Our congratulations to Kevin Z. Garvey, winner of eSpec Books’ January Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention

Anton Kukal – Stellar Sacrifice

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at:


Time Pilot

Kevin Z. Garvey

Time pilot Tommy Garfield looked at his black Casio G-shock watch. It was 10:15 pm on a Friday night. In just 45 minutes, he’d be taking his first official time-flight into the future. And when he landed, the world would be a much different place.

Tommy was standing out on his back porch, looking up at the night sky. It was a brilliant night, clear and bright with stars. Tommy gazed at the constellations, recognizing many of them from his cell phone’s Google Sky app.

The screen door behind him squeaked open. Mission Commander Bradley Garfield joined his son on the porch.

“Hi, Tommy. Ready for your first time flight?”

Tommy looked at his watch again. “T-minus 39 minutes,” he said. “And counting.”

Tommy and his dad surveyed the night sky.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Commander Garfield said. “So clear. So many stars. On a night like this you can see why our galaxy is called the Milky Way.”

“There’s the Big Dipper,” Tommy said, pointing toward Ursa Major.

“Well, enjoy it while you can. Because when you land in the future, not a single one of those stars is going to be visible. No constellations, no planets…nothing but one giant star blotting out everything else.”

Tommy nodded. “Shining so bright you can’t even stare at it without going blind.”

Commander Garfield smiled. “You’re not scared, are you?”

Tommy made a face. “I’m a time pilot, Dad.”

Garfield laughed. “That’s my boy.”


 The kitchen smelled of fresh baked goodies.

Tommy and his dad sat at the table, eagerly anticipating dessert.

“Brownies!” Tommy exclaimed when he mom placed a tray of chocolatey goodness down in front of him.

“They’re big, so you only get one each,” she said. “And that’s an order.”

 After Tommy and his dad devoured their treats, it was time to get serious. They looked at their watches.

“T-minus 7 minutes,” Tommy said. “And counting.”

“Let’s do this,” Commander Garfield said.

Tommy leaped off his chair and kissed his mom. Then he and Garfield raced upstairs, to where the time jet awaited.


Tommy went through his pre-flight time jump routine, which began with the brushing of his teeth. Afterwards, he went into his room, where the time jet was housed, changed into his time-flight suit and hopped aboard. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was now less than T-minus 1 minute and counting.

Mission Commander Garfield glanced at his own watch. “Ready for takeoff?” he asked.

“Ready, sir!” said Tommy, lying back, eyeing his watch. “T-minus fifteen seconds!”

“Give me the countdown.”

“T-minus ten seconds…nine…eight…”

“Ignition set,” Commander Garfield said. The lights went out. “All systems go.”


“Initiating time flight guidance systems.” A dim light illuminated the room. “Ready for takeoff.”

“…two…one…” A beeping sound from his watch told Tommy that zero hour had arrived. “Ignition!” he said.

“Blast off!” Commander Garfield said. “Prepare for sonic boom! See you in the future!”

Slam! Tommy jumped at the sound of the sonic boom. And then all was quiet. He was alone now, in his time-jet, hurtling through space and time. He closed his eyes, knowing that within minutes he would be entering a state of suspended animation, one that would last until his watch beeped again. And the future became the present.

Soon he felt himself drifting off…


Tommy’s watch beeped. His eyes popped open. Sunlight streamed through his bedroom window, proof that he was in the future.

He hopped off his time jet, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, washed his face, brushed his teeth, and went downstairs to the mission debriefing facility.

His mother and father were at the table, drinking coffee.

“Hey, Tommy,” his dad said. “How was the flight?”

Tommy grinned. “Mission accomplished.”

“Would you like some toast?” his mother asked.

“Can I have a brownie instead? Please?”

His mom made a face.

“Pretty please?”

Tommy mom smiled. She went to the counter and came back with a brownie on a plate.

“Thanks, Mom!”

“Are you ready for the mission debriefing?” asked Commander Garfield.

Tommy bit into the brownie and held up a forefinger as he chewed. After a big swallow: “Ready!”

“Okay. First question is: How far into the future did you travel?”

Tommy looked at his watch. He’d taken off at 11 pm, and it was now 9 am. He counted in his head. “Ten hours,” he said.

“And what changes have taken place in that time period?”

Tommy thought about that for a moment. “Well, the stars are gone.”

