A New 5-star Review for Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales 6 edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

A new 5-star review for Space Battes: Full Throttle Space Tales 6 from Goodreads:
Eric Townsend rated it 5 of 5 stars false
Space Battles is a collection of 17 different short stories centered on, you guessed it, space battles. They each have their own unique way of displaying a battle and include anything from one-on-one gun fights, to dogfights between single ships, to even full scale assaults on battle cruisers. Space Battles has a good mix of female and male characters, and generally speaking the women kick even more tail than their male counterparts, a refreshing thing to see especially in this genre. In Space Battles you will find mixtures of humor, a wide variety of sub-genres such as Space Opera and Military Science Fiction, as well as all the action you can handle and more. You will find sentient spacecrafts and Amish space truckers, that’s right I said Amish which are shown in a way you could never imagine! There is a little something in Space Battles for everyone.The character depth is excellent despite the fact that the average length of the stories is about 15 pages or so, quite an achievement when you consider that they have to pack these short stories with as much action as you can handle as well. You have some stories that will make you laugh such as The Thirteens by Gene Mederos where a particular incident involving slippers had me in a fit of giggles. Others will make you appreciate those in the military as admirals valiantly fight to save their ship, and their way of life such as in Like So Much Refuse by Simon C. Larter. Some examine the will to live and the will to die such as in Never Look Back by Grace Bridges. I was hardly able to set the book down as each new story sent adrenaline into my system.

If you enjoy anything in the realm of science fiction this is a book I highly recommend you go out and get. The writing is excellent and if battles themselves are your thing, regardless of genre, than this book will suit your fancy just fine as well. Honestly if you just want some quick reads that are done very well Space Battles is a good choice. The characters do not suffer for the short length of the stories, even in Bait and Switch by Jaleta Clegg which is a mere eight pages! Obviously if you have read this far you can tell I thoroughly enjoyed Space Battles. I really don’t have any complaints.

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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.

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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.

Categories Uncategorized

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
console.

Another klaxon went off, and the ship shuddered under multiple
blows.

“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
side.”

“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
anything.”

“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
speakers.”

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
breath.

***
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.

Categories Uncategorized

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.

 

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SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author C.J. Henderson

If you don’t know who he is, you probably should. CJ Henderson’s story have appeared in two of the previous Full Throttle Space Tales anthologies. He’s Author Guest Of Honor alongside Cheri Priest at MileHiCon this Fall in Denver, and he’s authored seventy novels, including five novel series: Jack Hagee, Piers Knight, Teddy London, Blakely & Boles, and Dragonlord. And his numerous Rocky and Noodles short stories are just a small part of his story collection. The recipient of Honorable Mention in the 1997 Best Horror Of The Year edited by Ellen Datlow, and Best Newcomer Of The Year from the Academy of SF, Fantasy and Horror Motion Pictures, his short stories and nonfiction have appeared in  countless venues. He’s a regular contributor to the SFWA Bulletin. He can be found online at http://cjhenderson.com. His Space Battles story “Space Battle Of The Bands” continues characters and setting from other FTST stories and his Rocky and Noodles stories.

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

CJ Henderson: I got the invitation because I’d already been in “Space Pirates” and “Space Horrors.” What made me submit was that it was another opportunity for me to do a story with my continuing crew, the wacky boys and girls of the E.A.S. Roosevelt.

BTS: Tell us a little about “Space Battle Of The Bands.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

CJH: “Battle” is the sixth story I’ve done in the Rocky & Noodles series. It all started with “Shore Leave,” the first story I did for the Defending the Future, sci fi military series. They wanted me to be a part of their launch volume, “Breech the Hull.” I knew everyone involved (editor, publisher, etc), but was hesitant because I’d never done a sci fi military story before. But, finally I struck on the idea that no one said it had to be hard science, and grim battlefield blood letting. So, I wrote a story much more like a 1940’s MGM musical about two gobs on leave … just on leave on another world. It went over very well.

Then, before I knew it, Space Pirates came along, asking for a story. Well, I had felt I’d dodged a bullet, coming up with a way to be in the DtF series without doing a typical sci fi military story. And really had no thoughts of ever doing another. But, I’d had the phrase “space pirate cookies” stuck in my head for 30 years (honest) because of some silliness carried out with some pals … and it just got me skimming along. I wrote my second story in this universe, with the title “Space Pirate Cookies,” and suddenly had a second sci fi military musical comedy with no trouble, and that was kind of it. Before I knew it, I was churning out Rocky & Noodles tales for both DtF and Full Throttle on a regular basis.

