science fiction

The Majestic by J.A. Dowsett – Part 1 of 9

You may have read my last sci-fi serial, The Silent Serpent, (and if you haven’t, you can find it here.) This nine-part serial meets up with that same crew as they pour every last credit they have into a new ship of their very own… The Majestic. 

***

“McGrath’s Scrapyard,” the sign overhead boldly proclaimed.

Nell eyed the rusty crooked letters cynically, This doesn’t bode well…

Once past the garbage heap-style entrance, the moderately-sized yard was entirely hidden from view by a monstrosity of a ship, rust-coloured from top to bottom as if it had lain in that exact spot for a hundred years or more. It wasn’t large as far as ships go, but ships always seemed comically oversized when parked on a planet, and this one looked like nothing more than a rusted metal turtle flipped on its back.

“Ah, there you are!” An unfamiliar voice proclaimed, causing Nell’s fur to prickle and her tail to whip about, ready to strike if needed. “I was hopin’ to show you the beauty myself, but it seems you’ve found her already.”

The man came to a stop before her. He was full human, not Terian, since his dull brown eyes had no glow. He stood maybe six feet in height, with broad shoulders, but it was clear from his paunch that if he worked here, he didn’t do any of the heavy lifting. His gruff tanned face was mostly covered by a white-laced ruddy mustache that hung from the sides of each cheek like a piece of rope glued there for comedic effect.

“Oh, where’s my manners?” He stuck out his hand. “Hank McGrath.”

Nell eyed the calloused fingers encrusted with dirt, rust, and who-knows-what-else and decided quickly she wasn’t about to touch this man, let alone shake his hand. I’ll need a sonic shower just from standing in this place, she wrinkled her nose at the sour smell of rust and garbage, no need to make it worse.

If McGrath noticed her discomfort, he made no show of it. “Ah, and you must be Captain Xendri.” Not missing a beat, the middle-aged human shifted his hand as if he had been intending to hold it out for the Koowan Captain all along as she scurried over to join them.

“Oh, is this how humans do it?” Xendri questioned, trying to position her arm to mirror McGrath’s gesture. At half his height and with limbs more suited to running and climbing, it looked a little silly when she tried to do it.

The next several minutes were lost to Hank McGrath trying to teach Xendri how humans shake hands. The part furred, part carapaced Koowan seemed fascinated by the man’s lesson and eagerly practiced the gesture half a dozen times, despite the dirt on McGrath’s hands.

This gave Quattro and Vox enough time to arrive, followed by their former Captain, James Claw. Quattro and Claw were both Terian, their purple and blue eyes respectively giving off a faint glow, noticeable even in the orange-ish light of a sunny day on Mars. Otherwise they looked to be the same species as McGrath, though supposedly there were some other subtle differences between the two variations of human. Vox, however, was a different being altogether. At nearly eight feet, he was the tallest of them all, and though he was humanoid in shape, the resemblance ended there. He stood stiffly, barely moving, and he never bothered to turn to look at you since he could see in all directions, being made entirely of a white opaque crystal.

“Good to see you, Nell.” Words came from somewhere around Vox. He didn’t have a mouth, so Nell had no idea how he managed to make vibrations, or where the sound came from exactly. “I wasn’t sure you were going to be joining us, but I’m pleased to know we will have a pilot.”

Nell shifted uncomfortably. She had considered going her own way when the last ship they were on together needed to be scrapped after unexpectedly finding itself in the middle of a firefight. But this is what I want, right? The chance to pilot my own ship?

Captain Claw managed to draw her attention back to the present. “So this is it, huh? What do you guys think?”

Nell turned to look at Claw and then followed his gaze to the rusted metal turtle. “Wait. This is our ship?”

“Ain’t she a beaut!” McGrath proclaimed.

“She’s somethin’ alright,” Quattro twisted his mouth dubiously, fighting off the urge to laugh.

“It’s… it’s…” Nell struggled to put her thoughts into words. Garbage? A Scrapheap? Junk?

“It appears to have the shape of a space-faring vessel, without the substance of one,” Vox stated. “A picture of a ship, if you will. It also appears to be far below the value in credits we provided you to build it.”

McGrath just laughed, his belly shaking up and down in a disconcerting manner. “Ah, that’s just the outside! A good coat of paint’ll fix that right up. It’s the inside that counts, my crystalline friend. Come on, lemme give you the tour.”

***

To be continued in Part 2, next week. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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It’s Launch Day! Unreachable Skies, Vol. 1, by Karen McCreedy is here!

