow. “But he’s coming back to visit soon. My Mother got a letter today.” At the mention of it, her smile returned and she did a little dance, sending her brown skirt fluttering around her long, skinny legs.

I laughed as I watched her. Such a delightful sight to behold. “You miss him a lot.”

She nodded, glancing back at her apples. “I have to go back soon. My Mother will worry. She’s waiting to make fresh apple pie.” Her tongue slid quickly across her lips at the mention of it .From her face I could see it was something delicious. “But I enjoyed meeting you, Johannes.”

“I enjoyed meeting you, too, Amélie.”

“Will I see you again?”

“I hope so,” I said as I watched her turn and bounce back down the hill the way she’d come. She went straight to her basket and picked it up, glanc-ing back at me with a smile before re-turning to her gathering.

We visited daily from then on. I land-ed in a glen near the berry bushes or a brook near the path to the weaver’s; somewhere close to wherever she was headed for the day. I made sure to avoid other villagers or their animals. Drawing too much attention would put an end to our visits, and Amélie appeared to enjoy them as much as I did. In fact, since we’d met, I hadn’t seen her sob in the woods once. It was as if somehow my companionship made her feel less alone. I know my time with her had that effect on me. Both of us enjoyed each other’s com-pany, the only difficulty being the times she begged me to take her for a flight.

“What’s it like to fly?”

“It’s freeing.” It was all I could think of.

“I wish I could fly.” She looked up toward the puffy white clouds with a dreamy look. “It must be wonderful.”

“It is until…” I stopped. Perhaps she was too young to know the dark truth of her people’s relations with my kind.

“Until what?” Her eyes held the sense of wonder common to all younglings. Wide and brown, they looked at me as if I were the core of wisdom. It was im-possible to resist them, as much as I tried.

“Sometimes people see me and they become afraid.” I watched her for a re-action. “They try and attack me.”

Her eyes watered and she ran toward me, wrapping her arms around my lower arm. It was so large her out-stretched arms could only stretch part way around. “Why would anyone want to hurt you? You’re so kind.”

I closed my eyes at the warmth of her body pressed against mine. She softly stroked my scales.

“Your scales are soft,” she said in won-der. “They look so hard.”

I smiled. “They’re my protection a-gainst enemies. They hold up very well when I need them, but they’re like my skin, Amélie.”

She smiled as she caressed them. “I like them.” She stepped back so our eyes met. “Take me flying with you, Johannes!”

Fearing she might fall, I politely re-fused her. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”

“I’ll be careful, I promise. Just a little flight. Not even very high. I want to know what it’s like.”

Each time I refused from then on, she had the same sad eyed expression she’d had whenever she spoke of her father. After several tries, she turned away and looked back down the hill to-ward her village. “Friends do things for each other,” she half accused.

My heart ached to fulfill her wish, but how would she hold on? I couldn’t risk it. I didn’t know what to say, and, after a few heartbeats, she simply started her bouncing lope down the hill, not looking back at me, as she usually did when we parted.

The next day, she returned to her old self, running to hug me when she saw me in the glen near the berries. She chased me as I hopped and skipped just out of reach, using my wings for short bursts of flight, making her laugh and laugh as she kept trying to out-smart me. In the end, I let her catch me, and the joy on her face gave me a happiness I had never known. My life as a dragon had been so lonely. Amélie was the first true friend I’d had since I was a youngling, and had other drag-ons as my companions. I thought of her like family, although I tried to guard my heart.

As the day approached for her father’s expected arrival, the energy radiating from Amélie grew more and more joyful. It felt as if all her cares had suddenly vanished. She spoke often of her father—how he used to tell her stories as he tucked her in at night, stories of knights and castles and princesses and battles. She knew her daddy was as brave as the men in those stories. She spoke of him as gentle and kind and wise and honorable. Hearing her describe him, I wished I could meet him, but then I remembered my previous encounters with human adults Which hadn’t turned out well.

It made me sad to only share a small part of her world. I’d grown quite fond of her and she of me. But Amélie her-self seemed to enjoy our secret friendship. It was something of her own she didn’t have to share with anyone, she said once. She called me her best friend, her guardian, making me promise I would look out for her until her father came home. I always promised when she said it, although I started worrying her father’s arrival might bring an end to our encounters.