For Space Horrors I did “Oh Why, Can’t I?” which was a real send-up of some of the cliche’s created by Classic Trek. Now, when Space Battles came along, the phrase “Space Battle of the Bands” popped into my head, and I was off and running again. This one didn’t have songs in it, but it was musically inclined, so I figured it was close enough. And, the characters have grown to the point where now some of the stories aren’t even musical at all. But, they’re still funny (at least, the fans say they are), so I figure I’m okay. It’s the comedy that seems to have kept people coming back for more, tracking down the other books, et cetera.

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

CJH: I started out telling stories to the other kids at night under the street light. In the 8th grade, someone said, “You ought to write stuff down,” and I did. Then, after doing 100s of stories over the next few years, when I got out of college, someone said, “You ought to send stuff out,” so I did. And that’s how it got started. Good thing I’m suggestible, or maybe nothing would have ever happened.

BTS: You’ve had quite a number of stories and novels published. Is writing your full time career?

CJH: Yeah, pretty much. There are 70 books on the shelves, hundreds and hundreds of short stories and comics published, and thousands of non-fiction pieces. So, this is what I do.

BTS: Tell us about some of your other work?

CJH: There’s so much. I mostly known these days for doing supernatural investigators. My Teddy London series (9 books) is coming back into print for the third time right now. He was my first occult detective. I’m currently working on the third book in the Piers Knight series. He’s my newest guy. He’s a curator at the Brooklyn Museum, and battles menaces from beyond with the artifacts stored in the museum.  There are other supernatural detectives, but there’s also my non-supernatural P.I., Jack Hagee. And Dragonlord, my sword and sorcery series. And Lai Wan, who is a character from the London series who got popular enough to get her own stories and comics. And Blakley & Boles, my college professors that routinely get involved with the supernatural. And my two steampunk series, and Masters of Tarot, and my continuation of “Kolchak: the Nightstalker” for Moonstone, and well … you get the idea.

I get bored working on just one series, or even one kind of story, so I find I’m always shaking things up. It just helps keep me fresh.

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

CJH: Not a novel, but Mike McPhail, the editor from DtF, who inspired the whole Rocky & Noodles thing in the first place, is keen on collecting all the stories and putting out one big book. I’ve already written some material that will go in the front to kind of set things up, and then in go all the stories. There’s already a large enough word count to almost fill a book, so what I’m working on in my spare time is a novella that will cap the book off, tie everything together, and give it a novel-like feel in the end. I’ve done this several times before. I like to give my characters a sense of closure so fans don’t feel disappointed when stories stop coming out about this or that group. That way I can always go back later, but if I don’t, people don’t get upset.

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

CJH: Well, I’m waiting for the first Masters of Tarot novel to come out right now, as well as the new “Kolchak in the Lost World,” and “The Shadow of Evil,” which is a pulp-action-adventure novel, the first new novel for the character The Spider in 65 years. He was as big as Doc Savage and the Shadow back in the day, and they have me writing a series of new adventures for him. There’s Radio City Knight, the 3rd Piers Knight novel which I’m finishing right now, and …You know, I don’t want to drive folks crazy. Just tell them to go over to www.cjhenderson.com, and check things out. There’s info about what I’m up to, and free short stories to read … oh, and if they’ve read any of my previous Full Throttle stories (or, well, anything of mine) there’s also that “Contact Us” spot. I’d love to chat with anyone who wants to tell me what they think of my stuff. I’ve got my fingers crossed that “Space Battle of the Bands” will be a crowd pleaser like the rest of the stories have been, but … well … you know, the public is in charge of that.

So, without further adieu, here’s an excerpt from “Space Battle Of The Bands”:

Space Battle of the Bands

C.J. Henderson

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, to bend a knotted oak.” ―William Congreve

“Now ya gotta admit, Noodles, that was really something cool.” The speaker was Chief Gunnery Officer Rockland Vespucci, and on a casual, or even close inspection it would have to be admitted by most anybody that he indeed had a point. Machinist First Mate Li Qui Kon, the person to whom he had been making his point, did not answer. At least not at first, which was also perfectly understandable. What they were seeing before them was a sight not oft seen by anyone.

