eSPEC EXCERPTS – BABA ALI AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN


Our campaign is one week in and nearly 300% funded. I can’t tell you how excited Day and I are to bring this book back to the fans. It has always been one of our most popular titles as authors. With three weeks to go, we are hoping we might add illustrations this time around as the book just cries out for visuals to go with the rich language and fairytale esthetic. Currently, we are just $190 away from adding our first two illustrations. For those not familiar with the book, we thought it would be nice to share an excerpt. We hope you enjoy. And if you are curious about the campaign for Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, please do click the link. If you are particularly moved, please consider sharing this excerpt or the link with the world. We would be quite grateful for the boost.  


BabaAliandtheClockworkDjinn
The cover of the previous edition, artwork by Autumn Frederickson

An Excerpt from Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

The moon lit his way as he scurried down to the oasis. His first instinct was to fill his goatskin and flee back toward Wadi Al-Nejd before the night grew any older, but as he knelt beside the pool, he could not control his gaze. At first, it merely darted toward the dune and back again. His eyes locked upon the slope a while longer, his mind furiously working on the puzzle of how the dune hid a cavern. He longed to go in, to explore. To know for once and certain that this was the place he sought.

The next he knew, Ali stood where the lead thief’s footprints still shaped the sands, between the rock outcropping and the arta bush with the twisted trunk, his hand toying with one of the robust red blossoms from the branch in his hands as his teeth worried his lower lip.

He should not do it. Allah knew he should not do it.

“Open, Sesame.”

The words were but a whisper across his lips, barely spoken before the sands again separated to reveal the rock outcrop. His eyes widened as next the stone facing slowly slid beneath the desert. Ali forgot once more to breathe. He had not believed it would work. He had been sure the sun had baked his brain. But there it was: the secret cavern, spilling its steady light upon the oasis.

The blossom snapped off in Ali’s tightened grip. He barely noticed as he crept into the cave. As he passed the entrance he noted two divots in the chamber floor that mirrored where he’d stood outside. Ali stopped and turned toward the oasis. It would be best to not betray his presence. “Close, Sesame,” he murmured, recalling the leader’s words; hoping they would work from the inside.

And the earth swallowed Ali whole.

His first impulse was to pound upon the rock, to order it open once more. Instead, he turned and allowed his gaze to sweep the cavern. He could see no sign of the guardians his father’s letter had warned about. Perhaps they had been released by his grandfather’s passing, for they were not here. Still, Ali’s hand crept down to rest upon his satchel, which contained the puzzle box, the travel diary, and his father’s letter. Reassured, he took in the wonders of the cave. The first thing he noticed was the camelids standing in ranks against the far wall, their curved brass flanks dully gleaming. He gasped as he realized these were the ‘ships of the desert’ mentioned in his grandfather’s diary. The ache to explore their inner workings was so strong it was almost physical.

Knowing he could not, Ali dragged his gaze away to examine the rest of the treasures. What he saw dazzled his eyes. Without a doubt, this was Nader Shah’s treasure. A jewel-encrusted platform stood in the center of the cavern. Twelve pillars—each capped by two peacocks with fanned tails—supported a canopy, the underside of which was covered in rubies and diamonds, emerald and pearls. The whole of it rested on four gold feet. Ali shivered in awe at that splendor alone. He had heard of the fabled Peacock Throne, but it had not occurred to him that it would be the centerpiece of his family’s sacred charge. Closest to the platform rested elegant urns filled with chalices and golden platters, some plain, others likewise encrusted with gems. Stacked around these were chests made of precious metals and rare wood. Ali marveled at the finely carved cinnabar and ivory that filled them. Part of him had scarcely believed he would find the treasure of Nader Shah hidden in the heart of the Rub-Al Khali. It was evident that part of him had been wrong.

On the fringes of the shah’s treasure, the thieves had piled canvas sacks and ceramic jars brimming with more pedestrian blessings: common-day coins and costly spices, aromatic perfumes and sparkling jewels, bolts of silk and casks of fine tea. There, shoved to the sides, blanketed in dust, he spied bundles of glass, copper, and brass piping that set his artificer’s heart tripping. The things Ali could make with such supplies! He closed his eyes and turned from the sight, lest avarice take root in his soul. If he was meant for such wealth, Allah would provide.

In the corner beyond the camelids, Ali noticed a workbench the likes of which he’d only seen in his dreams. This, more than even the shah’s treasure let him know that he had found the secret place his father had been searching for.

Charcoal sketches similar to those in Al-Jazari’s book were pinned to a board that leaned against the cavern wall, their black marks softened by a thick layer of dust. Half-finished inventions resembling sketches from his grandfather’s diary gathered dust on the work surface. He sighed, knowing he dare touch nothing, lest he betray himself in some way to the thieves.

His fingers hovered above delicate tools and sturdy spanners his meager coin could never afford. Even these were coated in fine dust and sand, as if long without use, though surely the camelids required maintenance. Glancing more closely, Ali could discern initials engraved on the handles. Were these his grandfather’s tools? They looked to have been well-used at one time, but obviously, that time was long past.

With all his heart, he vowed to reclaim his family’s legacy.