We’ve been waiting for this day ever since the day we opened Karen McCreedy’s submission email. Sabrina, one of our slushies, was blown away by the sample of Unreachable Skies even though, and she’d be the first to tell you this, she is generally hard-pressed to like anything written with a first person point of view. She was so impressed that we decided to request the full manuscript immediately, which unfortunately left Sabrina waiting rather impatiently over a weekend for the rest of the story to be sent in.

Needless to say, the rest of the story holds up just as well as the sample did. Sabrina loved it, I loved it, and Robert also gave the thumbs up, so here we are most of a year later and the book is complete and ready for you to fall in love with it like we did.

So I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Unreachable Skies is a trilogy and Karen McCreedy’s first published novel. It’s a unique story. Not really sci-fi and not fully fantasy, it sits somewhere in between as a story set completely on its own planet with a species of people that are not human with their own traditions, history, and problems.

US1COVERedited

In a world where it is normal to fly, what happens when you can’t?

When a plague kills half the Drax population, and leaves the hatchlings of the survivors with a terrible deformity – no wings – suspicion and prejudice follow. Continuously harassed by raids from their traditional enemies, the Koth, the Drax are looking for someone, or something, to blame.

Zarda, an apprentice Fate-seer, is new to her role and unsure of her own abilities; but the death of her teacher sees her summoned by the Drax Prime, Kalis, when his heir, Dru, emerges from his shell without wings.

A vision that Dru will one day defeat the Koth is enough to keep him and the other wingless hatchlings alive – for a time. Half-trained, clumsy, and full of self-doubt, Zarda must train Dru to one day fulfil the destiny she has foreseen for him, even if it is quickly becoming clear that the Prime’s favourite adviser, Fazak, is not only plotting against the wingless, but is gaining more of Kalis’ trust by the day.

Efforts to fight prejudice and superstition are certain to lead to death for some and exile for others; while Zarda’s own journey to understanding her role in events may lead her to abandon all tradition in order to protect her peoples’ future.

Saphs Book PromotionsFollow the Book Tour: https://saphsbookpromotions.blogspot.com/2018/08/virtual-book-tour-schedule-unreachable.html

Book Information:
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Adventure – This book is targeted toward a general audience.
Page Count: 242 pages
Publish Date: August 17, 2018
Publisher: Mirror World Publishing http://www.mirrorworldpublishing.com/

Purchase Links:Amazon
Mirror World Books

Review Quotes:
“In the tradition of Ursula K. LeGuin and Anne McCaffery, with Unreachable Skies Karen McCreedy has created a nuanced alien culture populated by compelling characters.” ~ James Swallow, bestselling author

karen-mccreedy

Brought up in Staffordshire, England, Karen McCreedy now lives in West Sussex where she recently retired from the University of Chichester. She has written articles on films and British history for a number of British magazines including ‘Yours’, ‘Classic Television’, and ‘Best of British’. 

 

Karen has had a number of short stories published in various anthologies. She also won second prize in Writers’ News magazine’s ‘Comeuppance’ competition in 2014 with her short story ‘Hero’. 

 

‘Unreachable Skies’ is her first novel.

Interview with local author of The Thinking Machine, Ben Van Dongen

You may already know Ben Van Dongen from Adventure Worlds Press. He’s the other half of the collection of science fiction short stories in No Light Tomorrow, and one third of the crime fiction stories in All These Crooked Streets. Now, he’s written a pocket-sized sci-fi novella entitled, The Thinking Machine.

The Thinking Machine

The Thinking Machine

A Man and a Monster with the Same Name

In a city that spans most of the eastern seaboard, there is a creature that used to be a man. A stranger, from the shrinking wilds of the north, is called by a spirit to enter the city and destroy the abomination. The thing that shares his name. Zed.

We thought we’d ask Ben a few questions in light of his new release;

Hi Ben, what’s your ideal writing spot?

I do my best writing out of the house, often at a cafe. I go to Anchor Coffee house every day I can to get some writing done. Tim’s if Anchor isn’t open.

How Canadian of you! For our non-Canadian readers, Tim’s is shorthand for Tim Hortons, a very famous Canadian coffee shop franchise. In your opinion what’s the hardest part of writing?

The hardest part is likely a tie between starting and finishing. I tend to struggle often when I sit down to write. Sometimes I fight my way through a couple sentences before things start flowing, sometimes I take a good half hour of faffing about before I can focus. Once I get going, I am good, but starting is a grind. As for finishing, it’s usually at the point where I’m spending more time imagining the next story throughout a day than the one that needs to be finished. It takes some discipline to stay focused and power through to the end. There may be something about reaching the end of a story and not feeling like I’ve accomplished everything I set out to do, or really captured the original idea, but I’m not ready to unpack that feeling, so I’ll say it’s thinking about the next story.