Finally the week came for her father’s homecoming. I watched from the woods as she and her mother waited anxiously outside their cottage. Smoke rose from the chimney and I smelled the scent of fresh baked bread, a smell I always associated with the village.

Her mother kept busy sweeping and doing laundry, but Amélie sat patiently on a wooden bench, watching the road, her eyes anxious and excited. I sniffed the wind, searching for a scent of human sweat and approaching horses. For several daylight hours I kept vigil with her. But no one came.

Her mother’s face grew more and more concerned, her eyes darkening with worry as her face dropped into a frown. She went behind the house twice, wiping tears on her stained apron where Amélie couldn’t see her. And finally, as the sun arced overhead, preparing to start its descent in the west, she called Amélie to her, handed her a basket and motioned toward the woods.

I found her near the apple trees, land-ing on the hill where we’d first met. She paid me no attention, sniffling as she gathered apples, her shoulders drooping, her eyes fixed on the ground near her feet. I ached with all my heart to reach out and comfort her, but the trees kept me from drawing near, and it seemed obvious she wanted to be left alone.

As she returned to the village, the basket half-full, I made a decision and launched myself with a running start. I soared high amongst the clouds, following the road leading from the village, the route she’d told me her fa-ther would come. The wind caressed me as soared, a pleasant feeling I al-ways enjoyed. I flew what seemed like a long time, but, from the sun’s lack of movement, I could tell little had passed. I heard them before I saw them—the sharp clash of swords, the high screams of horses. I could smell their sweat and hear their shouting. I knew the sounds of battle and willed my wings to move more swiftly.

I found them at a crossroads, fighting face to face, dozens of companions dy-ing all around. Her father looked tired and older than I remembered him. I knew then their fighting had been long and terrible. He and one of his soldiers stood outnumbered by the en-emy, who had three archers on horse-back firing at them from a rise, while five others surrounded them with swords.

One of the enemies, who appeared to the leader, raised his arm and his men stopped waiting. “If you surrender now, your lives will be spared,” the leader shouted.

“If we surrender now, our lives are worthless,” Amélie’s father answered. “Honor and glory to the King!” He raised his sword and his companion did likewise.

The enemy soldiers laughed. “Your honor will be your end,” the enemy leader responded. He lowered his arm and his men moved in.

Swords clanged and men grunted. I could see Amélie’s father was ex-hausted and could barely lift his sword. His companion took a sword through the stomach and fell to his knees, his life’s blood watering the parched dirt.

They needed me! Swooping down from behind, I blasted the archers with fire from my mouth. They shrieked  as their clothes caught fire and uselessly tried to escape into the woods. I con-tinued down toward the others. Spot-ting me, the enemy soldiers yelled and swung their swords over their heads in desperation, ducking as I flew past. I turned my head and blasted two of the enemies with flames. I then swung back up to circle around.

As I came in the second time, I saw some of the enemy mounting their horses. Apparently they’d done the damage they intended and had no desire to stick around and fight a dragon as well. Amélie’s father collapsed in a heap, as if his legs could no longer hold him. I dropped down and landed nearby. He turned his head toward me, his face showing resignation to whatever fate might bring.

“I have no strength left to fight you dragon,” he said. “I’m at your mercy.”

I looked him over, trying to decide what to do. Then I took a running start, reaching down to grab him with my talons  I arched back up into the clouds, returning the way I’d come toward Tallerive where my sweet friend would be waiting. He relaxed in my grip, hanging there as if he’d fallen asleep, but I glanced down once and saw his eyes examining me.

As I flew, my mind raced, trying to decide how I could return him to Tallerive without raising alarms. If I left him in the woods, Amélie and her mother wouldn’t know to find him there. But if I took him to the village, the men might attack me on sight. In the end, I knew I had no choice, so I flew over the village once, before I  came in for landing on the main road near his family’s cottage.

Two women removing clothes from a line screamed and ran as they saw me, calling for their husbands. I set Amélie’s father gently on the dirt and prepared to take off again as Amélie and her mother appeared in their doorway. Her mother’s face filled with fear as she saw me standing over her husband, but Amélie brightened, her face lighting up with a smile as she ran toward me. Her mother and father both called for her to stop, but she didn’t listen.  She embraced her fallen father.

His arms wrapped around her. I heard men shouting as they came up the road. I had only moments before they’d arrive to engage me, so I smiled at Amélie as she hugged her father.