Commander Garfield tilted his head from side to side. “Not gone exactly, but certainly out of sight. For now at least.”

“Until the sun goes down,” Tommy said, and took another bite of his brownie.

“And not only did you travel through time on your flight,” he told Tommy, “you also traveled through space as well. How far do you think you went?”

Tommy shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Take a guess.”

“A million miles?”

Commander Garfield chuckled. “That’s not a bad guess actually. But believe it or not, you traveled much further than that.”

“I did?”

Tommy’s eyes went wide. “Really?”

“Absolutely. Let’s break it down. Now, as you know, the Earth spins around on its own axis. That’s how day turns to night and night to day. How long does it take to complete one full rotation?”

“That’s easy,” Tommy said. “Twenty four hours.” He took another bite of his brownie.

“Correct,” his dad replied. “And since the Earth is so big, it has to be moving pretty darn fast to complete one full rotation in just twenty four hours.”

“How fast?”

“Over 1000 miles per hour.”


“Exactly. But that’s nothing. Because in addition to rotating, the Earth is also revolving around the sun, which is why we have seasons.”

“It takes one year to go around the sun,” Tommy said.

“Correct again. Do you know how fast we’re moving?”

Tommy chewed thoughtfully on a piece of brownie, then shrugged.

His dad smiled. “67,000 miles per hour.”

“Wow!” Tommy said.

“But that’s nothing either,” Commander Garfield said. “Because the entire solar system is revolving around the center of the Milky Way. Care to guess how fast we’re moving in that direction?”

Tommy thought about that for a moment, but couldn’t come up with an answer.

“514,000 miles per hour,” Commander Garfield said.

Tommy’s eyes went wide. “That’s too fast!”

“But that’s nothing either.”

“There’s more?” Tommy said, and started laughing.

“There sure is,” replied Commander Garfield. “Because the galaxy is moving too. About as fast as the solar system: a half a million miles per hour.”

Tommy’s jaw dropped.

“That’s amazing,” his mom said.

“So every hour,” Commander Garfield said, “we move about a million miles through space. How many miles do we move in ten hours?”

Tommy calculated in his head. “Ten million miles!”

“Crazy, isn’t it?”

“It sure is!”

“But that’s not all,” Commander Garfield said. “There are plenty of other changes taking place as we fly into the future. Did you know that there are four babies born every second?

Tommy shook his head. “There are?”

“Yep. And if you do the math, it turns out that, during your time flight, there were about 150,000 babies born.”

“That’s a lot of diapers,” Tommy’s mom said.

“That’s a lot of poopy diapers!” Tommy said.

Garfield laughed. “And that’s just people. Think of all the animals born, all the fish, insects…spiders.”

“I hate spiders!” Tommy said.

“Every second of every day,” Garfield went on, “enormous change takes place. And that’s just on Earth. Who knows what’s happening on other planets.”

“Other planets?”

“Sure. Scientists are finding Earth-like planets all over the universe now. And on some of those planets, there might even be intelligent creatures. Creatures like us, with hopes and dreams and laughter and tears…”

“And poopy diapers!” Tommy said.

His mom and dad laughed. “Exactly.”

The three of them fell silent for a few moments, contemplating what they’d just discussed.

“So,” Garfield said, breaking the spell. “Did you enjoy our little time pilot game?”

“I did,” Tommy said. “A lot.”

“What was your favorite part?”

Tommy didn’t hesitate. “The sonic boom!”

His dad laughed. “I slammed your bedroom door pretty hard, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did,” Tommy’s mom said with mock anger.

Garfield winked at his wife. “The good news is that real time travel doesn’t require a sonic boom.”

“I want to play it again,” Tommy said.

“Actually,” Garfield said, “you’re playing it right now. We’re all time pilots, Tommy. We’re all flying into the future, one second at a time. Pretty cool, huh?”

“That’s chill!” Tommy said, and popped the last of his brownie into his mouth.

His mom went to the refrigerator. “Here’s something else that’s chill,” she said, returning with an ice cold carton of milk.

“I’m glad there’s milk in the future!” Tommy said, draining his glass.

His parents laughed. Then the three of them, along with everyone else in the world, continued on with their journey into space-time.