Are there other books or media that you try and emulate or take inspiration from?

I get a lot of inspiration from 80s science fiction movies. I started out as a movie fanatic before discovering books. The visual elements of my stories often have some inspiration from those films. Philip K. Dick is someone who I try to, not emulate, but maybe keep in mind when I write. He was an idea focused writer and that is what first caught my attention with reading a writing. I try to make sure my ideas have something novel to them and that I don’t lose the story (or that idea) in the description or drama.

I’m also hugely inspired by music. I’m the kind of person who always has to have some music playing when I’m not doing something that precludes it (say working at the day job or watching a movie). I take a lot of time (probably too much if you look at my answer to the second question) picking out what to listen to each time I sit down to write.

Tell us a little bit about your novella, The Thinking Machine.

It’s part of an interconnected series. I tried to write something fun, fast, and with a strong idea pulling the plot along. To clarify, the idea is really a question about what makes us human, and when will technology change the definition?

Would you say you write ‘what you know’ or do you create ‘pure fancy’?

I write what I think about. Since I mostly write science fiction, there is a mix of fantasy and some science or technology rooted in reality. Sometimes that science and tech is an extrapolation I make from current theories, so I make up aspects or ignore limitations for the sake of the fantasy, but I try to have some idea of what I’m talking about. For my last story, the novella in the Crime Anthology All These Crooked Streets, I used what little I new about photography and did some research to fill in any gaps. I didn’t study photography for the sake of the story, just grounded it in some kind of reality. It’s the same with my science fiction. In The Thinking Machine, I too some current cutting edge technology, (like prosthetic eyes) and made the implants. I’m no expert in computer aided prosthetic, but I wanted to give the technology of the story some kind of realistic origin. So, my long winded cop-out answer is both.

20180311 Ben Van Dogen

Ben Van Dongen grew up in Windsor Ontario. He likes to think that if he tried harder he could have been an Astronaut, but he is happier writing science fiction anyway. He co-authored the books No Light Tomorrow and All These Crooked streets, and is one half of the founding team of Adventure Worlds Press. His newest book, The Thinking Machine, a cyberpunk novella, is out now.

You can read more of his crazy notions on his website: BenVanDongen.com

Or connect with Ben:  https://benwltp.wordpress.com/books/
https://www.facebook.com/AdventureWorldsBen/

https://www.instagram.com/benwltp/

The Patch Project by Brittni Brinn

Brittni Brinn is a local author, based out of our hometown, Windsor, Ontario. She’s written a post-apocalyptic literary science fiction novel called The Patch Project, published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Now, I should mention that The Patch Project is literary fiction, so it is a little outside of what we produce and what I usually read. That being said, we’re all about ‘outside the box’ thinking and getting outside of our comfort zones, so I gave The Patch Project a try and you should too.
patchprojectcover (1) (1)
May and Isak live on what used to be Holly Street. But when a mysterious event wipes out most of the earth’s surface, they find themselves the sole survivors of a once thriving neighbourhood. Another survivor, Ed, is stranded at a highway gas station. Pinot and Miller wander the wasteland, scrounging for supplies. Some of them have developed strange new abilities; some of them have experienced unthinkable loss. In this post-apocalyptic novella, each of them will have to come to terms with who they’ve become, and what they’ve done, in order to survive.
The Patch project, in my opinion, was more of a window into a brief period of the lives of several different characters as they each reacted to their changed circumstances, than a story in and of itself. There’s no real story arc here and every time I thought I had found one, it fizzled away. Still, the writing is compelling and the setting and characters were intriguing enough to keep me reading, wanting to understand the world they inhabit. I enjoyed individual scenes and the characters’ individual search for connection in a disconnected world. The ending also intrigued me, but I felt it was left very open-ended. It could be leaving room for a sequel, but I felt the novel would have been better served by being just a little bit longer. However, being literary fiction that’s meant to make you consider the theme long after you’ve put the book down, I don’t think that giving the reader closure was the author’s goal.
You can find The Patch Project on Amazon.com, through EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, or locally at Juniper Books.
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Brittni Brinn is a writer and playwright. She has a Masters degree in Creative Writing and Literature. Her interests include rocks kicked up by the ocean, books from friends, and comfortable sweaters. She currently lives in Windsor, along with her husband and two cats.
Facebook: Brittni Brinn @brittniinink
Instagram: @brittni_in_ink
Twitter: @brittni_in_ink

“Envy” Flash Fiction by Regan W. H. Macaulay

You may already be familiar with Regan W. H. Macaulay. We introduced her a while back as a member of the Mirror World family. She’s a children’s author and has two upcoming Children’s picture books with us. The first, Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast launches September 1st, 2018 and we’ll be revealing the cover and some of the art around the beginning of August.