Beside the workbench stood a vat of oil and two barrels, one filled with copper gears, the other black tar for fuel. Beyond that, in the shadows, someone had piled a junk heap of scrap metal and defunct parts next to which stood one of the camelids, its body darkened by smoke residue along one side and the torso open on its hinges. He peered within and noticed a bent cog had twisted one of the shafts. A simple enough thing to fix, and yet it was clear by the coating of dust on the camelid’s back that the thieves had neither interest nor skill for such things. Ali resisted the urge to make the repair himself, instead examining the mechanism with a careful eye. Even damaged, the inner workings of the construct enthralled him. The design was similar to some he had seen at Ustad Babbage’s side, but this was more elegant; as much art as engineering. Inside, a compact copper boiler connected to narrow pipes that led from the tank to an intricate assembly of gears, rods, and pistons, two to each side, corresponding to where the legs attached. Another rose through the aperture where the construct’s neck connected to the body. He could not identify what directed the locomotion, but what he did see gave him some understanding of how the smooth, league-spanning stride of the camelid’s walk was achieved. Ali avidly studied the design, storing the knowledge for future use…assuming he ever had enough coin to do more than dream of crafting such complex engineering. Since Kassim had ordered Ali’s return to Wadi Al-Nejd, there had been little opportunity—or coin—for true invention, only the tinkering that supplemented his dwindling reserve. Sighing, he turned away from the workbench, lest he be tempted to touch.

Oh, what Ali would give to linger in this place for the rest of his days, creating magnificent constructs. But no, he had already lingered too long. Even now, his shoulders tightened and he caught himself darting glances around the room.

It was as if eyes were upon him, causing the skin across his back to crawl. Ali turned to examine the cavern in its entirety, rather than just the riches it held. He spied no one, but for the first time, he took note of the cave itself, marveling at the workmanship. This was no natural cavern but had been crafted by human hands. He could almost make out tool marks, likely from some rock-boring construct. The walls were only partially visible for the lattice of steam pipes crisscrossing overhead and down to the floor. Most of them were copper, but intermixed were glass tubes emitting a soft yellow light from no source Ali understood. Those pipes framing the entrance to the cavern were all glass, thick and gleaming, with brass fittings. To either side of them, Ali saw a complex assembly of great-toothed gears in a variety of sizes, interlocked and showing signs of wear. They appeared to operate a pulley system as a massive metallic cable ran up to the ceiling and down into the ground. He recognized elements of the design from The Book of Knowledge. He would have examined these workings more closely as well, only a sudden movement distracted him.

Inside those pipes by the entrance swirled lavender mist too delicate to be mistaken for steam. For a brief instant, Ali would have sworn there was a flutter, as of eyes blinking. Surely he was mistaken…and yet, the sensation of being watched increased.

Trying to ignore it, Ali continued wandering. Repeatedly, he had to remind himself not to touch each new thing he discovered. He told himself he was blessed just to be here in the secret place his grandfather had created and his father had long sought; it was enough to feel surrounded by their spirits, to see such glorious things, to smell the fragrance of the spices and costly perfumes that sweetened the chamber. Almost, Ali believed the lie. Thinking of the thieves, he fought the urge to lash out. This was his family’s responsibility, his family’s charge, his family’s treasure to guard. That last bore remembering. These riches were not his and never would be, but he could not help but wish just once to hold such wealth in his hands, to know, however briefly, what it felt like to be a rich man. No. No good could come of such thoughts.

Ali sighed. The sound echoed in the chamber until he nearly overlooked the softer sigh that followed his own. And then the light brightened and Ali stiffened as a woman’s voice filled the cavern.

“What have you in your hand, Child of Adam?” The voice was like the crackle of a fire, darker notes beneath the light.

Ali spun. He saw no one.

“What have you in your hand?” the voice repeated. Sweeter than a nightingale, the surging power in that voice sent Ali to his knees, fervent supplication to Allah on his lips, though he had no breath to utter them. His gaze fell upon the glass pipes by the entrance where the roiling mist had taken on a darker, violet hue.

“Tell me!” All sweetness and light fled both the woman’s voice and the chamber.

Ali thought desperately. He did not pick up anything. He purposely had not touched even one piece of treasure. No, not even the bent cog. In the darkness, he focused, startled to realize he did, in fact, cup something in his right hand. Slowly, he reached over with his left and ran his fingers across the sturdy anthers of the arta blossom he had plucked from the bush outside the cavern.

He tried to speak and it was as if the desert itself once more filled his throat.

The darkness took on more weight at his continued silence, but the voice did not speak again. Ali frantically coughed and cleared his throat.

“A flower…” His voice sounded harsh and grating to his ear.

A gasp answered him. The longing in that single sound tightened his chest. Light once more flooded the chamber. Before him, the mist swirled in agitation. Following instinct, Ali crept forward, still on his knees, and laid the flower beside the pipes, the small anthers only slightly bent for having been clutched in his hand.

When he looked up, a woman formed out of the swirling mist; perfect in all proportions, but no larger than a ferret, her body cloaked in smoky robes. The glass tube held a djinni. Her solid black gaze locked on the blossom. Here, at last, one of the guardians of which his father wrote, though Ali wondered how well she could guard from within her encasement.

“He planted them for me,” she whispered. “My master planted them for me. It has been so long since I have seen evidence of his gift. Not since his passage into Death’s Garden.”

eSPEC EXCERPTS – ROBERT E. WATERS’ DEVIL DANCERS


Tangent Online has given Devil Dancers a nice, in-depth review, which you can read here.