Our congratulations to Ramon Rozas III, winner in eSpec Books’ December Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention

Anton Kukal – Heroic Intentions
Michelle N. Palmer – The Verona Tapes
Christopher J. Burke – Sin Cafe

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at:



Ramon Rozas III

“Master Austin, sir,” Honeywell said.

“Excellent!” the tall man in the suit said.  He rose from behind his desk as Honeywell showed Austin into the cavernous, glass-walled, two-story office atop the tallest skyscraper in New York.  The tall man nodded.  “You may leave us, Honeywell.”

“Certainly, sir.” The assistant exited the office.

Bruce Kincaid, by most calculations the richest man in the world, considered the young man before him.  “Hello, son.  How old are you now?  Eighteen?”

Austin Kincaid shook his head.  “Seventeen, sir.  Eighteen in two months.”  He knew his father never forgot anything.  This was just a show – too bad Austin saw right through it.

“Ah.  So, to what do I enjoy this visit in New York?”

Austin shuffled his feet.  “Well, sir, I wanted to discuss my college choices with you.”

The senior Kincaid repressed a smile at Austin’s show of nerves.  His son was never nervous.  Too bad Bruce saw right through him.  “So what are your choices?”

“MIT or Stanford, sir.  Or the Lenin Institute in Novosibirsk, Russia.  There are several excellent underrated geneticists there and the local restrictions on…experiments are less taxing.”

Bruce shrugged.  “Wherever you attend, I will ensure you have a private lab free of complications.  What are the pros and cons of your remaining choices?”

Austin ran through his list.  His father nodded along.

“An adequate analysis,” Bruce said, studying Austin.  “Was there something else?”

More faux hesitancy. “I did consider taking a year off to simply work my way around the world.”

“Hmm.  While your mother has done an appropriate job raising you, your opportunities to observe social interactions amongst the public at large has been limited.”


“I am sure you have deduced after all these years that your mother is an employee, Austin – paid quite handsomely to ensure your upbringing.  And she has done exactly as I anticipated.”

“Why aren’t you coming to my graduation?” Austin blurted out without preparation.

Bruce held out a hand, palm up.  “What is the one resource you can never buy, borrow, beg, or steal, Austin?”

Austin blinked twice.  “Time, sir?”

Bruce held up one finger.  “Correct.  I have important plans, Austin, to which I have dedicated all of my time, my will, and my not-inconsiderable-intellect.”  The elder Kincaid turned from his desk and moved slightly toward the wide, transparent wall behind him through which one could see the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan Harbor.

“The…peasants of this world need to be shaped, Austin.  They –”

Austin launched himself at his father’s back, working loose the razor-sharp knife he had made himself from his hidden thigh sheath.

The elder Kross made a twirling gesture with his left hand without turning around.

Two taser darts shot from the dark metal desk and struck Austin in each thigh.  With a crackle of electricity, he fell to his knees, knife still pointed at his father in his frozen hand.  He shuddered as the voltage flowed through him.

Bruce turned and walked over to his shaking son.  He considered his elbow and then drove it into Austin’s jaw.  His son collapsed fully to the floor.

Bruce turned off the current, kicked the knife from Austin’s now-loose grip, and dragged his son to the settee near his desk.  He ripped open Austin’s shirt, revealing a plastic wrapping around his chest.  Bruce tapped it lightly.  “Body armor?”

“Bio-film based,” Austin gasped.  “Hardens when certain chemical triggers issue.”

“Went right through my scanners,” Bruce said admiringly.  He pulled the taser prongs out of his son’s legs.  “Too bad I aimed low.”

He called for Honeywell, who came with a first aid kit.

Bruce Kincaid stood, wiping his hands on his immaculate suit trousers and considered his son.  “I am relieved, Austin – I thought you would never try.”

Austin waved Honeywell’s hand, with a compress, away from his bleeding chin.  “Why? What is this?” he said.

Bruce walked back over to the broad, giant glass wall, surveying New York.  “I have plans, Austin – grand plans.  And I have everything I need, except one thing.”  He turned on one heel back to his son and raised his index finger.  “Time.  I cannot finish in my lifetime, so I must make sure that my successor is prepared, educated, and hardened.”  He dropped the finger and pointed at Austin.  “You will try to kill me again, and again and again.  You will gather resources, allies, strategies and become wise in doing so.  One day you will succeed.”