Mixter Twizzle is an odd, red, round-shaped, mischievous creature.  He lives in a hovel, beneath a rustic barn, underneath the chicken coop at Riverdale Farm.  He’s a snoozing sneezer and a snoring barker; a peculiar sort that both annoys and pleases. At first, Mixter Twizzle is thrilled by his egg-gorging fests, delighting in his own wickedness, but he soon realizes he is lonely. He longs for companionship, but the hens will have nothing to do with him. Can this fiendish creature learn to make friends at the farm?

The second is another Children’s picture book called Beverlee Beaz, the Brown Burmese, and this one’s about a curious and adventurous cat who uses her imagination to get herself both into and out of trouble. Beverlee Beaz, the Brown Burmese, will be launching sometime in 2019.

In the meantime, we’ve got some flash fiction to share from Regan W. H. Macaulay. So, here goes:

ENVY

The woman pauses and heaves a sigh. She clutches a live cricket with her index finger and her thumb. It wriggles for its life, which will end shortly. Not like her life. Not like theirs.

She is the woman at the end of the universe and her time will never come. They are the creatures she looks after: the last of the Moca salamanders, the final pair of Bumble Frungit toads, a single Royal Fish of the New Siam government, and three mammals whose names are long forgotten. There are more–feeding them all is an endless and repetitious task. They are suspended in perpetual time. Immortal. Trapped. And they all eat crickets. That’s all that’s left to eat.

A Frungit toad laps the cricket from between her fingers. Squish. The toad gulps, swallows hard. The cricket is gone. The woman’s envy swells inside her like an angry flame.

rhcmacaulay-headshot

 

Regan writes novels, short stories, children’s literature and scripts. Writing is her passion, but she’s also a producer and director of theatre, film and television. She is an animal enthusiast as well, which led her to become a certified canine (and feline) massage therapist.

You can connect with Regan on her website: https://reganwhmacaulay.weebly.com/

 

Cover Reveal: Unreachable Skies, Vol.1, by Karen McCreedy

All of us here at Mirror World are super excited about this upcoming release! Unreachable Skies is Karen McCreedy’s first novel and it is the first in a fantasy/sci-fi trilogy. Yes, you read that right, this is a cross-genre story. It’s set entirely on another world with no humans in sight. The natives of this world are beasts that can fly, until a plague leaves their surviving hatchlings wingless, sending their very-traditionally ordered lives into uncertainty and chaos. Zarda is an apprentice fate-seer tasked with leading her people through this dark and tumultuous time.

Volume One will launch August 17th, and we hope to bring you the rest of the trilogy over the next couple of years.

Without further ado, here’s the beautiful cover: US1COVERedited.jpg

On a world where it is normal to fly, what happens when you can’t?

When a plague kills half the Drax population, and leaves the hatchlings of the survivors with a terrible deformity – no wings – suspicion and prejudice follow. Continuously harassed by raids from their traditional enemies, the Koth, the Drax are looking for someone, or something, to blame.

Zarda, an apprentice Fate-seer, is new to her role and unsure of her own abilities; but the death of her teacher sees her summoned by the Drax Prime, Kalis, when his heir, Dru, emerges from his shell without wings.

A vision that Dru will one day defeat the Koth is enough to keep him and the other wingless hatchlings alive – for a time. Half-trained, clumsy, and full of self-doubt, Zarda must train Dru to one day fulfil the destiny she has foreseen for him, even if it is quickly becoming clear that the Prime’s favourite adviser, Fazak, is not only plotting against the wingless, but is gaining more of Kalis’ trust by the day.

Efforts to fight prejudice and superstition are certain to lead to death for some and exile for others; while Zarda’s own journey to understanding her role in events may lead her to abandon all tradition in order to protect her peoples’ future.

Pre-Order is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Unreachable-Skies-Vol-Karen-McCreedy-ebook/dp/B07F4KX451/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1531687097&sr=8-1&keywords=Karen+McCreedy

Or in our Online store: https://mirror-world-publishing.myshopify.com/collections/poetry/products/unreachable-skies-vol-1-ebook

Unreachable Skies: Vol. 1 – Paperback

Or wherever you prefer to buy books.

karen-mccreedy

About the Author:

Brought up in Staffordshire, England, Karen McCreedy now lives in West Sussex where she works at the University of Chichester.