“Rocky,” the gunnery officer’s friend said finally, his voice a whisper as had been his companion’s, “I see those understatement seminars the captain insisted you attend really have done the trick.”

As members of the crew of the E.A.S. Roosevelt, the pair of swabbies had witnessed many of the most inspiring, dreadful, and even down-right goofy things the galaxy had to offer. It was a rare moment, however, when they managed to see something that combined all three emotions so completely as the one they were sharing at that moment. The Roosevelt, as the most advanced of all Earth’s warships, was often times sent into situations merely to allow its admittedly awesome presence to be observed by others not in possession of such a presence. That particular segment of current reality in the ship’s already grand history was another one of those times.

At present, the Roosevelt and her crew were on display in the Belthis System. More specifically, they were in orbit around Belthis Prime,
one of the newest candidates for entry into the grand Confederation of
Planets, of which the Earth was the big cheese. The Roosevelt was the
ship responsible for exposing the Pan-Galactic League of Suns—the
galaxy’s former big cheeses—as somewhat of a fraud when it came to
ruling the universe. Thus the ship had earned itself the job, desired or
not, of being present at every official Confederation Entrance Ceremony
that the Confederation could manage.

At this particular ceremony, those members of the crew not on
duty were pressed up against the ship’s various view ports, or at least
crowding around a monitor with an external feed, watching as the
Belthin Navy put on a display of their weaponry. The demonstration
was part fireworks show, part how-do-you-like-them-apples, but it
was, nonetheless, most effective.

Out beyond one of Belthis’ third moon, a wide range of target
vessels had been arrayed for systematic destruction, and so far it had
been in the parlance of the average fellow, “a hell of a show.” The
Belthin ships were knocking off their objectives one after another with
an array of light beams which lit the ebony of space with a astounding
splash of interwoven colors, and something else the crew of the
Roosevelt could not quite believe.

Sound.

Yes, of course, they were all aware that sound could not travel in
a vacuum. Travel? It could not even exist. And yet, somehow the destructive
rays were slathering the area with not only color, but for lack
of a better word, music, as well.

It seemed that Belthin science had, over the centuries, developed
a defensive/offensive capability unknown anywhere else in the galaxy.
And, on the Roosevelt’s forward bridge, it was that very factor which was
the topic of conversation between the ship’s captain, Alexander Benjamin
Valance, her science officer, Mac Michaels, and a rather average looking
Belthin, DixWix Plemp, Supreme Defulator for the Regime.

“You like our ships, yes? Impressive in their furious manner, are
they not, hum? Magnificent in their ferocious demeanor, no?”

“Absolutely,” answered Valance, only being partially diplomatic
by praising the event, “it is, I must admit, one of the most outstanding
military displays I’ve ever had the privilege to witness.”

“I have to agree,” said Michaels, the all-around big-brained whiz
kid of the Roosevelt. “This branch of defensive weaponry you folks
have created has to be singularly unique in all the cosmos. I mean, I’ve
certainly never heard of anything even remotely like it.”

“It is very impressive,” added the captain. And, to be fair, he was
not just doing so to keep the oddly-shaped alien smiling. In fact, the
human contingent actually had no way of knowing if their current
could hosts could smile. The Belthins were basically a race of beings
that resembled nothing else more than a stack of meat pancakes. They
did not possess heads, persay, but heard and saw and spoke through
a variety of slits located around the summit of their conical bodies.
Their means of locomotion consisted of puckering their rounded base
and then moving by tilting themselves back and forth as they wobbled
along. Needless to say, the Belthins did not believe in stairs.

Most of them fell within the range of three to four feet tall with
few exceptions. They were also quite a symmetrical race, the majority
of them being almost exactly equal in their diameter to their height.
Indeed, the ship’s utility crew had been called upon to construct a
platform affair for the Supreme Defulator to perch upon so he might
be able to view the display along with Valance and Michaels as more
of an equal—and without looking so much like some manner of pet
waiting for one of them to take for a walk.