Bruce spread his arms wide.  “And that day, you will be ready for all of this to be yours.”

Austin rose shakily to his feet.  “All of this is just – shaping me? Making me your tool? My mother? My teachers? Friends?”

“You will be Alexander to my Phillip, Austin.   And the world will tremble at your feet.”

Austin was trembling.  Suddenly he was shouting. “You’ve taken everything from me!  Family! Friends!  I HATE YOU!”

Bruce smiled.  “Excellent.  Take that hate – shape it.  Use it.”  He turned back to the cityscape.  “Honeywell, show my son to the infirmary and then make arrangements for the plane to take him home.”

“Of course, sir.”

“Oh, and Austin – what have you decided about college?” he asked without turning toward his son.

Austin was breathing heavy.  “Stanford…sir.  I don’t have time to travel the world.”

Bruce nodded, smile still on his face.

Honeywell escorted Austin out.

Kincaid touched his watch.  He deserved a small indulgence.  Perhaps Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings?  He tapped in the command and the music swelled in the vast office as he watched the tiny dots scurry about below.




Isaac Asimov, the father of science fiction, was born on January 2nd, 1920. In honor of this great man, this month’s theme is Science Fiction. You have a maximum of 1920 words. Deadline: January 31.

Click here to learn more about Isaac Asimov.

Entries should be mailed to as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit for a list of titles.



Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burke, winner in eSpec Books’ November Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention
Anton Kukal – The Broken Boy

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at:


Surveying the Void
Christopher J. Burke

Martinez sat in the pilot’s seat, like she did for sixteen hours every day, staring into the inky black void between the stars. The rest of the time she spent lying in her bunk a few feet away in the back of the small cabin or in the cylindrical shower stall across from it. Next to the stall was a mini-galley, containing the dwindling supply of rations and an increasing number of plastic bags, filled of the refuse of many meals gone by, and sealed with duct tape.

The instruments hummed quietly, powered mainly by sunlight eight hours old. Sensors were always on the lookout for stray comets and odd plutinos. However, most of the time, they just dutifully recorded what scarce invisible particles could be found in that vast nothingness of space. Not that there was anything wrong with that—or the equipment, for that matter. Nothing is a data point, too. A boring one, but still data. Everyone knew there would be more zeroes than ones out here. And all those bits were being strung together to form a digital environmental map of the region just beyond the outer Kuiper Belt.

Some days, the dull, tedious monotony had her wishing for, say, aliens to appear from a hyperspatial wormhole and demand an audience with her Queen. But she would settle for a stray asteroid crossing her path like a black cat on Friday the 13th.

Not that the occasional icy, space rock hadn’t crossed her path. The bigger ones were identified, observed, photographed, scanned, and catalogued. Smaller ones, as large as bowling balls but much more massive, could be collected. That required a combination of skill, luck, and actual piloting. Any excuse to deviate from the programmed flight plan was put into action. As a result, at least a dozen of them had been secured in the hold.

Those were the days she lived for. Something positive to do. A chance to take the wheel, fire the thrusters and enter a course correction afterward. Those calculations alone broke up the boredom.

And then when it was done and logged, back to watching the viewscreen and checking the equipment. If nothing else, after five months and four trips in an ever-widening arc, Capt. Lisbeth Martinez knew the equipment inside and out. She could probably be certified in operations and maintenance.

Midday by the ship’s clock, she ripped open a ration bar and grabbed her journal. She’d taken to writing daily reflections on the trip and how her life had brought out here on the edge of humanity. The decisions she’d made. Her choices, both good and poor. The things she had accomplished, and the void she felt inside. And what had led her to a six-month stint inside a single-manned survey ship.

She’d filled hundreds of pages with doodles and musings and along the way had discovered quite a bit about herself. She’d realized that even with others flying similar routes—explorers, traders, miners, and scientists—there were days where she estimated that if she turned the viewer toward that bright, but tiny star in the distance, every human in existence would fall somewhere on the port side of her ship. No one to starboard. On a map of all humanity, she could draw an arrow to the very last dot on the far right edge and label it, “Lisbeth Martinez was here.”

Looking up at the Sun, she wondered. Where was Earth in its orbit? Were her parents on this side or the other? What about her sister, Flora, with her lakeside house on Mars?