She has written articles on films and British history for a number of British magazines including ‘Yours’, ‘Classic Television’, and ‘Best of British’.

Karen has had a number of short stories published in various anthologies. She also won second prize in Writers’ News magazine’s ‘Comeuppance’ competition in 2014 with her short story ‘Hero’.

‘Unreachable Skies’ is her first novel.

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – FINALE (part 6)

Nell banked left, into the laser fire. The Silent Serpent rolled and Claw fell on top of Xendri, knocking her to the wall, which was now, or at least for the moment, the floor. There was another shudder as the laser-fire struck the ship. Xendri closed her eyes, thinking this was the end, but after one heartbeat and then another, they were still flying.

Claw was climbing off Xendri as the ship righted itself once more.

“What happened?” Xendri questioned struggling to her feet.

Instead of answering, Nell simply tapped the scanner screen with her metal-tipped tail. Xendri climbed onto the back of the pilot’s chair to be able to see over Claw’s shoulder. Below them, or was it above now? Xendri could never really tell, in space, and besides, Nell was still pulling them away and maneuvering deftly to keep any of the rest of the shots being fired from hitting them. Somewhere away from them, a mangled-looking version of their cargo bay dropped with what seemed like agonizing slowness toward the Delkrit city.

There was a moment of anticipatory silence and then the scanners lit up, reporting the explosions, one after the other, as the bombs caused a cascade reaction within the Delkrit vessel. Captain Claw let out an unexpected whoop, breaking the silence as he thrust his fist in the air. “Good job, Nell! Now get us out of here as fast as you can!”

Nell nodded, trying to catch her breath now that adrenaline was no longer ruling her. “Got it, Captain.”

Xendri just blinked, feeling shaken. The turret’s laser fire had come within inches of hitting their armed cargo and blowing them all to bits and pieces, and instead it had hit the stubborn clamp, freeing the bombs and saving their lives.

It occured to her in that instance that out in space, survival was balanced on the head of a pin. And if nothing else, Xendri intended to survive.

***

Two days later, the Silent Serpent landed safely on Mars with only a skeleton crew left, the rest having been asked politely to depart at the last station they’d passed through.

“I’m selling the ship,” Captain Claw announced to the few of them that remained. “Vox, excellent work setting up the gold exchange on Denain. With what we’ve made, split up evenly between us, plus the sale of the Silent Serpent to the scrapyard, I’ll have enough to retire.”

Xendri blinked a few times, confused. “What about the rest of us?”

“Well, that’s up to you, of course,” Claw allowed, “but I’m thinking that with your cuts combined, you might just have enough to buy a ship of your own, or cobble one together from used parts, at least. I’d be willing to help put you in touch with the right people.”

“But who’d be Captain?” Quattro asked the pertinent question.

“Not me,” Nell said. “I’m not the ‘Captaining’ type. I’ll happily fly whatever, wherever you tell me to, but I’d just as easily catch a ride on the next ship out of here.”

Vox, Xendri, and Quattro looked around at each other, but when Vox said nothing, Quattro and Xendri both spoke at the same time, drowning one another out.

“Listen, you don’t need to decide now,” Claw suggested. “Why don’t you sleep on it for the night? We can meet in the morning at the scrapyard to go over the options and the numbers.”

Claw’s authority still ingrained in them, they filed out, talking amongst themselves. All but Xendri. She lingered behind, watching Captain Claw. Finally his eyes fell on her and she mustered up the courage to ask, “What makes a good Captain?”

Claw smiled, his expression wistful, “The best kind of Captain is one who asks questions like that,” he told her, adding after a beat, “You’ll figure it out.”  

“Me?” Xendri was taken aback by his endorsement.

“Vox and Nell don’t want it, and Quattro really wouldn’t make a good Captain, so that leaves you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not only that you’re the only logical choice, you’ve got the spark, I can see it. You want to know what’s out there, what lies beyond the next Jump Gate, and the one after that.”

Xendri found herself nodding. “That’s why I left home.”

Claw put a hand on Xendri’s carapaced shoulder. “I think ‘Captain Xendri’ has a nice ring to it, don’t you?”

To be continued… 

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 5

Here’s Part 5 of my sci-fi short story! If you haven’t started yet, click here to read from the beginning. Part 2 is here, Part 3 and of course, Part 4. Now that you’re all caught up, keep reading! 

***

“Identify yourself.” The words came sharply through the Silent Serpents’ speakers.