She looked up at me, tears streaming down her face. “Thank you, Johannes. I love you.”

I choked back my own tears as I nod-ded and ran up the road, launching myself into the air. I heard her father ask: “Who’s Johannes?” behind me as I disappeared over the trees into the woods, heading for my mountain home.

For the next week, I saw Amélie only from a distance. She did her usual chores, but I kept my distance for fear the adults might be nearby to protect her from me. It was always the same, in every town, with every race of hu-mans. Dragons were feared and hated—the enemy. No matter how she explained it, they’d never understand. I had to prepare myself for the loss of her companionship. I hoped I was wrong, but I had to be ready.

“Johannes! Where are you?”

Her voice echoed through the trees and cut through my fears like a sword through flesh. I circled down in an arc toward the glen near the berries. It sounded like her voice had come from there and my nose detected the scent of humans. I peered through the trees trying to spot those golden locks, but with the first snowfall, the canopy was layered in white, covering the gaps in the trees.

Setting aside my worry, I swung down and landed in the glen near my usual spot. As I turned toward the now bare trees, Amélie came racing toward me, a thick shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her curls bounced as bounded toward me and smiled with delight.

She swung her arms around my neck as she reached me, caressing my scales. “I missed you, Johannes!”

“I missed you, too.” And then I saw them. Her parents stepped out from behind the thick trunks to watch us cautiously.

Sensing my concern, Amélie stepped back to look me in the eye. “It’s all right. They came here to meet you. I told them all about us.” She patted my neck. “Don’t be afraid.”

As she waved at them, her parents approached with trepidation. “You save my life, dragon,” her father said as he drew near.

I nodded. “You family needs you.”

“We’re so grateful,” Amélie’s mother wiped moisture from her eyes.

“It is I who am grateful. For the friend-ship of your daughter.”

Her father smiled. “Dragons and humans are not known to be friends.”

“Johannes is a good dragon,” Amélie said. “He’s my guardian.” She smiled at us, as if dragons and humans should always have been friends

The adults and I laughed.

“We know that, dear.” Her mother tousled Amélie’s hair as she placed an arm around her shoulders.

“But he never let me fly with him.” Amélie frowned.

“It’s quite amazing,” her father teased.

“No fair!”

Her parents and I shared a laugh again. “I don’t want you to fall and my talons might crush you.”

“I have an idea about that,” her father said. “Meet us here tomorrow.”

The next day, they returned with a leather horse harness her father had modified. It fit Amélie securely and had a handle where I could clasp on with my talons and carry her safely.

Their confidence amazed me. “You would trust me with her life?”

“You proved trustworthy with mine.” Her father nodded as he finished helping Amélie into the harness. Lov-ingly, he snapped the last fitting and made sure her shawl was secure around  her. “Everything is fine,” he reassured Mara, who stood nearby, looking slightly worried.

Amélie smiled, then hurried over beside me, waving. “Come on! I’m ready!”

“As you wish, little one.”

And with that I lifted off, hovering just above the ground as her father rushed in, ducked underneath and held the harness handle up so I could grasp it. My talons closed tightly around it and I tugged gently. It moved with me.

With a nod from her father and wave from her mother, I took off, carrying Amélie into the clouds. She laughed with delight, pointing at the village as she saw it beneath us. She pointed at the mountain I called home, at the river, and the hill where we’d met. I told her stories about all of them, recollections from the hundreds of years I’d lived here. When she drew quiet, I guessed perhaps she was overwhelmed. I flew in silence, letting her ponder at what she’d heard and seen.

I returned her safely after a daylight hour to where her parents waited in the glen. Our daily visits resumed after that, and although she occasionally brought her parents, mostly she came alone.

Long ago in a land known as Glendon, there lived a girl, whose name was Amélie. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a soldier, and her best friend was a dragon.

She came to see him every day, intro-ducing him to her husband before they married, and bringing her child-ren to play with him. As she grew, their relationship transitioned from mere companionship to a sort of mentoring.