She was so lost in thought that she didn’t hear the sensors until the fourth chirp. Something was out there in the distance up ahead, twenty degrees starboard. She glanced at the fuel gauge and then turned on the radio.

Kuiper Base, this is Capt. Lisbeth Martinez on Papa Sierra 1-7-8. Deviating from plan to intercept unknown object.”

A moment later, the speaker squawked back at her. “Papa Sierra 1-7-8, this is Kuiper Base. Negative, you are too low on fuel.”

“Nate! Glad it’s you on duty. You know I have this. I’ve done it lots of times.”

“Martinez, you’re almost home and you’re already overdue from venturing too far astray. I don’t want you getting stranded out there.”

She smiled. “Nate, you worry too much. I won’t use any more than I need. Besides, Colonel, you know I’ve already done the calculations.” She hadn’t, of course, but that wasn’t a cause for concern. Still, she shut the radio in case he called her on the bluff.

Martinez rolled to the right, adjusted the pitch, and applied just enough thrust to get her close to the pinging object like she’d done a dozen times before. Time to make it a baker’s dozen.

Smooth sailing. A moment later, she had visual confirmation of another dirty snowball about the size of a grapefruit. After a couple more quick maneuvers, she brought it aboard.

Then she took her pencil and opened the journal to a fresh page and started working out the calculations to get back. She could’ve called Col. Nathaniel “Nate” Oldacre for an assist, but who wanted the “I told you so” that would accompany it.

It was a week later when PS187 limped into Kuiper Base and docked. The crew chief met the ship immediately with a maintenance team. Col. Oldacre personally came down to speak to Martinez, so she could see him as he spoke to her through the comm on a private channel.

“Colonel, I’m ready to go out again as soon as the ship is supplied.”

“Lis, you have less than three weeks left on your sentence. You can spend it confined below decks. I can get you a link to the video library, so you won’t be bored. No one has to know you’re there. No one will bother you.”

“Thank you, sir. I’d rather go out again.”

He sighed. “You know that’s another month, minimum. And with your curiosity and your seeming determination to want to break through the heliopause to find Voyager 1, it’ll be much longer.”

“This room has been my home for five months and eight days. I’d rather be locked in here seeing the cosmos than be stuck down there watching them on a vidscreen.”

The colonel had figured her choice already. While they talked, the crew had already begun resupplying Prison Ship 187, and it was already scheduled to depart at 0800, Base time.





In the Harry Potter universe, the child who would become Lord Voldemort was born on December 31, 1926 (don’t try and do the math…it doesn’t work). In honor of this fantastic fictional day, we want to see your stories about that pivotal moment when something sets your character on the path to the dark side. You have 1231 words. Entries may be in any of the speculative genres.

NOTE: Your entry should not in any way include the characters or settings from the Harry Potter universe, to do so would be a copyright violation and would invalidate the entry.

Click here to learn more about Tom Riddle/Voldemort.

Entries should be mailed to as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment no later than midnight on December 31st. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit for a list of titles.



Our congratulations to TS Rhodes and Susan Murrie Macdonald, who tied for winner in September’s eSpec Books Flash Fiction Contest. Their prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook each from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention
Teel James Glenn – Of A Feather

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at:


Tale of the Swan

by TS Rhodes

The Swan were a cursed ship.   Not cursed by God, mind you, but by the mind of a man. By which I mean Captain Clark, as bloody-handed a merchant captain as ever sailed the sea for profit.

I’d had enough by of him by Charlestown, but Clark held the crew’s pay, in spite of the papers we’d signed. He said he’d pay us in Jamaica. It’s hard to leave a ship with no money. So I stayed. We all did.

We had not raised a single island before the beef in the casks had turned green, and the biscuit had been riddled with weevils in the beginning. Clark had his own stores, and it was plain that he bought sailor’s food as cheap as he could get. I’m young and strong, thank God, and though the food griped my belly, my hands stayed strong.

But Billy took ill with it, and Clark wouldn’t let him off his work. When I spoke up, Clark offered me a beating to teach me my place. When the headsail needed set, Billy was sent up, just as if he’d been well.

Old Michael, white hair and naught to his body but sinew, knew a trick or two. He offered to tie Billy to the yardarm while they worked. But Clark wouldn’t hear of it, said it took too long. Old Michael did his best, but Billy slipped and fell, and Clark wouldn’t even give us time off for a proper funeral.