“Olympus, this is Captain James Claw of the Silent Serpent. We’re a small cargo vessel, but we happen to be carrying cargo that may be of use to you against the Delkrit.”

There was a pause. “What kind of cargo?”

“Explosives,” Captain Claw answered and Xendri flinched, knowing the Terran ship wouldn’t be too happy to hear that. The Council was really particular when it came to transporting weapons and the Terrans, or humans as they usually called themselves, basically ran the Council.

“Captain, I’m sure you’re aware of the law regarding-”

“They were a delivery meant for the mine on Elu,” James cut the person off. “Perfectly legal. I even have a manifest signed by the mine’s owner requesting the delivery. However, I think, under the circumstances…”

There was another pause. “Yes, I think you’re right, Captain. Under the circumstances, it would be your duty to use everything at your disposal to defend the system. I’ll make a note of your sacrifice, so that the owners of this mine can file for insurance.”

“Thank you, Olympus,” Claw said, grinning now. Xendri raised a brow in his direction.

“Captain, will you be dropping these explosives of yours off to us?”

Instead of answering immediately, Captain Claw met Nell’s eyes questioningly. The pilot settled her nerves by taking in a deep breath and then nodded to the Captain, some silent exchange taking place between the two of them. Xendri wasn’t sure what it was or what her place was in all this, but she was fascinated and couldn’t tear her eyes away from the action unfolding before her.

“That won’t be necessary, Olympus,” Claw said then, squeezing Nell on the shoulder. “We’ll manage.”

“Best of luck, Silent Serpent, and thank you for your help. Olympus out.”

Xendri heard a growling sound behind her and she whirled around to see the Silent Serpent’s main pilot, a burly-looking orange-skinned Jorn male, his short horns pointed. As soon as she made eye contact with him, his expression contorted as his growl cut off and he spun on his heel, taking off back into the ship. Ahead of Xendri, Nell started at the sound, trying to whirl around to see what was going on behind her, but Captain Claw squeezed tighter on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about him. Keep your focus on the task ahead.”

Nell nodded again, squaring her shoulders and taking a few more deep breaths as she gripped the steering column firmly with both paws.

“Xendri, shut that door and don’t let anybody through it, alright?” Claw ordered.

Spurring into motion, Xendri dove for the door mechanism and sealed the cockpit away from the rest of the ship. Abruptly it was just the three of them cramped into a very small space facing a Delkrit platform and a swirling mass of ships and weapons fire; the rest of the ship felt very far away.

“Here goes,” Nell announced suddenly and the Silent Serpent surged forward at its maximum velocity toward the dreaded machine-city.

To his credit, Captain Claw hung on to the back of Nell’s chair and said nothing; he just let the Pentaurii pilot do her job. Despite Xendri feeling like she was staring down the barrel of a gun as they hurtled toward the massive metal structure, flying like this was exhilarating. It was one thing to go fast in a Jump tunnel where there was little danger of anything going wrong and even less danger of hitting anything. It was quite another to go full speed while surrounded by chaos and to dive headfirst toward something much larger and much deadlier than you. It made her feel powerful and fearless, even though she wasn’t even the one piloting the vessel.

Thankfully the Enbi fighters were still drawing most of the fire, but the Silent Serpent still shook with the force of their passage and occasionally with the graze of a laser scraping the hull. Xendri could smell smoke and she wondered if being sealed away in the cockpit kept them from realizing how much damage the ship was really taking.

Nell weaved, getting in as close as she could, her tail hovering over the control panel as if she might need a third limb just to get the ship to do what she wanted it to do. She deliberately positioned the Silent Serpent to pass in the space between two enemy turrets. Those turrets were currently occupied, firing doggedly at the swarm of Enbi, but at any moment they could swing around and obliterate them.

“Now,” Captain Claw commanded, the authority clear in his voice.

Nell’s tail swiped downward like a scorpion striking, hitting a button on the control panel. Xendri heard the mechanism in the ship click and it was the sound that clued her in to what they were attempting to do. The button was meant to unlock the clamps that held their detachable cargo bay in place. Nell made to reach to her right for the lever that would physically detach the arms and release the cargo bay, bombs and all, onto the unsuspecting Delkrit ship below, but Captain Claw beat her to it. He pulled hard on the mechanism and it wrenched downwards with an audible whine. Nell didn’t wait for confirmation; she pulled upward on the steering column to send them up and away so the bombs could do their work.

But the cargo bay didn’t detach.