“Can you tell us anything about these systems, Defulator Plemp,”
asked Michaels in a clearly admiring tone. “Not looking to cart off
your secrets, of course, but … oh, seriously … how did your people
stumbled across such an astounding technology, or was it a conscious
search? And, how long ago did they do so … or was it was it merely a
lucky stumble? Did some Belthin visionary actually set out to unravel
such secrets, I mean…”

Plemp formed a hand-and-arm-like appendage with a thought,
extending it in a casual manner, gesturing with an impressively fluid
bow that he would be most happy to answer such questions. The
Defulator was not worried about revealing any of his people’s secrets.
As he explained, he was not scientist or even mechanic enough to give
away any important points about their defenses. He was, however, a
politician through and through, one dedicated to getting his race into
the Confederation of Planets and thus ready to brag about anything
Belthinian at a moment’s notice.

“We Belthins are quite ready, willing as well, to discuss such things,
yes? All our weapons have been developed, constructed, designed upon
these lines over our centuries, hum? You understand, no?”

“You’re telling me,” asked Michaels, more excited than ever,
“you have in-atmosphere weapons which work using this same basic
technology?”

“All Belthin weapons work thus, you see? You follow? From the
slightest personal protector, to our deluxe line of planet smashers …
yes? All are music to the ears, no?”

Valance and his science officer did not hesitate to agree. The Belthin
weapons were extraordinary, both in that they possessed devastating
power, and yet did not use very much energy at all to create their devastation.
And, unlike the old style nuclear weapons of Earth, they were an
utterly clean source of destruction which left no undesirable residues or
contaminants behind.

“Very long time we possess these principles, yes? But, to use in
space, new this is for us, you understand? You follow? Did not need—
did not know there was need, did not suspect, hum? You are with us,
no? You—”

“Captain,” interrupted Lieutenant Drew Cass, the weapons officer
on duty, “we’ve got three unknowns approaching the display sector.
Running silent.”

“Confirming silence is intentional, sir,” added Iris Feng, the
communications officer, “identical requests sent out in Earth 9.8,
Belthin, and Pan-Galactic—no response.”

“Defulator Plemp,” asked Valance, “any idea whose ships those
are?” Puckering violently, swelling to his full extension of some four
feet, three inches, the supreme ruler of Belthin shouted;
“These are known, yes! Enemies! Hostiles, you understand? You
know? You—”

And then, the weapons fire began, and the darkness of space
exploded in flame.

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

 

 

 

 

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Write Tip: 7 Things I Learned About Working With Editors From Editing SPACE BATTLES

In Spring 2010, I got the chance to pitch publisher David Rozansky of Flying Pen Press some anthology ideas I’d been developing and wound up hired to edit the next installment in the publisher’s long running Full Throttle Space Tales anthology series, Space Battles, which release last week, April 18. After three years now of significant work editing books, stories and now an anthology with authors, I can tell you I have come to the conclusion every writer ought to get experience being an editor. There’s so much helpful stuff to learn but this was particularly true from editing an anthology. Here’s 7 things I learned:

1 ) Meet Deadlines — As an editor, there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting on writers. If you set a deadline, particularly as I did, many months out for your project, and hardly any stories come in by deadline, you start to worry. I had invited 37 people and needed 17-19 stories, and I had 6 come in by deadline. Unsurprisingly, two of those were by my headliners Mike Resnick & Brad R. Torgersen and Jean Johnson. There’s a reason Mike Resnick gets so many awards and has such a body of work: he’s a pleasure to work with. He’s a professional. He’s reliable. You never appreciate that more than when you’re editing something like this.

2 ) Be Courteous — I invited you to submit to my anthology, in many cases because you’re friends or I like your work. Some of you expressed an interest beforehand and I honored that. Okay, then how come I can name at least 10 “friends” I’ve never heard from since? They didn’t thank me for the original invite. They didn’t respond to the reminders as deadline approach. Not a word after the post-deadline pleas for more stories. I have heard nothing. How do you think that makes me feel about their professionalism and their friendship? How likely do you think I’ll be to invite them to my next project? I leave it to you to figure that out but I’d bet it’s pretty obvious after what I said about Resnick. Resnick’s already invited to my next project.