Then the Holland-boy, Voort, came down with fever. Clark locked himself in his cabin for days, for fear of the sickness. But Old Michael said that if we tied rags over our noses, and soaked them good with vinegar, then the fever would pass us by.  It worked, we all came through, though Voort were weak as a kitten.  When Clark come out, he began to torment the boy for his weakness.

Seeing that, I was sick. Not my body, but my heart. I do hate the beatings, though it’s part of the work, so they say, the captains do. Me, I never saw a man die for lack of a whip.

I was scared we’d lose Voort. But Old Michael kept our spirits up, with tales of mermaids, and Spanish gold washed up on the beaches after the old wrecks. He spoke of the song of the stars make, and the green flash that comes at sunset when a good man’s soul goes up to heaven.  And sometimes, real quiet-like, in the early watches of the night, he told us tales of pirates. Of Harry Every, and how he captured the sultan’s treasure ship, and split the plunder even with his men, and was never caught nor hanged. And of Long Ben Hornigold, who plies the seas to this day, a-takin’ from the wealthy merchants and giving back to the poor sailors. Starting with himself, of course.

But one night Clark came down on the crew deck, though why such a fine gentleman should be down here with the likes of us, I never knew. But he walked  in on one of the pirate tales, and after that he had it in for Old Michael.

All of a sudden, there was only one fellow called when the job was dangerous or dirty. It was Old Michael when the blocks on the main yard ran afoul in a gale, and it was him must catch the flapping end when the topsail came unclewed. And Cookie shorted him on his bread, too, foul bread though it was. I offered to catch up a belaying pin, and set Cookie straight for that, but Old Michael just said, “Be still, it’ll pass.”

Then Voort started giving the old fellow a share of his food, and before you know, we’re all doing it, for though the belly do gripe, the soul expands with justice. And when the work was hard, Old Michael knew how to make it easier. The captain sent him out, time and again, to do what should be beyond an old man’s strength. But Old Michael knew his business, and some of us helped out.

It got to Clark, in the last. The work was done, and the food shared out fair, and we was all in good spirits. The good spirits of others is a bane to some folk, and I reckon Clark was one of them.

One day a blow was coming on, and Clark said to Voort to “Get aloft, quick!”  

Old Michael looked at the boy, said, “No, I’ll go!” and headed toward the foremast, Then Clark turned turkey red, and shouted out, “Mutiny!” He threw a bucket at Old Michael, and hit him in the head.

I’ve heard the music of the starts, when the sea is quiet. But I never heard a breath our of Old Michael after that blow. I stood near Clark, and sad for him, I had an iron marlin-spike in my hand. I drove it onto Clark’s brain, and we put him over the side. I saw the green flash that night, but it wasn’t for Clark. Old Michael’s funeral lasted all the next day.

So merchant captains beware. She’s the Black Swan now, I’m her new captain. We share the plunder even, and all the food and grog the same. We’re pirates. And we come a-lookin’ for justice as much as for gold.

Captain’s Claim

by Susan Murrie Macdonald

The brig stank.  Forty men were crammed into a space meant for half that many.  More prisoners than the head could handle, which was the largest part of the stench.  Add to that sweat and blood and the indefinable yet unmistakable smell of fear, and the brig of the HIMS Bandersnatch was decidedly unpleasant.

The starship slowed down.

The brig door opened.  Four armed men stepped inside.

“Stone!  Alleyn Stone, front and center,” one guard ordered.

Two of the guards grabbed him.  They handcuffed his wrists behind him and manacled his ankles.  Without another word, they escorted Stone to the bridge.


“The prisoner you requested, ma’am.  Alleyn Stone.”

Stone glared at the woman in the captain’s chair. 

“Captain Janet Carswell, HIMS Bandersnatch,” the redhead introduced herself. “I need a gunner.  Captain’s Claim.”

“Go to Hell,” Stone replied.

A guard slapped him.

Stone ran his tongue around his teeth.  All still there, and he didn’t taste blood.  “Sorry.  Go to Hell, ma’am.”

“My chief gunner was injured in the raid that captured your ship, Stone.  I need a replacement.  Captain’s Claim,” she repeated.

Stone thought quickly.  The ship had been slowing down.  She needed a gunner.  He glanced at the main viewscreen.  “You wandered into a minefield. You need me to shoot your way out of it.”