At least, not all at once. There was a horrible shudder accompanied by the sound of tearing metal, as the top of the ship went one way and the cargo bay tried to go another. A shared look of horror crossed all three of the faces in the cockpit as they collectively realized what had gone wrong; one of the clamps hadn’t let go.

And that was only the first sign that their luck had run out. As they passed too close to the Delkrit turrets, the weapons locked onto them as the biggest and most dangerous thing in sight. Two guns, each one almost the size of their entire ship, visibly cocked back as they prepared to fire.

Xendri gasped, watching the laser shoot straight for them.

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 4

If you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, follow the links. Otherwise, read on! (This is a sci-fi short story by J.A. Dowsett that you don’t want to miss!) 

***

The Silent Serpent surged out of the Jump Gate into regular space and slowed immediately, though still moving far faster than the well-worn ship could have managed under its own power. Nell was back in the pilot’s chair and Xendri stood behind her, eager to see another new region of space. However, no sooner had Nell caught sight of what awaited them in this sector did her gold-flecked black fur stand on end. Whipping her tail around, she used the metal tip to tap the button that allowed her access to the ship-wide communications system, setting it to high-alert, while every other part of her remained focused on the ship’s controls.

“Xendri,” Nell said, tension making her voice clipped, “get the Captain. We have a problem.”

Before Xendri could so much as turn around, Nell knocked the controls forward and the old cargo vessel lurched, nose pointed downwards. Weapons fire was visible in the cockpit’s narrow window, but it made no sound until it grazed the side of the vessel, where it sounded like metal grinding against metal and sparks.

Xendri’s breath caught in her throat, but she didn’t let the stop her. “Captain!” she yelled into the rest of the ship as she exited the cockpit, clinging to any handholds she could find on the ship’s metal interior.

Captain James Claw stumbled into view just as Nell was righting the ship once more, sending the Terian shoulder-first into a metal wall. “What’s the prob-” He stopped mid-sentence, cleary able to see the issue for himself.

Xendri turned around to see what he was looking at and she finally was able to understand fully what Nell had grasped in those first few seconds out of the gate. It wasn’t just one ship firing at another or some sort of defense system they were on the wrong side of. They’d entered into an active warzone.

Ships of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions flew this way and that, defending the gate and the nearby space station from the largest ship in the area, which looked less like a ship and more like a floating platform atop which sat a silent, technologically advanced city. It was massive, as large as the space station itself and oddly square in shape, not like most of the vessels that flew around it. It was also…lifeless-looking. There were a few minor lights here or there, mostly near the guns, but otherwise the vessel was dark and unornamented as it drifted slowly through space.

“Delkrit,” Captain Claw whispered as he pushed absent-mindedly past Xendri.

Even being from one of the more remote corners of the galaxy, Xendri recognized the word. Everyone had heard of the Delkrit, though it was rare for anyone to have seen one, let alone survived to tell about it. They were the modern-day boogeyman. Tales that were told about the horrors that lurked out in the black of space to keep pilots and captains from venturing too far out into the uncharted parts of the galaxy. Not exactly a race, or even alive in the traditional sense, the Delkrit were machines with an AI hive mind programmed for one thing: to destroy all organic life. They were said to be the scourge of the galaxy.

Despite herself, Xendri followed the Captain back into the cockpit and squeezed herself beneath the wall and his arm so she could see what was going on. Nell had brought the ship around to join with the multitude of ships that were arrayed in a semi-organized fashion in their united goal to keep the Delkrit from destroying the gate. No matter which race this sector belonged to, the Delkrit were everybody’s enemy, and if the gate fell anyone within it would be stranded somewhere between here and the gate they left from, with no way to know how far they’d been tossed off course. And that was if they survived the gate’s collapse at all. It wasn’t lost on Xendri that had they not exited the gate when they did, that could easily have been their fate. As a spacefaring vessel, they owed it to whomever might be travelling through that gate to do what they could to ensure it didn’t shut down unexpectedly.

“Captain?” Nell questioned.

“You have any skill with guns?” Claw asked her and she nodded without taking her eyes off the task ahead of her. “Then use your best judgement,” he told her.

Xendri held her breath as Nell brought the Silent Serpent within firing range and strafed to the left, using the ship’s lasers for all they were worth. She left a few small explosions in her wake and managed to avoid being shot out of the sky. Xendri allowed herself to breathe again only when they were again skirting away from the horrifying cold and impersonal-looking Delkrit city, which fired at them only because its sensors detected their proximity, not because it ‘felt threatened’ or even felt anything at all. Xendri shuddered.