The loneliness which had once haunt-ed the dragon was never known again. Even the villagers welcomed him with open arms, calling him “Amélie’s Guardian.” Their friendship became legendary. He became part of the family, and he protected the girl and her village for all of his days.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author-Editor Johne Cook

Despite being one of the founders and editors (i.e. Overlords) of Ray Gun Revival, “With All Due Respect, his Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 story, is Johne Cook’s fiction in print. A technical writer by day and creative writer and editor at night, his interests include progressive rock, film noir, space opera, and racquetball. Johne is older than he looks but acts younger than he is. His short fiction has appeared in Deep Magic, The Sword Review, Wayfarer’s Journal, and Digital Dragon magazines. He can be found online at Facebook, on Twitter as @theskypirate and via Ray Gun Revival, where he hangs out often vaporizing someone’s puny planet for various arbitrary infractions. Married and newly a grandfather, fellow Space Battles author is no relation.

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

Johne Cook: I heard about the Space Battles anthology on Twitter in February a year ago and thought I might have something fun to add to the theme. Of course, rationalization is the second strongest human impulse.

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

JC: It is my first anthology sale, and I’m delighted with the company I have fallen in with here.

This story features a character I’ve written about before, a space marine-turned-diplomat in homage to Keith Laumer’s “Retief” character. The Retief stories were funny and sharply satirical of governmental red tape while depicting the value of one good man whose primary gifts are common sense and personal initiative. In an era where we like to see how people change over the course of a story, I liked the idea of seeing how one good man could change the world around him over the course of a story.

I blame the situation in this story on my natural good-humored contrarianism. I grew up with Doc Smith and his endless technological escalation. For this story, I fell prey to a Whedonesque urge to tell a character-based story where the largest battle was really internal, man against his own nature, against his own fear. I wanted to see what would happen when one good man was stripped of everything and had nowhere left to hide. And honestly, I’m not as up on the latest trend in space armor and weaponry, so I thought I’d lean more on the man than his machines. In my vision, spacecraft of the near future aren’t that much different than what you might see today, no tractor beams, no artificial gravity onboard, no energy protective shields. In that environment, space battles become scarier because there’s no safety net, no formidable defenses to hide behind.

My original idea involved a sort of Trojan Horse, a diplomat going to meet with ravenous aliens and delivering the method of their destruction himself and leaving it attached to the hull of their ship or something. But along the way, I found surprising motivation for my alien antagonists and I discovered that the physics in space don’t work the way I’ve been trained to expect from every sci-fi movie ever. So that forced the first of many changes, ultimately leading to what I hope is a more interesting story.

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

JC: The seed was planted in the 4th Grade by my English teacher, Miss Kinane. It was the first time in my life that I ever felt I could do something effortlessly that others considered difficult and the curse of my daydreaming suddenly became a virtue. It was like discovering a superpower I was previously completely unaware of.

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

JC: If writing was my new super ability, my dad’s phenomenal SF/F paperback library was my spice, my Melange, fueling that super power and stoking a fiery desire to see where it could take me.

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

JC: I’ve written two other stories with this character, Random Tenerife, entitled “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” and “Blessed Are The Persecuted.” I can imagine a series called something like “The Tenerife Beatitudes,” giving a SFnal treatment to all eight. As a person of faith, I was distressed that there wasn’t more SF I could embrace, and as a SF fan, I was distressed with the quality of the fiction passing itself off as being from the worldview I embrace. The thing is, I don’t care for preachy fiction. If I want answers from my reading, I’ll read non-fiction. I think the best Art asks questions without necessarily giving you the answer. This is where SF and my worldview can bring the greatest synergy.

BTS: You are a founder and editor of Ray Gun Revival magazine. Tell us about how that got started and what you do.

JC: RGR was spawned in 2006 in a surge of pure Browncoat passion when they took the sky from us. L. S. King and Paul Christian Glenn and I were so in love with space opera in general and Firefly in particular that we wanted to keep that space opera vibe going and started the magazine as a way to share that love with a new generation of readers and writers. It was also a testament to blissful ignorance of how much work it takes to cultivate such stories in an era where Cyberpunk (and later Steampunk) reigned supreme. Furthermore, it revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of one of the primary virtues of space opera, where bigger is usually better and we were looking for short stories. Fortunately, we didn’t know that we couldn’t make it cultivating and nurturing and growing a new generation of space opera and golden age sci-fi readers and writers. This summer, we celebrate the start of our seventh year of blissful ignorance and genre fun.

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

JC: I’m two-thirds of the way through a swashbuckling adventure space opera novel called The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, and have a number of genre mash-up short stories in the works.

Here’s an excerpt from Johne’s Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 story, “With All Due Respect”:

With All Due Respect

Johne Cook

The first attack came shortly after they exited the jumpgate outside of Aldebaran.