3 ) Work With Me — Editors edit. It’s what we’re employed to do. My job is to help both your story and the anthology as a whole be the best it can be. I want us all to win. I don’t want to ruin your story, so don’t be difficult. Yeah, I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. But neither do you. When I ask for changes, I expect you to discuss it yes, but I also expect you to make the changes. If there’s something you feel strongly about, I am fair. We can discuss it. But don’t make me do it for you from stubbornness and don’t nitpick every single minor change. I had some authors who asked to keep a couple things for various reasons and I agreed because they willingly made every other change I asked for. I didn’t ask for a lot. I hate asking people to change their precious words. But sometimes it’s necessary for good reasons. One of my authors wrote enough backstory to fill several novels and his story dragged and suffered for it. He refused to make changes, even after I went through and marked stuff out for him. Most editors would have just rejected it, but I went the extra mile. I wanted to help him make it work. Then this same author kept bragging about how this was “the most brilliant story” I’d gotten of all of them. I passed. And I won’t be inviting him to future projects. I asked for a couple tweaks in Resnick & Torgersen’s story and had it back in less than 24 hours. Who would you rather work with?

4 ) Editors Want Your Story To Be Good — Not only is hard to ask writers to change their precious words, but it’s really hard to reject their stories. It broke my heart. The first story Jean Johnson subbed, I rejected. It didn’t have a core ship on ship battle in space. I did the same with trunk stories from Jay Lake, Kevin J. Anderson and Chuck Gannon. The stories were all brilliant. I’m sure they will find homes. They just didn’t fit the guidelines for this. Yes, I couldn’t believe I was rejecting stories from such talented people. But then I also rejected a couple off sub-par stories as well. And one of them was by a good friend. That was really hard. It hurt me to say it. I didn’t want to be another rejection for any writer. We get enough. I wanted their stories to be good. I wanted them all to be ready and right for the anthology. They weren’t. Thank God I chose not to do an open call. Imagine how many more painful rejections I’d have had to make? As it was, at least I could personalize and praise the good along with saying “no.” And although I know I did the right thing by saying “no,” I still wish I could have said “Yes!”

5 ) Editors Have Deadlines Too — Yeah, I set a deadline for story subs, but you know what, your missing that deadline creates issues with my deadlines for having stories picked and submitting a manuscript to the publisher. I actually had to push it back waiting for stories. How does that make me look professionally? Oh, the publisher was gracious. He understood. But if you continually put me in a spot where I can’t meet deadlines, how likely am I to want to work with you in the future?

6 ) Editors Work Hard — I don’t think you realize how much work it takes to edit until you do it. I’m not talking revision passes on your manuscript. I’m talking editing someone else’s precious work so that it comes out shiny and make everyone get the praise they deserve. It needs to not just fit with the stories around it and flow well, but you need to polish it for typos, get their name right, format it, polish it. It takes a lot of passes reading the stories and it takes a lot of time nitpicking little details. Sadly, I just the other day found a typo in one story near the end of the anthology which I should have caught. I am going to be kicking myself about that forever. I let those writers down. It’s a lot of pressure and work to not just sell the anthology to the publisher, but figure out the best story order, manage the budget wisely, recruit writers, control deadlines, meet deadlines of your own, etc. It takes work to keep fresh eyes rereading the same stories over and over because of all the details. You want to make sure they’re as good as can be and yet you’ve read them so many times it becomes a bit like editing your own work. So writers, don’t think editors have the easy job, because they don’t. And they’re reputations are dependent not just on picking great stories but lots of other factors too.

7) It Feels Just As Good — The sense of pride and accomplishment you get from seeing an anthology you edited published is not that different from that you feel when your novel comes out. It feels really good to help fellow writers achieving career goals even as you achieve your own. It feels really good to know someone finally made it into print with you. It feels good to see them published alongside respected colleagues like Mike Resnick, Jean Johnson, or David Lee Summers. It’s not entirely your own work, gestated for years, pounded through many drafts, yes, because it’s a community effort, but that doesn’t make the success of that any less different. Especially when, having finished, you feel like the writers have become better friends and people you’d welcome working with in the future and who would welcome the opportunity to work with you. And when the publisher asks you ‘what else have you got?’ Boy, that’s a great moment, too. I never looked down on editing as lesser–less of a craft, less significant than writing– but I also never realized how good it could feel to do it and see the end result published professionally. I’ve been proud of the books I edited which got published and were well received, but this pleased me more because I really played a more significant role in its creative design and overall final form by choosing stories, cover, writing intros, bios and the cover copy. It’s a really good feeling and I doubt anyone who takes it on would disagree.

Well, there’s 7 things I learned from editing Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6. What lessons have you learned from editing, working with writers, or editing others? I’d welcome comments. For what it’s worth…


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, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.

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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.

Categories Uncategorized

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.


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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).

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