As the book release is coming up November 1, we figured this was a good time to post an excerpt.

Here are links if you would like to pre-order a copy of the book: eBook. Print.


DEVIL DANCERS

Victorio Nantan, Captain Victory, Squadron Leader of the Devil Dancers, looked over the smoke-filled room. Somewhere within its cavernous swill of booze, laughter, music, and celebration, were his men. They were the Devil Dancers. Aces every one; the finest fighter squadron in the fleet. They deserved their seventy-two hours of R&R. Their record kills at the Battle of Pallid Musings had earned them their playtime. But the war continued, and Captain “Victory” had just received secret intelligence about enemy fleet movements near Castor V. It was out of his squadron’s designated deployment zone, but an opportunity that could not be ignored. The finest pilots in the Federated Union had to keep pushing themselves, and at such a critical moment in the war, time was imperative. The enemy was on the verge of collapse.

That enemy was the Gulo, a wolverine-like race that had nearly cut the Union in two. Feral, savage fighters, their technology was on par with that of the humans. They were a formidable foe. Deep in his heart, Victorio could not help but admire their prowess in battle. But the war had waged for over thirty standard years, and even personal admiration grows pale over time. He and his men were working hard to defeat the Gulo. A turning point was at hand. Victorio could feel it. He had seen it in his dreams. One more push, one more decisive rout, and the scales could be tipped.

The Devil Dancers were not going to be left out.

He crossed the room, pushing through the partiers, responding in kind to the salutes of junior officers from the 3rd Sol Fighter Wing. He even recognized some crew members of the Star Chariot, an old carrier that had been refitted to accommodate a full battalion of troopers and their drop pods. Among these men, he and the Devil Dancers were legend, and whenever they were present, they received much respect. Victorio passed through them politely but kept his eyes set on one of his pilots who sat on a plush red sofa near the bar, surrounded by adoring women and sycophants.

Naiche looked up from his drink and recognized his brother. “Ah, Captain Victory!” He stumbled to his feet, the beautiful ladies surrounding him shifting their bare legs to let him pass. “You’ve decided to crawl out of your wickiup and join us.”

Victorio grabbed his brother before the younger man embarrassed himself by hitting the floor. Naiche’s face was flushed red, his breath rancid with drink, his eyes dilated and distant. “You’re drunk.”

“You’re goddamned right I’m drunk!” Naiche said, receiving cheers and laughter from his friends. “And I intend on staying that way for another forty-eight hours.”

“We need to talk, brother,” Victorio said, pushing Naiche away. “Now.”

“Nonsense,” Naiche said. “We need to drink. Pull up a chair and join us.” Before Victorio had a chance to respond, Naiche said, “Ladies, let me introduce you to our na-tio-tish, our war leader, Captain Victorio “Tomorrow’s Wind” Nantan, the second finest pilot in the galaxy.” He tapped his brother’s chest with a blunt, lazy finger. “This man single-handedly wiped out an entire Gulo squadron at the Battle of Two Dwarves. He’s received six commendations for bravery, and a score of Silver Wings. And ladies,” he put his hand to his mouth and lowered his voice, “he’s got the cutest little tattoo on his—”

“Enough!” Victorio grabbed Naiche’s shoulders and shook. The drink in his brother’s hand toppled to the floor, spreading red liquid across the plush white carpet. The internal lattice-mesh of the floor began sucking the fibers dry. “We will talk, now.” He turned and looked at the women, whose expressions had become quite still. “Will you excuse us, please?”

Naiche wrestled himself free and stumbled to the sofa, apologizing profusely to his fans. He gave each lady a small kiss and promised to call on them. They shuffled past Victorio without a word and disappeared into the throng of dancers.

“You waste yourself away with all this,” Victorio said, finding a seat near his brother. “Father would not be pleased.”

Naiche rubbed his forehead and chuckled. “Father is just as boring as you, big brother. You are the worst kill-joy I’ve ever met. If you had played your cards right, one of those ladies would have given you a—”

“Everything comes so easy for you, Naiche. Not so for me. I’ve had to bust my ass for everything. While you were off carousing with your friends at Boot, I had to double down, pull second shifts, commit overtime. And you’d waltz right in the next morning and ace your—”

“And yet here you are,” Naiche interrupted, “Captain of the Devil Dancers.”

Victorio had gotten the promotion in the field during an engagement in the Kuiper Belt eight standard years ago. His calm, serious demeanor had impressed Star Marshall Kinski Shu, who said, ‘You’re not like others of your kind, are you, boy?’ Images of his father’s hostilities toward the White Eyes came to mind, but Victorio kept his mouth shut like a good soldier. He always kept his mouth shut. ‘No, I guess not, sir.” And so it was that he took command, and the rest was in the common record.

“There are reports of heavy Gulo activity near Castor V.”

Naiche perked an ear. “And?”

“And I’ve asked Star Marshall Shu to give us a temporary transfer to Peregrine Task Force.”

Naiche sat straight in his seat, the effects of the alcohol washed from his face. “Are you nuts? That racist is going to get us killed!”

Victorio shot glances around the room. Luckily, the music was too loud and the patrons too drunk to notice his brother’s insubordination. “Keep your opinions to yourself, pilot.”