Random Tenerife was startled awake by a blaring klaxon. He heard the muted sound of a code being entered from the other side of the steel hatch. The interior bolt on his door unlocked. A red-haired stripling wearing spacer fatigues pushed the hatch open and poked his head in. “Mr. Ambassador?”

“Just ‘Tenerife,’” he corrected. Tenerife ran a hand over his face and rubbed away the sleep.

“I’m Ensign Salter, but everyone calls me ‘Salty.’ You should come with me.”

“What is the klaxon for?” Tenerife asked.

“It’s not for me to say,” Salty said.

“Very well.” Tenerife loosened the straps that kept him in his bunk and pushed off. As he floated over to the hatch, he saw two crewmen slide past pulling themselves hand-over-hand toward the cockpit in the zero gravity of the courier ship’s central corridor. He and Salty followed.

Three men were already floating in the small common area outside
the cockpit-proper. The man in uniform sitting in the elevated command
chair behind the pilot looked up at Salty and frowned. “Did you bring
the prisoner?”

The spacers parted and revealed Tenerife in back of the group.

“Captain,” he said.

“Salty, since you’re here, you may as well introduce everyone.”

“You know Captain Bolivar—he shares piloting and astrogation
duties with First Officer Ollie Wu. Abe Sigorda oversees the port cargo
hold, and Abe Fungee oversees the starboard cargo hold. They also
share some engineering expertise and help maintain the Kikayon, ergo
Portside Abe and Starboard Abe.”

Tenerife smiled.

“The only one missing is Chief Engineer Scott Magoro. He’s back
in the engine room.”

“Greetings,” Tenerife said.

“So, what’s going on with the klaxon?” Salty asked.

Mr. Wu spoke over his shoulder while scanning a display in front
of him. “That was a munitions-based proximity alarm,” said Mr. Wu.
“The interloper fired a dumb missile across our bow.”

Tenerife noted a collective shiver go through the tiny crew.

Salty raised an eyebrow. “A what?”

“An attack?” Starboard Abe asked.

“A warning,” Captain Bolivar said, turning back to his console.
“How far away are they?”

“Five thousand klicks and closing” said Portside Abe. “They
didn’t miss at that range, they intentionally didn’t hit us. This time.”

“Have they hailed us?” Salty asked.

“That’s the funny thing,” Mr. Wu said. “There’s been nothing but
radio silence.”

“Mr. Tenerife, I called you up here to see if you can shed any light
on these attackers,” Bolivar said.

Tenerife’s eyebrow arched. “Me? What do you think I would
know about this?”

Captain Bolivar shot Tenerife a look. “You were planetary
Ambassador for the entire Garçonne system. If such attacks were
common out here, you’d know about it.”

Tenerife stroked his chin. “Sorry, captain. This is new to me. The
most nefarious space ships out here in recent days have been our own,
but I took care of that myself. I suspect that’s why I’m being recalled
to Earth.”

“Then you’re useless to me,” Bolivar said, and turned back to his

Another klaxon went off, and the ship shuddered under multiple

“What was that?” Salty said.

Bolivar slapped a button on the console. “Mr. Wu, get us a jump
solution now!”

“Engine ready,” radioed Magoro from the engine room.

“Coming right up!” Mr. Wu said.

The rift opened, the power dimmed, and they jumped.

“Damage report,” Bolivar roared.

“Why didn’t you fire back?” Tenerife asked.

Bolivar glared at him. “Not now, Mr. Tenerife.”

“Everything remains green in the engine room,” Chief Engineer
Magoro said.

“How’s the hull?” Bolivar asked.

“There was no damage here,” Portside Abe said.

Starboard Abe had a different story. “Instrumentation says no hull
breaches between the external hulls and the internal hull. However,
the external camera shows some minor damage along the starboard

“Can you tell what they hit us with?” Bolivar asked.

“The gashes are about six inches long. I’d guess a cloud of
industrial-grade flechettes.”

“Why didn’t you raise shields?” Tenerife asked.

“For the same reason we didn’t detach the saucer,” Bolivar
snapped. “We don’t have such technology in the real world.”

“What about hull armor?”

Bolivar growled. “Tell him.”

Portside Abe tsked and started ticking things off on his fingers.
“Small ships like ours don’t have artificial gravity, and none of them
have protective energy shields. If somebody fires accurately enough,
it hits metal and causes real damage.”