Just then, a team of Enbi ships swooped past them, so close their sudden appearance took Xendri’s breath right back out of her and Captain Claw swore audibly. Tiny one-man vessels, the Enbi fighter-ships were like a swarm of bees compared to the Delkrit city and just as angry, but as Xendri learned a moment later, they weren’t what had Nell or the Captain’s attention.  

“Shit, is that a Terran dreadnought?”

Between one breath and the next, by far the largest ship Xendri had ever seen popped into the sector, blocking out her view of this system’s sun. It was easily the width of the Delkrit vessel, if not wider, and it towered upwards as well, like a giant ark without sails. The words, ‘The Olympus’ were painted on the side, each letter easily the size of their own meager cargo ship.

“Wait, that gives me an idea,” Claw declared. “Nell, open up a communication to that Terran vessel.”

Nell’s eyes went wide at the command, but she followed it and hailed the Terran ship, even as she kept them moving, so as to make a difficult target for Delkrit guns.

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 1

It’s time for another short story! This one’s not a pre-quel, or attached to any book at all, it’s a stand-alone sci-fi adventure following a group of characters that have been bouncing around in my head for a while. Please, enjoy! For more about me, just look around, or check our authors page here. 

***

The Silent Serpent hurtled through space at a speed only made possible by Jump technology. The old cargo hauler shuddered in protest at the velocity, but the pilot, Nell, paid the vessel no mind. Instead, her golden-green cat eyes were narrowed lazily over the cards in her hand as she deliberated her next play, her metal-tipped tail twitching idly.

Xendri watched her carefully, but the black and gold tortoiseshell cat, or Pentaurii as her race was called, gave nothing away by her expression; she was good at this game. Nell played the Queen of Spades, placing it on the foldout tray between them in the cockpit. Xendri frowned, looking between the cards at play and the ones in her hand before realizing all of a sudden that she’d been outmaneuvered. There was no way she could win now.

Xendri clicked her tongue in displeasure, speaking a few less-than-polite words in her native language before standing. “I’m going to check on the cargo.”  

“Cargo?” Nell questioned. “We’re mid-jump. It’s not going anywhere.”

“Yeah, but I haven’t seen it yet.”

Nell rolled her eyes. “Suit yourself.” Yawning, she put her hand of cards down as she turned to inspect the ship’s controls, absently going through the motions her job as thes ship’s secondary pilot required.

Xendri left her there and swung out into the main body of the ship, nimbly making her way to the ladder that led down into the detachable cargo bay.   

“Hey, Kiddo,” a deep male voice rumbled, catching her off guard. “Where you goin’?”

Looking up, Xendri found one of the loaders, a human man named nicknamed Quattro, looking at her curiously. He was much taller than her, six feet to her four, well-muscled, and he wore a impressive-looking pistol on his belt. Despite all that, there was no malice in his expression or in his glowing purple eyes, so she decided to let the ‘nickname’ he’d chosen for her slide, for now.

“Looking around,” she answered briefly. “Stretching my legs.”

Quattro nodded. “Yeah, gets a little boring in Jump-space, doesn’t it? Alright, go on then. Can’t hurt nuthin’.”

But Xendri wasn’t listening to him any longer; her eyes had fixated on the other device his belt contained. “Hey, can I borrow that?” she asked, gesturing with her chin.

Quattro looked down, confused. “You mean the scanner?” He unhooked it and tossed it to her. “Sure thing, Kiddo, knock yourself out.”

Xendri nodded, catching and pocketing the device before scurrying down the ladder, dismissing the burly loader from her thoughts. She took the ladder rungs two at a time and jumped the rest of the way to the floor of the cargo bay, landing gracefully on all fours before standing and making sure she was alone. The cargo bay was quiet; the only sound the occasionally creak to remind her that they were still moving very very fast, even if the floor beneath her feet felt stationary. She tapped the metal-plated floor with her foot as if to test the artificial gravity, but it felt the same as standing on any other surface. Space travel was weird that way, the universe had no up and down, but people made their own. Xendri wasn’t sure she’d ever really get used to it. She shrugged and pulled the scanner device out of her pocket, fiddling with the dials and buttons until she got the display to show what she wanted.

Walking slowly between the long cargo containers that filled the bay, Xendri let the scanner device do its thing, even going so far as to climb on top of one of the massive containers to scan closer to the middle.

“That’s odd,” Xendri muttered after some time spent in contemplation of what the hand-held device was telling her.

Eyes still on her findings, Xendri climbed back down off the crate, then back up the ladder to the rest of the ship. There was no sign of Quattro, but she wasn’t looking for him anyways; she went straight for the Captain’s quarters.

To be continued…