Naiche lowered his voice and leaned in. “The men need rest, sir. We won at Pallid Musings, but it was a near-run thing, and you know it. Blue Bird just had her foot reattached. Shines Like the Sun has a new heart, and—”

“They can rest and recover en route. The Exodus does not depart until eighteen hundred hours.”

Naiche’s expression grew still, his eyes silent. “We’re leaving that soon?”

“Yes.”

“Shouldn’t I have been consulted on this, sir? I am second-in-command.”

“Second being the operative word.”

Naiche shot out of his seat. They stood there, faces close. Victorio was taller and so he towered over his brother like a bitter tree. Naiche was shorter, indeed, but very fit and muscular, and if he wanted to, he could bring Victorio down and make short order of him. Around them, patrons began to take notice, pretending to party, but with a curious eye turned toward the disruption. Word of two Devil Dancers fighting would spread throughout the fleet; questions would be asked, demands would be made. It was an untenable situation. Hitting a superior officer, even if he was your brother, would be tantamount to suicide. Naiche blinked and stepped back. “And so that’s how it’s going to be, huh? Captain Victory has made his decision, and all shall bow to him.”

“Don’t be dramatic, brother. You have a taste for Gulo blood as strong as any pilot.”

“Yes, but why now? And why this particular action? Enemy fleet movements have been reported all over the Caustic Drift. What interests you so much about this particular report? You hate Captain Shriver of PTF. Why would you—”

“Gingu-sha has been spotted with that fleet.”

Naiche’s mouth dropped open.

The greatest Gulo fighter pilot was Gingu-sha. His kills alone matched those of the entire Devil Dancer squadron. His name drew fear even from the crews of capital ships. One story told of how Gingu-sha single-handedly dispatched a Union destroyer, crashing into its hull with a burrowing torpedo and then fighting his way to the bridge, where he massacred the crew and drove the ship into Starbase Calvin, only to escape unscathed on a shuttle. A destroyer did indeed strike the starbase, but whether or not Gingu-sha was responsible was unclear. Since everyone on the ship died on impact, there were no eye-witnesses to confirm the event, only hearsay from nearby ships. But that hardly mattered. The stories were out there, and his reputation and skills were undeniable.

Over the years, the Devil Dancers had had opportunities to take the Gulo ace down. The Battle of Two Dwarves, Cassini Station, the Emerald Rim, Ambush at Three Moons. Battle after battle, and yet the na-de-gah-ah had always slipped the net. On one particular occasion, Gingu-sha had turned his fighter upside down and aligned his cockpit with Victorio’s, after he had shot a hole through Victorio’s engine and left him for dead. They drifted there for a long while, and the beast could have, at any time, looped around and fired his guns. But he didn’t. They just drifted, both of them looking at each other through the cockpit glass, an arrogant smile spread across the creature’s black lips. Perfect black teeth with a darting pale tongue. His pure-white fur was as beautiful as the first snow of winter, his eyes blazing red hot like fire. And then he gunned his engines and was gone in a flash of blue energy.

From that moment on, Victorio vowed to find and kill Gingu-sha and put his pelt on the wall of the Devil Dancers’ headquarters on the light carrier Justice.

“Gingu-sha is your albatross, brother,” Naiche said, “not mine.”

Victorio ignored his brother’s insult. “And I’ve decided that you will be the Clown.”

Naiche’s expression turned from anger to surprise. “Me? But what about Music-Maker?”

“He’s down with fever. He’ll not be ready when we depart.”

“But you have never allowed me to play the Clown. Why now?”

“The opportunity is here, Naiche. Do you accept this honor or no?”

Naiche stood there rubbing his face. Victorio could see the passion behind his brother’s dark eyes.

Naiche nodded. “Yes, I will accept the honor. I will be the Clown.”

Victorio breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. Now gather the men. We leave immediately.”

Naiche stiffened and saluted. He was back to his old self. “Don’t worry your fat, arrogant head, brother. I’m the best goddamned pilot you have. I won’t let the Devil Dancers down.”

Yes, you are the best, brother, Victorio said to himself as he watched Naiche leave the room. But let’s see just how good you really are.

***


Robert E Waters is a technical writer by trade but has been a science fiction/fantasy fan all his life. He’s worked in the gaming industry since 1994 as designer, producer, and writer. In the late ’90s, he tried his hand at writing fiction and since 2003, has sold over 65 stories to various online and print magazines and anthologies, including the Grantville Gazette, Eric Flint’s online magazine dedicated to publishing stories set in the 1632/Ring of Fire series. His latest novels, The Cross of Saint Boniface and The Masks of Mirada, are currently available on Amazon.

He has also written in several tabletop gaming universes, including Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy series and in the Wild West Exodus weird tech/steampunk universe. He has also dabbled a bit in Warlord Games’ Beyond the Gates of Antares milieu, writing about assassins and rescue missions.

Robert currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife Beth, their son Jason, and their precocious little cat Buzz.

For more information about his work, visit his website at www.roberternestwaters.com.

eSPEC EXCERPT – ROBERT GREENBERGER – THE OATH


Just four days left to score some amazing bonuses. The below excerpt is from one of the stories featured in In Harm’s Way. Robert will have a story in Footprints in the Stars as well. Please consider checking it out on Kickstarter, or perhaps helping us spread the word. 