“Ships are expensive to fund and time-consuming to build,” Salty
said. “The cost is so high and space is so vast that little actual combat
occurs out here.

“I’ve seen huge battleships docked at space stations,” Tenerife
said. “Don’t they use those warships for defense?”

Starboard Abe nodded. “The Terran Space Navy keeps some
dreadnoughts with reinforced hulls and spinning artificial gravity
and all manner of heavy weapons, but they’re deterrents more than

“So what does this tell us about our attackers?” Boliver asked.

“They’re telling us they can hit us whenever they want and they’re
unafraid of inflicting damage.”

Bolivar nodded. “That rules out pirates.”

“Is there any way we can find out if anyone knows about these
attackers?” Tenerife asked.

“Mr. Wu, dial up the system’s transmitter beacon,” Bolivar said.

“What’s a transmitter beacon,” Tenerife asked.

“When someone encounters an anomaly near the jump gates, they
flash a message to the galactic transmitter beacon. It’s like leaving a
note on the door for others.”

“We’ve found the nearest beacon,” said Mr. Wu. “Putting it on

The message on the Terran language band was repeated in Galactic
Standard, Mandarin, French, and Spanish. “Beware the Terran warship
TSN Manitou recently seen in this system. Reports indicate it has
been commandeered by aliens unknown to us. A cryptic message from
the ship translated their name as the Gruener, cannibals who have devoured
the entire crew of at least two ships. They intimidate ships and
compel the crews to heave-to and board the Manitou. Do not comply!
… Beware…”

“They eat people?” said Salty.

But Tenerife’s eyes widened. “First contact,” he said under his

The proximity klaxon sounded again.

“Everyone to your stations!” yelled Bolivar.

“Do you think it’s the Gruener?”

Bolivar rubbed his chin. “It could be a coincidental sighting of a
different ship, but I don’t believe it. There’s just not that much traffic
out this way.”

Mr. Wu yelled, “I’ve found the object.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a probe, sir.” He put it on the captain’s screen. The system
zoomed in and displayed telemetry data.

And then, as Tenerife watched, a warship slid through the rift.
“They’re here!” roared Bolivar.

Tenerife said, “How…?”

Mr. Wu pointed to the display. “When we opened the rift for our
jump, they launched a probe after us to show them where to follow!”

“Who does that?”

Mr. Wu looked at Tenerife and licked his lips. “Uh, we do. The
Terran Space Navy does that.”

Bolivar stabbed a button on his console. “Magoro, how long until
we can jump again?”

“The engine’s still in recovery. I’ll need another seven hours more
or less before the engine is ready.”

“Let me know when it is. In the meantime, Mr. Wu, prepare another
jump solution. Abe, can you hit anything with the laser?”

Starboard Abe radioed in from his station. “Yes, sir!”

“After we jump, you will have precisely one shot to take that probe
out before they can lock in on it to pursue.”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” Abe said. “I await your command.”

Bolivar spoke to Mr. Wu. “Try to put as much distance between
us and the enemy. Buy some time. I want to see how fast they are. As
soon as you have a jump solution, prepare an S.O.S. to beam to that
beacon before we jump. It’s a long shot, but I want to request any
passing dreadnought to follow our jump coordinates.”

“Captain,” Tenerife said. “Is there anything I can do?”

Bolivar glanced at Tenerife. “You can vacate my command center
and pray these cannibalistic pirates don’t rip our ship to threads and
eat us all.” He turned his back to Tenerife and kept barking orders to
his crew.

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

Now Available: Rivalry On A Sky Course (ebook)

Today, I finished and uploaded my first ebook to Barnes & Noble and Amazon. A prequel short story to The Worker Prince, Rivalry On A Sky Course tells the tale of Davi Rhii and his friends, Yao Brahma and Farien Noa, at the Borali Military Academy when a fellow cadet starts a rivalry with Davi and challenges him during the Sky Course star fighter race. Mitch Bentley graciously did the cover. The book is available on Goodreads as well. $.99 at all three. I hope you enjoy it.

Here are links:



(Barnes and Noble pending)

“I found myself thinking of stories that I read during my (misspent) youth, including Heinlein juveniles and the Jason January tales, as well as Star Trek and Star Wars.”  Redstone SF on “The Worker Prince” series