Carswell nodded.

Stone grinned maliciously.  “No.”

“If the ship explodes, you die, too,” she pointed out.

“I get shot after the trial or I die here and take you with me.  What’s the difference?”

“It’s a ralJeneth minefield.”

Stone stiffened.  “ralJeneth?”

A firing squad was one thing.  Death by explosive decompression he could face without fear.  But being captured by the ralJeneth ….

“Captain’s Claim.” 

Stone nodded.

The guards unlocked his handcuffs, but not the leg-manacles. He wasn’t surprised, after mouthing off to the captain.  He didn’t shoot with his feet, anyway.

Carswell stepped down from the captain’s seat and faced the pilot.  “Meaning no discourtesy, Fernandez, but under the circumstances we need our best pilot.”

“All yours, Captain.”  Fernandez couldn’t get out of the pilot’s seat quickly enough.

Carswell sat in his place.  “Clear us a path.  I’ll follow your lead.”

The bridge was absolutely silent for the next hour.  No one dared to say a word. 

Stone shot carefully, destroying one mine after another. Carswell danced the ship down the path he cleared, jumpy as a jitterbug, slow as a strathspey.

When they reached the end of the minefield, she sighed.  “Well done.”

“Precision flying, ma’am,” Stone was forced to acknowledge.


An hour later, Stone was brought to the captain’s captain.

She gestured at the chair in front of her desk.

Stone sat.  Two sandwiches and a mug of beer were on the desk.  He grabbed a sandwich and bit into it.  This was no syntha-soy substitute; this had once oinked.  He took a second bite.

“Slow down.  Don’t make yourself sick.”

“We don’t eat like this in the brig.”  He reached for the beer.

“I know to the calorie how much the prisoners are fed.  The minimum required by regulations, not one bite more.  Hungry prisoners think about their next meal, not escape.”

Stone ate silently.

“Superb shooting.  The best I’ve seen since I left the navy and turned privateer.  Ever considered applying for an imperial pardon?”

“Nope.”  He took another bite of his sandwich.  “Not an Albioner.”

“Albionese,” she corrected him.  “Several of my crew aren’t.  I’d be happy to offer you a berth on my ship, if you’ll apply for a pardon.”

He reached for the beer.  “Privateers shoot pirates.  People I’ve drunk with in port, people I’ve served with.”

“Given the damage you did to us, and the way you shot a path through that minefield, you can disable a ship without destroying it.”           

“Doesn’t matter if I blast the ship to atoms or you capture them and turn them over to the authorities.  They’re still just as dead.”  He drained the beer.  “I don’t kill friends.”

“You saved my ship. I owe you more than lunch.  Once we reach Jórvík, the jail’s just north of the space port.  I can see to it that my security personnel will be too busy escorting the other prisoners north to notice you scooting south.”

“No deal,” Stone interrupted.  “I saved all your crew’s lives, you release all my crew.”

“I’ve already reported how many prisoners we captured.  I need to turn in that many people, either as live prisoners or as corpses.  I can lose the paperwork for one man, but not for your entire crew.” 

“You owe me,” Stone insisted.

She summoned the guards.  “Back to the brig.”

Stone grabbed what was left of the second sandwich and stuffed it in his mouth as the guards grabbed him.


Ten days later, Stone was taken to Carswell again. 

“I despise wasted potential.  You’re a top-rate gunner, Mr. Stone.  Sending you to face a firing squad….”  She frowned.  “Have you changed your mind?”

After a moment’s hesitation, he shook his head.

Carswell reached into a desk drawer and removed a stun pistol.  She fired.


Stone woke up with an aching head. 

He sat up and looked around.  He was in a cheap motel room, the sort found on a dozen planets in any port district.  Four small pieces of paper lay on the nightstand beside the bed.   Three ten-pound bills and a handwritten note.

Avoid the police; you’re officially an escaped prisoner.  If you change your mind, we’re homeported out of Hathor.

                                                Janet Carswell, HIMS Bandersnatch





On October 30, 1938 Martian war machines landed at Grovers Corner, NJ. Before they could take over the world, they died of the common cold. In honor of this surprise twist to HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, this month’s theme is Dumb Luck. Stories can be fantasy, science fiction, pretty much any genre, as long as it nails the theme. You have 1938 words.

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