The Oath

Robert Greenberger

The deck plating rattled, adding to the cacophony that made it difficult to concentrate. There were concussive sounds coming from all directions although it appeared there were few direct hits on Biânjìng itself, but Jasmine Yue found it difficult to discern anything with assurance. All she knew was that the red alert klaxon woke her far too soon after her twelve-hour shift ended, then she was back in her scrubs and out the door of her cabin in under five minutes. As she hustled into the Emergency Room, adjacent to the colony’s clinic, it was clear casualties, other than nerves, were light – for now.

CMO Dhruv Naccarato, tall, dark-complected, and with impossibly straight black hair, nodded at her arrival, her hands attending to a leg wound. Yue immediately donned surgical gloves and awaited instructions.

As the pair silently worked on the victim, a man Yue did not recognize, she was given the highlights: a score of small alien spacecraft had arrived, somehow avoiding Quatrième’s planetary defenses, and opened fire on the Biânjìng colony. They had been firing back and forth for the last half hour.

There had been archaeological remains found on two of the other colony worlds, but they dated back centuries or millennia, confirming humans were far from alone in the universe. Yue settled on Biânjìng, the fourth human establishment on an alien world, helping establish the Quatrième colony. She arrived just as the last of the dome was completing, allowing oxygen to flow and humans to breathe. The scope of the years-long project astonished her along with the promises of new discoveries, never anticipating she would be part of the first contact with a living alien species after just four years. This was not how anyone had hoped for a living first contact to go, although it did confirm the worst fears of some factions still on Earth.

“Focus,” Naccarato snapped, forcing Yue to blink twice and study her colleague’s hands. They were carefully repairing vein damage to the man’s left leg and Yue needed to keep the area sponged clean. Noise around them increased as more injured arrived, more than the small medical staff could reasonably handle.

“I need more hands,” Naccarato snapped, her voice betraying a trace of her Indian heritage. “Tell Rocky to send whoever he can spare.”

Another nurse confirmed the order and hurried off to signal the deputy commander while Yue began arranging the dermaplast that would be packed around the wound to protect it from infection and help new skin grow.

As the pair began to close the torn skin, the loudest whoomph yet reverberated through the casing. Heads snapped up, brows knit in concern, and everyone hushed leaving the various machines to hum by themselves, waiting for someone from CentComm to let them know what just happened. Seconds later, the speakers flared to life and the red alert signal was cut off.

“Remain in place,” the stern voice ordered, one Yue didn’t recognize. “Alien vessel down half a klick from Biânjìng. Other ships are either destroyed or fled. Remain on highest alert.”

After the message repeated, silence fell over the Emergency Room but that lasted only seconds as doctors and nurses resumed work, giving orders, receiving confirmations although everyone’s voices were now subdued. Volunteers, anyone with EMT or even basic First Aid training, were beginning to arrive. Naccarato, to her credit, afforded them a quick acknowledging look and then directed them without pausing with her patient; freeing the more experienced medical staff to tend to the direst of injuries. The colony had three operating rooms, all of which were in service, which was why she and Yue were working in the ER. The energy level rose but there was efficiency, not panic.

Still, Yue worried what would happen to the colony and to the inhabitants of the alien starcraft that lay just a short walk away.


Bob_Greenberger copyRobert Greenberger is a writer and editor. He has worked for Starlog Press, where he created Comics Scene, the first nationally distributed magazine to focus on comic books, comic strips, and animation, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Weekly World News, Famous Monsters of Filmland, ComicMix.com, and is a founding member of Crazy 8 Press. His dozens of books, short stories, and essays include Hellboy II: The Golden Army, for which he won the IAMTW’s Scribe Award, and The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Murder at Sorrow’s Crown, co-written with Steven Savile. He is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and holds a Master of Science in Education from the University of Bridgeport and a Master of Arts in Creative Writing & Literature for Educators from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – DAVID SHERMAN’S CONTAINED VACUUM


Here’s another excerpt from the upcoming anthology In Harm’s Way (Defending The Future 8), which is currently funding on Kickstarter. We have met our initial goal and are now working toward our stretch goals.

The following excerpt takes place in the author’s bestselling Starfist universe.


Contained Vacuum

DAVID SHERMAN

According to  Janes Commercial Starfleets of the Confederation of Human Worlds, the unidentified starship off the  Dayzee Mae’s port bow was the SS Runstable, which had vanished two years previous, along with her crew and cargo.

Sergeant Tim Kerr, of the Confederation Marine Corps, stood on the bridge of the Dayzee Mae, watching the derelict ship on the display. The ship’s acting captain, Lieutenant Junior Grade McPherson, had just finished briefing him. The Runstable’s cargo had been destined for twenty different worlds, none of which were near enough to this jump point to explain why the ship might be where it was. And all of the containers she was carrying when last heard from were missing; the superstructure made a narrow tower over the empty container deck. It was emitting a distress signal but carried no friend or foe identification.

“She must have been taken by pirates,” McPherson said, “then abandoned here. This location is far enough from normal trade routes that she wouldn’t be found quickly. We don’t have a surveillance tech aboard,” he added apologetically, “and we lack the necessary equipment to detect life forms on her. So you’ll be going in blind.”

Kerr nodded silently, his gaze intent on the latest display, which showed the starship in fuzzy detail. Her near-space running lights were on, but her passenger hatch and a bridge hatch were open. No lights showed through the open hatches.

The Dayzee Mae was a civilian starship, confiscated by the Confederation navy when they caught her supporting an illegal alien slavery operation on the twin worlds Opal and Ishtar. McPherson and his crew were ferrying her to the navy base on Thorsfinni’s World where another crew would transport her to wherever the Court of Inquiry determined she should go. So, naturally, she didn’t have military-grade sensors. She did, however, have one piece of military equipment never before found on a civilian freighter. The THB, Tweed Hull Breacher, was used by Confederation Marines to cut their way into hostile or potentially hostile starships. The THB carried by the Dayzee Mae had been used by the Marines when they boarded and took her.

Finally, Kerr said, “It could be an ambush. I want to use the THB and force an entryway. We’ll enter through the rear of the bridge.”

“You’ve got it, Sergeant.” McPherson gave a wry grin. “You are our expert on hostile boardings.”

Kerr grunted. He hoped the boarding wouldn’t be against a hostile force; he and his men had seen enough action on this latest deployment, and were on their way home. Second squad, third platoon, Company L of 34th Fleet Initial Strike Team’s infantry battalion had been given the assignment of providing security on the Dayzee Mae during her transit to Thorsfinni’s World because the squad had suffered badly in the action on Ishtar. Two of the fire team leaders and one other Marine were still nominally on light duty, and two new men weren’t completely integrated into the squad yet. Chain of command thought this duty would give them a chance to rest and recuperate.

“We’re Marines,” Sergeant Kerr said a short time later, when some of his men groaned at being told about the boarding mission. “Everyone in Human Space expects us to do anything necessary, at any time, in any place, regardless how difficult.”

“We’re Marines,” Corporal Rachman Claypoole—one of the injured fire team leaders—muttered. “We do the difficult immediately. The impossible might take a little longer.”

“That’s right, Rock,” Kerr said. “Now go to the arms locker to check out your weapons and armored vacuum suits.”

“With chameleon overalls?” Corporal Chan asked.

“Yes,” he said. There was no telling who or what they might find aboard the derelict. The invisibility provided by chameleons could prove to be vital.

Armored suits, sir? Are we expecting trouble, Corporal Claypoole?” asked PFC Berry, one of the two new men in the squad.

There were vacuum suits, and there were armored vacuum suits. One protected the wearer from the vacuum of space, and the micrometeorites that swarmed through it.  Armored vacuum suits protected the wearer from the flechettes that could shred an unarmored suit, and almost every other known projectile, including plasma weapons, such as the Marines’ own blasters.

Claypoole snorted. “We’re Marines boarding an unknown starship in interstellar space. We don’t have an invitation. No shit, we’re expecting trouble.”

eSPEC EXCERPTS – AARON ROSENBERG: SLINGSHOT


eSpec Books has a current campaign to fund three books. We’ve met our base goal, so the first book is funded, which means I can start giving everyone a sneak peek at all the wonderful words inside 🙂 This second excerpt is by Aaron Rosenberg, author of media tie-in novels and original fiction. I hope you enjoy! If you do, please consider checking out our campaign for Defending the Future: In Harm’s Way. We have 13 days left to fund two more books. With your support and/or help spreading the word, we can make that happen!



Slingshot

Aaron Rosenberg

“Let’s move, people!” Callie Gunderson shouted as the doors slid open allowing them to pile into the launch room. “Sling in five!” Her team poured in behind her, each of them racing to their assigned post with the ease of long practice and the haste of necessity. Every second was precious but they’d done this enough times, both live and in simulation, to know that as long as they each stayed focused on their given tasks they could hit the launch window without any problems.

“I’ve got an anomaly here,” Heaven sang out, their voice clear and smooth, even melodious, despite the potentially dire pronouncement. “Weight is nearly 250 kilos over norm.” Their job was checking the allowances, making sure everything was within standard operating parameters.

“Are we still within tolerances?” Callie asked. She was over at her own station, which was medical, gathering the tools and medicines they’d need. This was an emergency evac so the goal was to get there, grab everyone, and get back, but there would probably be some patching up needed, either before bringing wounded onboard or once they were underway.

“Well within,” Heaven acknowledged. They tapped their screen. “And we can still fit the full crew complement for the return.”

“Then leave it,” Callie ordered. “We can check it in flight, see if there’s anything that got left behind by the last team—I’ll bet it was Havoc, that lazy ass—but as long as we won’t be over limit, it’s fine.” Going over limit was a serious issue, since the sling was carefully calculated for the established tolerances—add extra mass and the difference could change their angle, their velocity, their braking speed, or all of the above. Often with disastrous consequences. “Station check, sound off!” she called to the room at large.

“Allowances, check!” Heaven replied.

“Sling, check!” Django answered.

“Compartment, check!” came Bev’s response from within the capsule.

“Gear, check!” Tomas acknowledged beside Bev.

“Supplies, check!” Callie finished. She checked the countdown clock mounted on the wall. They had exactly two minutes left. “Launch positions!” She raced for the capsule, trailing Django but leading Heaven, and once inside the three of them joined Bev and Tomas, who were already buckling in. Django took the pilot’s chair and, as team lead, Callie claimed shotgun beside him, while Heaven took the first of the side seats on Django’s side, facing Bev and Tomas. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the clock to reach zero.

“Sling in five, four, three,” Django declared, finger hovering over the launch button. “Two, one—sling!” 


AaronRosenbergAaron Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling DuckBob series (consisting of No Small Bills, Too Small for Tall, and Three Small Coinkydinks), the Dread Remora space-opera series and, with David Niall Wilson, the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. His tie-in work contains novels for Star Trek, Warhammer, WarCraft, and Eureka. He has written children’s books (including the original series Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles, the award-winning Bandslam: The Junior Novel, and the #1 best-selling 42: The Jackie Robinson Story), educational books on a variety of topics, and over seventy roleplaying games (such as the original games Asylum, Spookshow, and Chosen, work for White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight, Pinnacle, and many others, and both the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets and the Gold ENnie-winning Lure of the Lich Lord). He is the co-creator of the ReDeus series, and one of the founders of Crazy 8 Press. Aaron lives in New York with his family. You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.


eSpec Books titles that include Aaron Rosenberg:
The Side of Good/The Side of Evil
Defending the Future 7: Man and Machine


Upcoming eSpec Books titles that include Aaron Rosenberg:
Beyond the Cradle 2: Footprints in the Stars

eSPEC EXCERPTS – JAMES CHAMBERS: A BEACH ON NELLUS


eSpec Books has a current campaign to fund three books. We’ve met our base goal, so the first book is funded, which means I can start giving everyone a sneak peek at all the wonderful words inside 🙂 This first excerpt is by James Chambers, one of the very first people I ask to any project and for good reason. I hope you enjoy! If you do, please consider checking out our campaign for Defending the Future: In Harm’s Way. We have 18 days left to fund two more books. With your support and/or help spreading the word, we can make that happen!



A Beach on Nellus

James Chambers

Sarah Nuhr FitzRose spotted the missing planet cruiser, Mercury, submerged beneath clear water at the end of a trail gouged through the jungle to the narrow beach and into the bright, rippling surf. A tongue flick to the sheath of her helmet lit her augmented reality display. Among the illuminated strings of data blinked a red icon, confirming the proximity of the beacon sewn into the abducted girl’s clothes.

Sarah scouted the shore for a place to land. The next nearest scrap of earth on Nellus lay 660 miles away across a world covered 98 percent by ocean. She banked the glider and eyed a sandy strip fringed by vine-draped trees and elephantine leaves. Cutting altitude until spray kicked up, she fired her braking thrusters then skimmed her glider’s belly across the surface to slow her approach. The glider lurched sideways. Sarah wrestled with it on course, skipping from wave crest to wave crest. She nosed down, plunging the glider beneath the fluid’s skin. The sharp drop in speed pitched her forward, knocking her helmet against the cockpit glass. Caught by the undertow, her glider jerked sideways into shallow waters then spun and skidded up the beach, furrowing sand until it stopped hard against a thick wall of entwined tree trunks.

The glider’s systems malfunctioned and winked out. The echo of the crash rang in Sarah’s ears.

When the shock faded, she punched the cockpit release, lifted the glass, and spilled out onto the soft sand. Wrestling her feet under her, she stood, surveyed her landing, and found the glider’s frame crumpled beyond repair.

She activated a sensor in her helmet to initiate a diagnostic app for her vital signs and then confirmed her weapon remained holstered at her waist. Her sleek, black body suit looked undamaged, and seconds later the diagnostic confirmed her stats as normal and verified the com-link to her orbiting ship, the Sif. She retrieved her gear bag from the wreck and slung it across one shoulder.

Ahead, an endless ocean confronted her. Behind, the abyssal dark of deep jungle awaited. To either side, the pale sand narrowed until it vanished between the two realms. She could swim along the shore or trek through the lush growth to reach the Mercury. Either way, she belonged to Nellus now, to its barely charted oceans and its inscrutable jungle untouched since its discovery early in the Myriarchy War.

She referenced her frustratingly limited planetary knowledgebase. Nellus had claimed seven exploratory expeditions before then being ignored because it held no strategic value. The planet’s most common fauna, nicknamed nellies, resembled, according to their database image, a monstrous mix of lobster and tuna with a long, translucent fin rising from its back. Each had two mouths set vertically parallel and ringed with razor-sharp teeth. They hunted in schools, which could devour their prey completely in seconds, but feeding frenzies often continued with the school consuming its own, reducing its numbers by as much as one third before satiating its hunger. Only Nellus’ sea clouds, rare, enormous creatures larger even than Earth’s blue whales, preyed on the nellies. The database listed no such predators on land, making the jungle path far more inviting.

She cycled through her full mission plan. Radiant ghosts of terrain maps slid across her view augmented by meager data—water content, soil composition, weather patterns—regarding Nellus’ vast oceans dotted by a few scattered land masses, even the largest of which sometimes vanished beneath its tides. The only thing Sarah knew less about was her objective: the abducted girl.


James Chambers2019

James Chambers is an award-winning author of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. He wrote the Bram Stoker Award®-winning graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe. Publisher’s Weekly described The Engines of Sacrifice, his collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas published by Dark Regions Press as “…chillingly evocative…” in a starred review. His story, “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills,” was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

He has authored the short story collection Resurrection House and several novellas, including The Dead Bear Witness and Tears of Blood, in the Corpse Fauna novella series. He also wrote the illustrated story collection, The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales, created in collaboration with artist Jason Whitley.

His short stories have been published in the anthologies The Avenger: Roaring Heart of the CrucibleBad-Ass Faeries, Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad, Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory, Bad Cop No Donut, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, Breach the Hull, By Other Means, Chiral Mad 2, Chiral Mad 4, Dance Like A Monkey,  Dark Hallows II: Tales from the Witching Hour, Deep Cuts, The Domino Lady: Sex as a Weapon, Dragon’s Lure, Fantastic Futures 13, Gaslight and Grimm, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Hardboiled Cthulhu, Hear Them Roar In An Iron Cage, Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, Man and MachineMermaids 13 No Longer DreamsQualia Nous, Shadows Over Main Street (1 and 2), The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson, So It Begins, The Spider: Extreme Prejudice, To Hell in a Fast Car, Truth or Dare, TV Gods, Walrus Tales, Weird Trails, and With Great Power; the chapbook Mooncat Jack; and the magazines Bare BoneCthulhu Sex, and Allen K’s Inhuman.

He has also written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow HouseThe Midnight Hour with Jason Whitley, and the award-winning original graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe.

He is a member and trustee of the Horror Writers Association, and recipient of the 2012 Richard Laymon Award and the 2016 Silver Hammer Award.

He lives in New York.

Visit his website: http://www.jameschambersonline.com.


Other eSpec Books James Chambers has contributed to:
The Best of Defending the Future
The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries
The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson
Defending the Future 6: Dogs of War
Defending the Future 7: Man and Machine
Gaslight & Grimm
The Side of Good/The Side of Evil
Beyond the Cradle 1: If We Had Known
Awakened Modern
After Punk: Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife


Upcoming eSpec Books titles by James Chambers:
Three Chords of Chaos: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale
The Dead Bear Witness
Tears of Blood
The Dead in Their Masses


Upcoming eSpec Books title James Chambers has contributed to:
Defending the Future 8: In Harm’s Way
Beyond the Cradle 2: Footprints in the Stars

eSPEC EXCERPTS – THE STEADY DRONE OF SILENCE


proof-iwhk-coverAn excerpt from If We Had Known

The Steady Drone of Silence
Danielle Ackley-McPhail

“Excuse me? Lieutenant Kolby…excuse me!” Christopher James spoke softly into the headset attached to the helmet the lieutenant had jammed onto his head before they’d left the transport. “I need to know what’s gone wrong…”

Just ahead, Kolby snapped around to look over his shoulder, his features hard-set and his gaze unyielding. His posture projected urgency.

Christopher fell silent as he felt his eyes widen and the rest of him go cold. This must be how a rabbit feels caught in a hawk’s sights, he thought as he swallowed hard and fought the urge to duck his head. Kolby looked away and continued his hurried, but methodical progress through the brush, his eyes continually scanning in all directions, even straight up into the sky.

A shiver ran over Christopher. Why would the lieutenant look up?

Clutching the straps of the rucksack holding his tablet computer, he did his best to move as quickly and quietly as the soldiers escorting him. Fat chance of that, though. He was a civilian contractor. An engineer. A tech head specializing in unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Two weeks ago he’d been pulled from his current research project with no explanation. Now he found himself on the butt end of Demeter traipsing through the wilds, destination unknown. He didn’t have to ask to know the soldiers escorting him weren’t any happier about it than he was.

Maybe he should have been paying more attention to where he was walking, instead of worrying over where he was going. Abruptly, his forward motion switched to downward as a root or something snagged his foot, tripping him. Christopher started to cry out only to find himself gripped by what felt like two steel bands, one across his mouth, the other around his upper arm. He had the vague impression the rest of the soldiers around him had dropped low to the ground and gone still. Christopher himself couldn’t help but tremble as he came eye to up-close eye with Lieutenant Kolby.

“Do you want to die?” The words were so low and emphatic Christopher questioned if he’d actually heard them, either way the message was clear in Kolby’s gaze.

Christopher shook his head.

Kolby looked over at the soldier to their left. Samson, if Christopher remembered correctly. Hanging from the man’s neck was an electronic device. Some kind of tracker-slash-monitor. All Christopher knew was the little green light on the top of the housing meant they were good. If the red one went on, they were screwed. The man nodded and Kolby nodded back. Only then did he release his grip on Christopher. One hand dropped to the rifle hanging from the strap slung across Kolby’s chest, the other rose slowly into the air in an obscure gesture Christopher had to guess meant ‘proceed’, because—as if they were guided by one brain—the six soldiers rose from where they crouched and continued through the brush with barely a sound.

Christopher couldn’t move.

The soldier behind him gave him a controlled shove. Not enough to make him fall, but enough to break the grip of the fear anchoring Christopher in place. He was terrified of messing up again. He was terrified of whatever was out there that had Kolby treading so lightly. He was terrified of never making it home.

Christopher had no place being on this mission.

Apparently the military felt otherwise. Or at least someone up the chain of command did.

Christopher just wished he knew what they were thinking because the only thing worse than being out here was having no clue why.

 


 

Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Award-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, and Transcendence, the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Dragon’s Lure, and In an Iron Cage. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

She is a member of Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail) and Twitter (DMcPhail).